05/28/2003 11:00PM

Many 'doctors' and no favorite


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The weight spread from high to low is a mere four pounds, a revealing statistic. Nine seasoned turf horses will clash Saturday in the $100,000 Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs, and it is difficult to determine where to start in picking a winner, let alone a wagering favorite.

Maybe the best place to start is the Fair Hill training center in northeastern Maryland, from where a pair of doctors - actually, two horses with "Dr." in their name - will have traveled to race in the Grade 3 Louisville, a 1 3/8-mile grass race. Both Maryland shippers bring encouraging credentials into the race: Dr. Kashnikow is 2 for 2 over the Churchill course, and Dr. Brendler enters off a nifty victory in the Grade 2 Dixie Handicap on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico.

As if any more doctors are needed in the house, Dr. Kashnikow will be saddled by John R.S. "Doc" Fisher, a veterinarian who has been a licensed trainer in Maryland for over 25 years. Fisher was here last fall when Dr. Kashnikow won the River City Handicap for the second straight year.

Dr. Brendler, trained by Graham Motion, was dismissed at 18-1 by the Preakness Day crowd before he made a big move in the final turn of the 1 1/8-mile Dixie. Dr. Brendler proceeded to win by a half-length over Perfect Soul in a field that included the highly regarded Del Mar Show.

Dr. Kashnikow and Dr. Brendler are two of five horses pegged to carry top weight of 117 pounds in the Louisville. The other co-highweights are Kim Loves Bucky, Rochester, and Quest Star.

Rochester hails from the same region as the "Dr." horses. He has been trained throughout his career by Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard. Rochester will be ridden by Churchill's all-time leading jockey, Pat Day.

Kim Loves Bucky returns from an unsuccessful trip to Southern California after having upset the Grade 3 Elkhorn at Keeneland in his previous start.

The rest of the Louisville field is Williams News and Roxinho, 115 pounds each; Red Mountain, 114; and Skate Away, 113.

The Louisville had been a fixture on dirt since its 1895 inaugural but was switched to turf in 1987, the first year for the Churchill grass course. It goes as the ninth of 10 races Saturday. First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

A bobblehead doll of 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed will be given away with the first 7,500 paid admissions Saturday.