05/27/2005 11:00PM

Pace main hurdle for Rapid Proof

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Coady Photography
Rapid Proof (1) comes into Monday's Louisville Handicap off a victory in the Connally Handicap (above).

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Marathon grass races such as the Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs typically unfold with a moderate, slow, or even crawling pace. Those races often morph into little more than a group gallop, followed by a sprint to the wire, with a slight edge perhaps belonging to the horse with the most potent turn of foot.

Given the startling lack of speed in the field for Monday's Grade 3 Louisville, horseplayers must decide whether the race shape will hinder Rapid Proof, who otherwise appears to be the most logical winner of the 1 3/8-mile grass race.

Normally, a steadfast closer such as Rapid Proof would be at a disadvantage in this kind of spot, but relative to his opponents, he might well find himself in an excellent position once the field of seven older turf runners hits the third and final turn.

The $100,000 Louisville 'Cap lost its obvious pacesetter when trainer Elliott Walden decided not to enter Quest Star. That development means Rapid Proof could find himself much closer to the early pace than usual, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"The last six months or so, the horse has really come into his own," said trainer Hal Wiggins.

, entered off a series of sharp efforts that culminated with back-to-back victories in the Muniz and Connally handicaps, is the 119-pound highweight in the Louisville, the 10th and last race Monday. Wiggins has named Brian Hernandez Jr. for a return ride on Rapid Proof.

Probably the most dangerous challenger to Rapid Proof is , a 5-year-old gray gelding with 6 wins from 11 career starts. Silverfoot has been pointing to the Louisville since he won an April 23 allowance over the Keeneland turf.

"Our horse is solid, and his form shows it," said his trainer, Dallas Stewart. "We think he's on his game."

Other viable contenders include , from the powerhouse Bobby Frankel stable, and Rochester, a 9-year-old who could surpass the $1 million earnings mark by finishing third or better.

The balance of the field is Gulf News, Gottabeachboy, and Grey Beard.

There is no racing here Wednesday to make up for the dark day missed by having a Monday card.