10/12/2005 12:00AM

Perryville lacks pair of stars


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Surely nothing worse can happen to the Perryville Stakes that hasn't already happened.

For months, the Perryville had been targeted as the long-awaited comeback spot for Declan's Moon, the unbeaten 2-year-old champion of 2004. But he did not progress as hoped when returning from knee surgery and was recently taken out of training again.

Then the Perryville got an even greater jolt of excitement when trainer Tim Ritchey said he wanted the race to serve as a Breeders' Cup prep for Afleet Alex, the brightest star in racing today. But Ritchey had to cancel those plans Monday, saying the hairline fracture in Afleet Alex's left foreleg has not healed to satisfaction.

So what is left of the $200,000 Perryville, a Grade 3 race that will be run Friday for the seventh time at Keeneland? A decent, if not spectacular, race among eight 3-year-olds.

, a California shipper to be ridden by Jon Court, is an interesting new shooter in the Perryville, which will be run at the Beard Course distance of seven furlongs and 184 feet. Trainer Doug O'Neill had Diligent Prospect ready to roll in his last start, the Sept. 9 Foothill Stakes at Fairplex Park. Despite not having raced in more than eight months, Diligent Prospect won by four lengths.

Friday marks a homecoming of sorts for Court, the 44-year-old who was among the perennial leading riders on the Kentucky circuit before leaving for California in December 2003.

Another top challenger is (post 6), who has been alternately brilliant and disappointing for trainer John Kimmel. Awesome Twist, by Awesome Again out of the top racemare Twist Afleet, ran one of the best races of his career at Keeneland, winning an entry-level allowance by six lengths in April.

(post 7) also has mixed good races with poor ones. Although good enough to win three straight races in the spring, including the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico, Pinpoint has been soundly beaten in his three subsequent starts, most recently the Aug. 14 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer.

The rest of the Perryville field consists of Pavo, Vicarage, Straight Line, Humor at Last, and Social Probation.

The Perryville goes as the ninth of 10 races.