05/29/2002 11:00PM

Louisville draws field worthy of graded status

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It only took 107 years, but the Louisville Handicap finally got a grade. First run in 1895, the Louisville underwent a variety of changes before Churchill Downs officials made it a turf marathon in 1996.

The grass specialists entered to run Saturday in the $100,000 Louisville seem sufficiently accomplished to justify the North American Graded Stakes Committee's raising the race last fall to Grade 3 status. Kim Loves Bucky, upset winner of Keeneland's Elkhorn Stakes five weeks ago, is the 118-pound highweight in an 11-horse field, one that could produce any number of results without being a major surprise.

Beside Kim Loves Bucky, a 5-year-old gelding homebred owned and trained by John Glenney, the 1 3/8-mile Louisville attracted a deep assortment of capable runners. Among them: Profit Option, an earner of nearly $465,000 for Kenny Hoffman; Rochester, whose Hall of Fame trainer, Jonathan Sheppard, won the Louisville last year with With Anticipation; Pisces, a respectable fifth in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve in his last start; and Sumati, a California invader coming off a sharp victory at Hollywood Park.

Yet another contender is Riddlesdown, an Irish-bred who won the May 11 Louisville prep in convincing fashion.

"I've always thought quite a lot of him," said trainer Niall O'Callaghan, who undertook his training last winter at Payson Park.

A couple of notable streaks have been recorded in recent runnings of the Louisville: trainer Elliott Walden won three straight years (1994-96), and the popular gray Chorwon also won three in a row (1997-99).

Five allowances also are part of a solid 10-race Saturday card. In the third race, Desert Gold, a highly impressive winner of her career debut, will face five other entry-level fillies. Trainer Pat Byrne has said he hopes Desert Gold makes enough progress to run in the Test Stakes at Saratoga in late July.

* Belterra, unraced since finishing third in the April 6 Ashland Stakes, breezed a half-mile in 48 seconds Thursday and could be on schedule to make her next start in the June 29 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont, said trainer Carl Nafzger. "We'll see how she comes out of the work," he said.

* Trainer Chuck Simon has appealed a 15-day suspension for a medication violation and thus will be able to continue running horses in his name, pending a hearing before the Kentucky Racing Commission or a drop of the appeal. Simon also has horses stabled at Monmouth Park.

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