11/15/2005 12:00AM

No rest for a sharp Esplanade


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Dale Romans is an equal odds employer. Although his success and consistency in recent years have made the veteran trainer a perennial favorite among Churchill Downs horseplayers - thus depressing, in many instances, the odds on the horses he runs - Romans still wins with an occasional longshot.

Dawn of War, winner of the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at 36-1 last month at Keeneland, is the most obvious example, but Romans also has been winning with less prominent horses who escaped the public's fancy. One of those recent winners was Esplanade, a Florida-bred filly who returned a healthy $33.60 after winning a Nov. 9 allowance at Churchill.

was one of a meet-high nine winners (through Sunday) at Churchill this fall for Romans, who was easily the leading trainer here in the spring and is bearing down on another title. Bred and owned by Don Dizney's Double Diamond Farm, Esplanade will be wheeling back on just a week's rest Thursday in the Churchill feature, a $54,900 second-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

Esplanade, said Romans, "likes Churchill," and he noted that both of the filly's wins have come here.

"I didn't really want to run her back so quick, but it was that or sit in the barn," he said. "She came out of the race real good, I know that."

When she won last week, Esplanade, a 3-year-old filly by King of Kings, was coming off four straight poor-to-middling efforts, which explains why she was dismissed at 15-1. Ridden by Mark Guidry, who has the mount back Thursday, she showed new spark when stalking the pace before taking command in the upper stretch and holding off a determined run from the race favorite, Naughty Is.

In all likelihood, another top performance will be required Thursday in order for Esplanade to repeat. Her raise in class has earned a meeting with several more accomplished fillies, most notably , a stakes-seasoned Bobby Frankel-trained filly who scratched out of a similar two-other-than last week when she was likely to be an odds-on favorite.

Other top contenders in the ninth of 10 Thursday races are , a 7 1/2-length winner of an entry-level allowance at Keeneland in her last start, and Easily, who most recently finished second at Keeneland at this same level.

Completing the lineup are Rimroc Gold, Daddy's Petunia, One Stormy Mama, and Proper Wildcat.