11/22/2002 1:00AM

Keep an eye on Churchill claimers


LEXINGTON, Ky. - There is a lot to be said for the quality of the claiming horses who have been competing at Churchill, and most owners and trainers know it. That explains why, with only six racing days left in the current fall meeting, which ends on Nov. 30, the demand for claiming horses has increased dramatically.

Take a look at the races run at Churchill on Nov. 20-21. Wednesday's second race was a 1 1/16-mile maiden claiming race for 2-year-old fillies. Strike Rate had finished third, beaten by a length for $50,000 in her debut at Arlington, and was made the even-money favorite in her first local start. She justified that support when she drew off to score by 3 1/2 lengths, without being asked for her best. After the race, she moved to the barn of Dale Romans, her new owner and trainer. In fact, Romans liked this field so much, he also claimed second-place Show Bug for one of his owners.

The next claiming race on the card was the fourth, a six-furlong, $10,000 sprint for 3-year-olds and up. There were seven runners in the field, and three of them were claimed. They finished first, second, and third. Target West, who won by 6 1/2 lengths, went to Chris Dorris. Second-place Recount now belongs to owner-trainer Randy Matthews. And second betting choice Sea Colony moved to Michael Lauer's barn.

One race later, fillies and mares competed in a six-furlong, $15,000 claiming race. The closing odds on the contenders were: 8-5, 2-1, 4-1, then jumped up to double digits on the others in that nine-horse field. The first three betting choices all changed barns.

The trend continued Thursday. Three horses were taken from the second, a 6 1/2-furlong, $15,000 claiming race, including two of the first three betting choices. Lucky Baldwin won by a half-length, then became the newest member of the Hal Wiggins barn.

One race later, Book Seven and 2-1 favorite Rainy Parade were claimed from the third, a $30,000 route for 3-year-olds and up. They finished third and fourth, respectively.

Two horses were claimed from the fifth, a 6 1/2-furlong, $30,000 race for nonwinners of two races lifetime. One of them was Storm Passage, who won by a length. The other was Single Fuse, who was making a bold move and appeared to be on his way to a convincing win when he broke down in deep stretch.

Regardless of where they are shipped, horses who ran respectably in claiming races at Churchill are likely to be threats. Give them the respect they deserve if they show up at any circuit you follow.

Yielding turf favors closers

It has rained often enough in recent days that the turf course at Churchill has sometimes been rated yielding. Although early speed generally holds better on the grass at Churchill than it does on most courses, that hasn't been the case recently on days when the turf contains a lot of moisture.

There were two races run on yielding turf at Churchill on Nov. 17. Cheryl's Myth was eighth of nine at the first call, then finished strongly to win by a nose. She paid $24.40 for her upset victory. The other turf race on the card was won by Dr. Kashnikow, a deep closer who was 10th of 11 at the first call. He returned $8.60 as the second betting choice.

The turf was rated good on Wednesday, but rain during the last half of the card created yielding conditions again Thursday, and deep closers flourished. Crackajack was last of 10, then unleashed a wicked late kick with three furlongs to run, and cruised to an impressive 3 1/2-length win. Even-money favorite Della Francesca, who was making her first U.S. start for Niall O'Callaghan, tried front-running tactics and finished last.

Deep-closer Fat Farm was last of 10 early in the nightcap, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for first-level allowance fillies and mares. She circled her foes seven wide, and drew away to score by 3 1/2 lengths.

Fat Farm paid $87.20 to win, and keyed a $589.20 exacta, a $13,221.40 trifecta, and a $27,091.20 $1 superfecta.

Give 30-1 longshot Deeliteful Shelby and 84-1 outsider Gray Morning extra credit for battling early and sticking around to finish second and third in that race despite hindrance from the bias.