04/23/2009 11:00PM

Inca King's long layoff a question


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Inca King and Nistle's Crunch both are quite familiar with the Churchill Downs turf course. Having won the last two runnings of the Commonwealth Turf, among other things, they look like the top contenders in a competitive Sunday feature at Churchill.

Nine older horses are entered in the ninth of 10 races, a $58,800 classified allowance that also carries a $100,000 claiming option. On his best day, the speedy Inca King would be strictly the one to beat, but the 5-year-old gelding has not raced in nearly nine months, a variable that throws this 1 1/16-mile turf race more open than what might have been otherwise.

"He's run really well for us in the past, and he's been training nicely," said Steve Asmussen, who has trained Inca King since the spring of his 3-year-old season, when Bill Heiligbrodt bought him privately. "But he came back very rough from his last race at Saratoga" - the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap last August - "and he has been away for quite a long time. So the reality is that he might need this race. We're just glad to have him back."

Besides the 2007 Commonwealth Turf, Inca King also has won four other turf stakes from his 18 career starts, including the 2007 Jefferson Cup and 2008 Opening Verse over the Churchill course, while amassing a bankroll of $526,591.

Nistle's Crunch, trained by Ken McPeek, hit something of a peak here last fall when launching a torrid run to win the Grade 3 Commonwealth. Since then, the 4-year-old colt has had the benefit of two races, both over the Gulfstream Park main track, including an inadvertent March 21 match race that resulted from a multitude of scratches when the race was rained off the turf.

Besides Inca King and Nistle's Crunch, the Sunday feature drew several other highly capable sorts, including Dubious Miss, the curiously named

gelding who enters off a nearly 10-month layoff and a three-race win streak; Wise River, a hard-knocking 6-year-old with 14 first- or second-place finishes from 27 career outs; Fifteen Love, a dangerous-looking Juddmonte Farms homebred who still hasn't had the chance to compete on turf since being sent last fall from England to Bobby Frankel; and Crested, a Wally Dollase-trained veteran with two wins and a second over the local course.