06/29/2009 11:00PM

Ideal conditions for final night card

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Churchill Downs fans prefer their fields full in the same way they prefer their beer cold. Those simple wishes will be granted on the third and final night program of the spring meet, which begins 6 p.m. Eastern Thursday on what is being forecast as easily the best evening of weather of the three.

Evening temperatures hovering around 70 and minimal humidity should make for ideal conditions for an 11-race card that drew 112 horses (including entries and also-eligibles) and once again is expected to further relegate the beer-and-concessions fiascos that plagued the first night program on June 19 into the distant past. A partying crowd similar to the 28,011 and 27,623 that jammed into Churchill despite oppressively hot conditions on the first two nights is expected again Thursday.

Two allowances are on the card, and while the seventh race is the richer one, the 10th is deeper and therefore should prove of greater interest among horseplayers. The 10th is a first-level, one-mile allowance with a $50,200 purse, and more than half of those entered can fairly be called viable contenders.

Senor Fuego is one of those. As a flashy winner of his career debut on the May 1 Kentucky Oaks undercard, Senor Fuego is still the only horse from 39 starters to win at the spring meet for Todd Pletcher, the four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer. That qualifies as man-bites-dog kind of news, and no one is more acutely aware of the prolonged local slump than Pletcher's longtime assistant, Michael McCarthy.

"This is absolutely drawing me to the edge," McCarthy said. "No one expects more from me and this outfit than myself."

In the seventh race, a $55,300, third-level allowance pitting six fillies and mares at six furlongs, trainer Steve Asmussen appears to have the horse to beat in Catera, a Gone West filly with 3 wins from 9 starts.

While the first two night cards were held on Fridays, the reason the third night card is on a Thursday is because of the three-day July 4 holiday weekend, when many people will start their weekend early by having Friday off from work. Churchill will revert to its twilight first post of 2:45 p.m. for an 11-race Friday card. The final two programs of the meet, Saturday and Sunday, start at 12:45 p.m.