05/15/2003 11:00PM

Minimum weight rises to 116 for most races

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In a subtle change that signifies a growing trend in the Thoroughbred racing industry, Churchill Downs is slightly raising the level of weights that horses will carry in most races, effective June 1.

Although not applicable to all races, the change effectively raises the minimum weight assignments in most races to 116 pounds, Doug Bredar, Churchill's racing secretary, said Friday. Currently, the minimum in many Churchill races is 114 pounds.

The change comes nearly a year after an industry-wide controversy over jockey weights reached an apex last summer. Shane Sellers, an outspoken critic of low weights and a regular rider at Churchill, was at the forefront of the debate, along with several other retired and active members of The Jockeys' Guild.

"The majority of riders are extremely thankful that Churchill Downs has come to this decision," said Sellers.

Churchill is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., which owns five other racetracks, including Hollywood Park and Arlington Park. The higher weight scale already is in place at Hollywood, the Southern California track where slightly higher weights long have been the standard, and at Arlington, which moved to raise its weights last summer. The higher weights are not uniform policy at the other CDI tracks - Calder, Ellis Park, and Hoosier Park - but Bredar said, "We're looking into making this a company-wide thing."

The New York Racing Association also has a higher level of weights, with 117 or 118 the minimum in most races. Other North American tracks also have edged toward similar minimums in the last year or so.

Bredar said the longstanding argument over whether slightly higher minimums are beneficial to the sport "obviously has merit on both sides of the issue. We've given this a lot of thought, and we decided that another pound or two can make a big difference for many jockeys. Obviously, Shane and The Jockeys' Guild were persistent, although we ultimately came to this decision on our own."

Awesome Humor unlikely for Acorn

Awesome Humor, the previously undefeated filly who was beaten 14 lengths in her 3-year-old debut Wednesday at Churchill, appears unlikely to proceed to the June 6 Acorn Stakes, a one-mile, Grade 1 race at Belmont.

Trainer Elliott Walden said he was puzzled by the filly's poor showing and that he was not sure when she would race next. Awesome Humor won all four of her starts last year before being sidelined to undergo arthroscopic surgery on both front ankles.

Meanwhile, the filly who handily defeated Awesome Humor in the Wednesday feature, Love Talkin, earned a welcome measure of redemption for herself and her trainer, Mike Tomlinson.

Love Talkin had been scratched from the Edgewood Stakes on the Kentucky Derby undercard after acting up in the starting gate. The Edgewood capped a highly frustrating Derby weekend for Tomlinson, whose stable star, Sir Cherokee, was scratched from the Derby because of a leg fracture.

Desert Gold returning in turf race

Desert Gold, a winner of 4 of 7 starts but unraced in more than five months, is scheduled to make her turf debut as the likely favorite in the Sunday feature at Churchill, a $57,600 allowance at one mile.

Desert Gold, owned by Stonerside Stable and trained by Pat Byrne, began her career here last spring going 2 for 3. The 4-year-old filly "was freshened over the winter," said Byrne. "She's had a couple of works over the turf and really seems to like it."

Byrne said he and John Adger, racing manager for Stonerside, "decided we'd try and make a turf career for her. Hopefully we'll have some luck starting out Sunday."

Hollywood premieres in Bluegrass

Louisville and Lexington are two of just a few cities that will host premiere showings of the film "Seabiscuit" before the movie opens nationwide July 25.

The premieres are scheduled for July 19 at the Palace Theatre in Louisville and the Kentucky Theatre in Lexington. Proceeds from both premieres will benefit charity.

For more information, contact Elisabeth Jensen at The Race for Education at (859) 252-8648.

* Bredar, who also serves as racing secretary at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., said a number of changes will be in effect for the 41-day meet which begins July 9, including the dates-preference system involving turf races and turf-workout privileges. Stall applications for the Ellis meet are due Wednesday.