11/03/2004 1:00AM

Holthus hopes patience pays off

Reed Palmer Photography
Kota, winning the Ellis Debutante, will be a strong contender in Saturday's Pocahontas.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - If good things happen to those who wait, then trainer Bob Holthus could be in for a big weekend at Churchill Downs.

Holthus will have top contenders in each of the 2-year-old stakes that will be run here Saturday: Kota, winner of the Ellis Debutante in August, will be one of the fillies to beat in the $100,000 Pocahontas Stakes, while Greater Good, winner of the Kentucky Cup Juvenile in September, figures as one of the top colts in the $100,000 Iroquois Stakes.

Holthus purposely bypassed Keeneland's rich races for 2-year-olds with both horses, saying the timing of the Churchill races were more suitable to each of their schedules.

"We could've run at Keeneland, but that would've been pushing it," he said. "Hopefully it'll work out better this way."

The Iroquois and Pocahontas, both run at one mile, serve as preps for the twin Grade 2 races that end the meet on Nov. 27, the Kentucky Jockey Club and Golden Rod, respectively.

Other prospects for the Pocahontas include Aspen Tree, Burnish, Im a Dixie Girl, and Punch Appeal. For the Iroquois, Churchill officials also are expecting Bucharest, Can't Trick Jake, Father Weist, Norainonthisparty, Social Probation, Stand Ready, Storied Cat, and Super Tuscan.

On Sunday, Lady Tak, the Grade 1-winning filly who tends to do her best at middle distances, is expected to be a solid favorite when carrying high weight of 123 pounds in the Grade 2, $200,000 Churchill Downs Distaff at one mile.

John Velazquez will be in from New York to ride Lady Tak for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Hernandez merits Eclipse consideration

Apprentice Brian Hernandez Jr. initially was named by seven different trainers to ride the first race here Wednesday. Hernandez wound up on Magic Berti, who eventually was scratched by trainer Steve Flint.

"Get named on seven and don't ride the race," said Fred Aime, Hernandez's agent. "That has to be some kind of record."

Actually, things are going great for Aime and Hernandez, whose 20 wins at the recent Keeneland fall meet was the most for an apprentice at any meet in track history. Moreover, Aime believes Hernandez is the leading candidate to win the 2004 Eclipse Award for apprentice jockey, and he seems to have a strong case: Hernandez leads the category in wins with 205 and mount earnings with nearly $3.2 million.

Hernandez, a native of Lafayette, La., turned 19 Wednesday. He celebrated by giving Billybeck ($7.20) a shrewd ground-saving ride to win the second race.

Borel approaching 4,000th win

When Calvin Borel won the Ack Ack Handicap here opening day, it marked a record fourth time the veteran jockey has won the traditional fall-meet opener. The Ack Ack was run for just the 12th time Sunday.

Borel, who turns 38 on Sunday, could hit a major milestone by the time this meet ends Nov. 27. Into the Wednesday card, Borel had 3,986 career wins, 14 short of the 4,000 mark.

Apprentice gives Kentucky a shot

Apprentice rider Juan Molina Jr. made his Kentucky debut here Wednesday by guiding longshot Rail Thief to a 12th-place finish in the first race.

Molina, 19, is from Puerto Rico. He rode briefly at Calder before coming to this circuit, where he hired former jockey Julio Espinoza as his agent. Molina is no relation to Victor Molina, who rode for years on the Eastern seaboard, or Tommy Molina, who rides in Chicago. Espinoza said Juan Molina will ride at the four-month Turfway Park meet that begins Nov. 28.

Mid-range claimers scarce commodity

The dearth of available horses to fill mid-range claiming races on the Kentucky circuit was illustrated when these three races failed to fill for Thursday: a $10,000 claimer for fillies and mares at one mile drew just two entries; a $15,000 claimer for fillies and mares at seven furlongs did not go with six entries; and a $20,000 claimer for 3-year-olds and upward at 1 1/16 miles drew just five entries.

Racing secretary Doug Bredar said virtually all filly-mare claiming categories "have been light for months" on this circuit and that "Keeneland had a heck of a time" filling those kinds of races.

"So many mares are being bred, if they have any type of residual value, they're gone. I've got plenty of rock-bottom fillies, but that's it."

* Lane Gold, a longtime assistant in the Churchill publicity department, is leaving his post Sunday after eight years to work in his family's business in his native New York City.