06/23/2004 12:00AM

Ocean Silk best in softer spot


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Ocean Silk will be a big favorite in the Friday feature at Churchill Downs, but only if Pat Byrne actually leads her over from Barn 21 to run. Byrne said he also planned to enter Ocean Silk in the Grade 3 Locust Grove Handicap here Saturday and would make a final decision based on the depth of the Locust Grove field.

"We're going to take a look at the stake, anyway," said Byrne. "If it looks too tough, then we'll stay in Friday."

Operating presumably on the maxim that a bird in the hand beats two in the bush, Byrne might be well advised to run Friday in the ninth of 10 races, a second-level turf allowance worth $52,900. None of Ocean Silk's seven opponents (including one main-track-only entrant) even remotely approaches the stature of Riskaverse or Sand Springs, the likely favorites in the $150,000 Locust Grove, and if Ocean Silk performs the way Byrne believes she can, the filly finally would gain her first U.S. victory following six losses.

"She really is a nice filly," said Byrne. "She's had some legitimate excuses in some of her races, including the company she's kept. In her last race," a defeat at odds-on in a June 5 race at one mile, "I thought the pace was way too slow. I'm going ahead and putting blinkers on her for this race."

Byrne said the blinkers and the additional sixteenth of a mile of the Friday race could be what leads him to go ahead and run in that spot. "It would be nice to get some graded black type for her Saturday, but we'll have more chances at that down the road," he said.

If does not run or does not fire, then Rhythm in Shoes and Vadahilla could fare well. Rhythm in Shoes, trained by Bill Connelly, finished ahead of Ocean Silk when second in the June 5 race, while Vadahilla, an intriguing French import, makes her Kentucky debut for trainer Paul McGee after two starts in Southern California for owner B. Wayne Hughes.

Two other allowance races are carded Friday.

In the seventh, a $47,900, first-level turf sprint, might be the one to beat in a full field of fillies and mares.

In the eighth, a $49,100, first-level route for 3-year-olds, , with Pat Day riding for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, may be a slight favorite in a well-matched field.

Twilight first post is 2:45 p.m. Eastern.