06/01/2009 11:00PM

King Carter can earn trip to Saratoga

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The past few weeks have gone so well for Michelle Nihei that she now can look ahead to Saratoga with optimism. Four wins from 12 starts at the Churchill Downs spring meet have reenergized the Nihei stable, which began 2009 with just 2 wins from 46 starters.

"We'll probably take 10 horses to Saratoga, the ones running well for us," said Nihei, who gave up a career in neuroscience to work on the racetrack nearly eight years ago.

One horse that might well make the trip is King Carter, a 6-year-old gelding entered in the Thursday allowance feature at Churchill. Off his last effort, a third-place finish on the turf at Keeneland, King Carter figures as one of the contenders in a field of eight 3-year-olds and upward.

"He's an old warrior who gives his absolute best every time," said Nihei, a former exercise rider and assistant who worked for Todd Pletcher for four years before opening a public stable in November 2007.

Actually, in the race before his Keeneland third, King Carter finished last of 12 in a Feb. 18 turf allowance at Gulfstream Park. Nihei called that race "an anomaly," adding the gelding was victimized by unfavorable circumstances. "He's actually a lot better than that."

King Carter will be ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr. when he breaks from post 6 in a $50,200 first-level allowance scheduled for a mile on turf.

Probably the horse to beat is Cross Village, the lone 3-year-old in the field. Trained by Eddie Kenneally, Cross Village finished first in his last race, which came for these same allowance conditions, but he was disqualified after the stewards ruled he impeded a rival during the stretch run. That May 7 race was on the Churchill main track, and now the son of Langfuhr will try the grass for the first time.

Corey Lanerie, who subsequently served a three-day suspension for that May 7 riding infraction, has the mount back on Cross Village, who was assigned post 5.

Other logical contenders in the eighth of nine races include Blue Lion, a late-running colt trained by Rusty Arnold, and Gandolph Finch, stretching out off a series of sprints on turf and synthetics.

One other allowance (race 4), also is carded for Thursday, when first post is 12:45 p.m. Eastern.