10/26/2008 11:00PM

McPeek, Maker start meet strong

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - As good a fall meet as Mike Maker and Ken McPeek enjoyed at Keeneland, it looks like Churchill Downs will be even better for both.

Maker won his first Keeneland training title with nine winners, beating McPeek by one. And when Churchill opened its 26-day fall meet Sunday, both men came out with guns blazing: McPeek sent out four winners on the 11-race card, while Maker countered with three.

"I've won three races in a day multiple times," McPeek said. "But this was the first time for four. We're having a lot of fun."

Maker, with Ken Ramsey behind him as his primary client, figures to have a few more bullets than McPeek at the Churchill meet, which runs through Nov. 29. Maker has about 90 horses split between two training centers, Trackside in Louisville and Turfway Park in northern Kentucky, while McPeek has about 60 active runners split between Churchill and Keeneland.

Moreover, Ramsey is always looking for more horses, especially through the claim box. In fact, in the first race Sunday, Ramsey and Maker claimed a McPeek winner, The Right Face, for $30,000.

Unlike at some Churchill meets in recent years, when Steve Asmussen, Tom Amoss, or Dale Romans had everything going his way, it appears that McPeek and Maker both have stables with the kind of quality, numbers, and momentum to be prominent throughout the meet. Neither could have gotten off to a much better start, anyway.

Z-5 wager off to a slow start

When Churchill unveiled its new Z-5 wager on opening day, it was with an added twist - and expense.

Churchill announced it will jump-start every Z-5 by guaranteeing at least $10,000 in the pool. The Z-5, a super high five wager, will rotate between Churchill and Calder every day except Wednesday, when Calder is dark. The $1 minimum wager begins with the third race at Churchill, moves to the sixth race at Calder, and finishes with the last race at Churchill. The Z-5 jackpot carries over to the next race, or the next day, when no tickets are sold using the correct combination of the first five finishers.

Apparently many fans were unaware of the new wager Sunday, when only $6,444 was bet on the third race at Churchill and $6,034 on the sixth race at Calder. The bet was hit both times, with five winners for $1,611.40 each on the Churchill third, and four winners for $2,025 on the Calder sixth. Deficits of $3,556 and $3,966 had to be made up by the tracks when the pools failed to meet the $10,000 guarantees.

The Z-5 on the last race Sunday drew $13,077. Five winning tickets were sold, meaning there is no carryover into the third race Wednesday.

Albarado wins three on opening day

Robby Albarado took a red-eye flight from California back home to Louisville after riding Curlin to a fourth-place finish Saturday in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Albarado showed uncommon stamina when riding in all but one - and winning three - of the 11 opening-day races Sunday.

Fatigue "is starting to kick in," Albarado admitted after finishing third on favored Forest Command in the featured Ack Ack Handicap. But then he promptly went out and won the day's finale aboard La Mousse for McPeek.

* The Ack Ack winner, Magna Graduate, will be running in the Clark Handicap for the third time when the annual fall-meet highlight is renewed Nov. 28. Owned by Elisabeth Alexander, Magna Graduate won the 2005 Clark and finished sixth in the race last year. The 6-year-old horse also made an impact in another major Churchill race, the 2007 Stephen Foster Handicap, when narrowly beaten by Flashy Bull.

* Euroears, unbeaten in six career starts, will be making his first start in nearly eight months Thursday in a five-furlong allowance scheduled for the turf. Euroears, trained by Bret Calhoun, is a 4-year-old Langfuhr colt who earned Beyer Speed Figures of 106, 102, and 110 in his three starts this year before being sidelined with a condylar fracture in a hind leg.