05/14/2007 11:00PM

Kingship dangerous second off layoff

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Returning from a layoff of over five months in an April 18 allowance race at Keeneland, Arlington Classic winner Kingship had a right to get tired, and he did. After advancing into third with a sixteenth of a mile remaining, he weakened late to finish fifth.

On Thursday at Churchill Downs in the eighth race, a $55,000 third-level allowance at a mile on turf, fitness is no longer an issue for Kingship. He has the benefit of a recent start and seems primed for a return to peak form.

Owned by Oxbow Racing, Kingship will likely be difficult to beat. Last year at age 3, he won two stakes races. He also ran quickly. Twice last year he posted a 100 Beyer Speed Figure, including when he ran third, beaten a neck, in the Commonwealth Turf at Churchill Downs Nov. 11.

A winter freshening followed that race.

"He had a few issues he needed a little time to get over," trainer Ronny Werner said. "He seems to be doing well now. Everything looks good."

His trip could not be described as good when he raced at Keeneland last time. He broke last in the field of 10 and raced wide throughout, but was beaten by only 1 3/4 lengths by the victorious Defer.

"I was pleased with his race," Werner said. "He should move forward."

Regular rider Robby Albarado returns in the irons.

Finishing behind Kingship in that April 18 race were two opponents that he faces again Friday - Desert Wheat and Karelian, who finished sixth and seventh.

Desert Wheat, part of a Bill Mott-trained entry with River City Rebel, won two stakes restricted to Louisiana-bred horses over the winter at Fair Grounds. He took the Louisiana Champions Day Turf in December and the Dixie Poker Ace Stakes there in early March.

Thursday's nine-race card has two other allowance races. The stakes-placed Gatorize, who ran 12th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall at Churchill Downs, is among the favorites in race 7.

Ermine back at work

Werner worked one of the stars of his stable Tuesday, breezing Ermine five furlongs at Churchill Downs in 1:01. She is preparing for the Grade 2 Fleur De Lis Handicap June 16, he said.

She won the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn on April 7 in her last start.

"I wanted to give her a little time," he said. "She had some tough races close together."

Prior to the Apple Blossom, Ermine twice ran second over the winter at Santa Anita in Grade 1 company. She was beaten 1 3/4 lengths by Sugar Shake in the Feb. 10 Santa Maria Handicap, and lost the Santa Margarita on March 10 to Balance by a half-length. Those races came after her head victory in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap over the Churchill main track last fall.

Matt Winn tops weekend stakes

The $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes on Saturday is the lone stakes race at Churchill this weekend.

Graded stakes action returns the following week with the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap on May 26 and the Grade 3 Winning Colors on Memorial Day, May 28.

Kentucky Cup Turf winner Embossed, who ran a close fourth behind On the Acorn in the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita April 22, is being pointed for the Louisville Handicap, trainer Niall O'Callaghan said.

O'Callaghan's other top grass horse, Elkhorn Stakes winner Ascertain, is scheduled to make his next start in the Grade 1 Manhattan at Belmont Park June 9, he said.