06/11/2008 11:00PM

Pitts trying to upset an old friend


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - No one could blame trainer Helen Pitts for casting a wistful eye a few stalls down the paddock when she goes to saddle Einstein for the $1 million Stephen Foster Handicap on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

This will mark the first time Pitts has run a horse against Curlin, the superstar she unveiled Feb. 3, 2007, at Gulfstream Park. Since winning that career debut by 12 3/4 lengths, Curlin has earned nearly $8.8 million, one Horse of the Year title, and the admiration of countless fans around the world.

Curlin, trained by Steve Asmussen in the 10 races since the Midnight Cry Stable sold majority interest in the colt, will start from post 1 in the Foster. Einstein will break from post 4.

"It is kind of hard," Pitts said. "I do miss having Curlin in the barn. But it'll almost be an honor to run against him Saturday - and I sure wouldn't be ashamed to run second to him, either."

Despite common ownership ties, Curlin and Einstein will race as separate wagering interests because such an arrangement is permitted at Kentucky tracks in races of $100,000 or greater, according to John Veitch, chief steward for the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority.

In the sale of Curlin early last year, Midnight Cry retained a 20 percent interest in the colt. Today, after various sales transactions, the sole owner of the remaining 80 percent is the Stonestreet Stables of Jess Jackson. Midnight Cry wholly owns Einstein.

For Saturday, the Midnight Cry entity in the Curlin partnership is listed on the track program with Patricia Cunningham as the lessee, while the owners of Einstein are listed as Cunningham and Melissa Green, lessee.

Veitch said documents show Midnight Cry as the lessors for both horses. Veitch said the racing authority is working on changing regulations so as to "have greater control over lessors in these kinds of cases. As it stands, this is perfectly legal."

Midnight Cry is a partnership of William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham, jailed lawyers who are awaiting trial in federal court in Kentucky on charges of misappropriating funds from a $200 million settlement from a class-action suit. Last week, lawyers for Cunningham withdrew his application for a new owner's license in New York, thereby preventing from Einstein from racing in the Manhattan Handicap.

Pitts said the Manhattan was the ideal spot for Einstein, a multiple Grade 1 winner on turf, and that going in the Foster amounts to "doing what I got to do. He's the type of horse when he's ready to run, he needs to run. He's a hard horse to just sit on for a month. I'm not going to torture him and keep training him and not let him run."

Pitts has kept the Aug. 9 Arlington Million as the primary goal this summer for Einstein, but she does not completely rule out an upset Saturday.

"He gets over this track good," she said. "I'm basically in a situation where I've got to take a shot at this."

Derby trophy presentation

For three years, 1997-99, Churchill used the platform of hosting Foster Day as a means of celebrating the Kentucky Derby. Dozens of Derby-winning owners, trainers, and jockeys were flown into Louisville to be honored on what was known as Derby Alumni Day.

Such a concept was short-lived, primarily because of the considerable expense involved, but in ensuing years Churchill still had maintained a strong Derby theme by giving engraved trophies to the winning connections from that year's Derby on Foster Day. In perhaps the most memorable presentation, the Sackatoga Stable syndicate members, the owners of 2003 winner Funny Cide, rode in their trademark school bus around the track and were dropped off near the winner's circle.

For this year, a watered-down version of the trophy ceremony - owing to scheduling and travel issues - will be held after the fifth race Saturday. Churchill officials said Thursday they were unsure whether key members, or anyone, from the IEAH Stables syndicate that owns 2008 Derby winner Big Brown would be able to attend, but trophies will be presented to jockey Kent Desormeaux and to the colt's breeder, Gary Knapp of Monticule. Trainer Rick Dutrow will not attend.

IEAH has one starter Saturday at Churchill. The group is a part-owner of Pure Clan, the likely favorite in the Regret Stakes.

Borel seeks another Foster upset

It has been two years since jockey Calvin Borel pulled off one of the great upsets in Churchill history when he guided Seek Gold to a 91-1 win in the 2006 Foster Handicap for trainer Ron Moquett. For the record, Seek Gold raced just twice after that momentous win - and finished last both times.

Borel will ride Brass Hat in the Foster on Saturday.

Seek Gold is one of just two mega-bombs to have won the Foster in recent years. In 2004, Colonial Colony prevailed at 62-1.

Raving Rocket streak at 11

Raving Rocket extended his winning streak to 11 races Thursday at Churchill, edging away to defeat Moment of Song by a length in the first race, a $5,000 starter allowance. With Robby Albarado riding for owner Louis O'Brien and trainer Ralph Martinez, Raving Rocket returned $2.80 after finishing six furlongs in 1:11.55 over a fast track.

Raving Rocket, a 6-year-old Lil's Lad gelding bred by Will Farish and Temple Webber Jr., is based at Fairmount Park. He began his streak one year to the date of his Thursday victory, having captured a Fairmount allowance on June 12, 2007. His 10 subsequent wins all have come in $4,000 or $5,000 starter allowances.

Zito praises Guilliams after Belmont

People who worked for years with the late Cliff Guilliams at Kentucky racetracks were highly appreciative of how Nick Zito went out of his way to talk about Guilliams during the post-race media conference at the Belmont Stakes last Saturday.

Guilliams, a longtime racing writer and chartcaller who died suddenly April 12 at age 52, could frequently be seen hanging around the Zito barn at Churchill, particularly on mornings leading up to the Kentucky Derby.

Zito, the trainer of victorious Da' Tara, said he was dedicating the Belmont to Guilliams, calling him "loyal" and "a special friend . . . a good guy."