05/31/2009 11:00PM

Luster figures to prove her last was no fluke


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Horseplayers that followed the remaining Churchill Downs races after the Kentucky Derby will likely remember Luster, or at the least the race she competed in, which came right after the Derby.

With Calvin Borel riding the late-running Lacie Slew and fresh off his last-to-first, rail-hugging ride aboard Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby, several of Borel's opposing riders kept their mounts much closer to the fence than usual, taking advantage of the perceived best part of the track and preventing Borel from closing up the fence on them.

They were a race late on that decision.

Garrett Gomez on Luster turned in a Borel-like front-running ride, putting his filly right on top of the rail, and the filly responded as the favorite, drawing off to a 6 1/4-length victory against a field of first-level allowance runners.

Saturday, when Luster races in the one-mile Dogwood at Churchill, Gomez won't be aboard, and with speed to her inside, Luster seems unlikely to race on the fence under jockey Jamie Theriot.

But once again, Luster looks like the winner. Granted, she took advantage of racing over the best part of the track on Derby Day, but her overall form indicates that her dominant victory was no fluke.

A winner of 2 of her last 3 starts, she has shown class and speed. Three starts ago, she ran an 89 Beyer Speed Figure in a nine-length maiden win at Fair Grounds, and her performance on Derby Day earned her a 92 Beyer.

Even her loss in that three-race stretch, a runner-up finish behind Lady's Laughter at Keeneland over Polytrack on April 4, was an eye-catching performance. Luster went from seventh to first on the turn when making a premature wide move.

Against a modest Grade 3 field in the Dogwood, with the opposition headed by Perfect for You and Hightap, Luster looks poised to pick up her first stakes victory.

Aristides: Sok Sok set for rebound

In the Churchill Downs Stakes, run in the slop on the Kentucky Derby undercard, the public expected a strong race from Sok Sok, who started at 5-1 odds after having just won the Duncan Kenner Stakes at Fair Grounds on a sloppy track.

Sok Sok disappointed, chasing the pace and lacking his usual kick, finishing fifth behind Accredit.

That flat performance over conditions many expected him to like may cause some bettors to view him with a degree of skepticism in Saturday's co-feature at Churchill, the Grade 3 Aristides.

Not this handicapper. No two wet surfaces are the same, particularly when comparing different tracks.

And keep in mind that with Churchill Downs's new safety regulations, horses are not allowed to race with front shoes with caulks or stickers - which previously might have been used to improve a horse's traction on a wet surface.

It seems best to forgive Sok Sok's defeat in the Churchill Downs and expect him to return to peak form, provided he catches a fast track.

This is a horse that has run quickly in his biggest wins, and the Aristides is at his best distance of six furlongs. He also appears to have exited the Churchill Downs in top condition, working an easy half-mile nine days after his last race and continuing to breeze on a weekly basis since.

Look for him to get a stalking trip under Shaun Bridgmohan and run down front-running Semaphore Man and the other leading contenders.

Sands Point: Magical Affair the play

The Grade 2 Sands Point Stakes at Belmont Park provides an opportunity to a filly coming back off a deceptively tough trip - Magical Affair.

Although the comment line in her past performances notes that she was knocked off stride at the start of the May 1 Edgewood Stakes at Churchill, her troubles only began there. Shuffled back after being bumped soundly, she was not able to run as freely as in her preceding race and fell 11 lengths off the pace of Laragh.

Magical Affair was stuck in traffic with a wall of horses in front of her, and jockey Julien Leparoux remained patient on her. But in the end he had no choice but to go five wide into the second turn.

Unfortunately, by the time she was clear it was in the stretch, and Laragh was long gone on her way to victory.

It was to the credit of Magical Affair that she even made the finish somewhat close, making up five lengths in the stretch.

Winning the Sands Point will not be easy. She is drawn poorly on the outside in a race lacking pace, presenting the possibility of a wide trip, but it's tough to envision her getting a worse trip than the one she got in the Edgewood.

She merits play to win and in an exacta box with Ashland runner-up Gozzip Girl.