06/30/2008 11:00PM

Import has his work cut out


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Group 1 winners in South America often equate to useful allowance horses on this continent – sometimes more, sometimes less. In the case of Star Plus, an Argentine-bred who will make his North American debut in the ninth-race feature at Churchill Downs on Thursday, a $47,400 turf race, trainer Ken McPeek is hoping for something far above average.

“He acts like he’s a really nice horse,” said McPeek. “He ran well on all surfaces and in graded stakes for quite a while there in Argentina. Hopefully he transfers that form up here.”

After winning a Group 1 event on Dec. 19 at San Isidro in Argentina, Star Plus was purchased privately over the winter by Earle Mack. More than six months later, he is resurfacing following a steady series of breezes at Churchill.

McPeek, who has had a terrific spring at Churchill, contending for leading trainer for most of the meet, said he currently has “seven or eight” South American horses in his large stable. Over the years, McPeek has made frequent trips to South America to scout and buy horses for clients. Einstein and Hard Buck are among his most accomplished purchases.

The unveiling of Star Plus will come in a rugged spot. Basically a third-level allowance, the 1 1/16-mile race also attracted Dominican, winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes in April 2007; Master Mizzen, an impressive winner of an allowance race here last out; and the newly claimed Terrific Storm, whose record from 11 starts on the Churchill turf includes 4 wins and 3 seconds.

A field of seven is completed by Vanquisher, Wise River, and Petion Station.

Somewhat like Star Plus, Dominican also may be difficult for horseplayers to gauge. Since upsetting Street Sense in the Blue Grass for Silverton Hill Farms and trainer Darrin Miller, the gelding has gone winless in five starts, although his last two races have hinted he is ready to return to form. In April he was second in a Keeneland allowance, and in his last start, he was a decent third behind Faith’s Magic and A.P. Xcellent on the Churchill turf.

The 11-race Thursday card carries a special twilight first post of 2:45 p.m. Two other allowances (races 6 and 10) also are on tap.

Twilight starts normally are used on Fridays at Churchill, but with the Fourth of July falling on a Friday this year, the track made the switch.