10/30/2007 11:00PM

Pletcher's second string has clout

EmailLOUISVILLE, Ky. - Like any juggernaut, the Todd Pletcher stable is relentless. The Breeders' Cup is over, and most of the "name" horses are through for the year, but as sure as the show must go on at tracks such as Churchill Downs, so, too, does Pletcher, whose $26.2 million in 2007 stable earnings make him a logical candidate for a fourth straight Eclipse Award as top trainer.

Pletcher dispatched his Kentucky assistant, Michael McCarthy, last weekend to Hollywood Park, where the stable will cast a presence again on the Southern California circuit with a 40-horse string. Michael Dilger, who most recently worked the Arlington Park and Keeneland meets as the top Pletcher assistant, has assumed McCarthy's role at Churchill, where a full barn can be expected to have an impact here for the next several weeks.

Evidence of the Pletcher influence is easy to glean from the Friday feature at Churchill, a $58,500 allowance and optional claiming race scheduled for a mile on turf. Either half of an uncoupled Pletcher entry looks good, with Terrific Storm perhaps a slight favorite over stablemate Heat of the Night. Nine older horses were entered, although one of them, Crossword, will start only on the off chance that the race is transferred to the main track. Dry weather is forecast through the weekend in Louisville.

"I'd have to give a slight upper hand to Terrific Storm, because he has shown such an affinity for the Churchill turf," McCarthy said Wednesday from California. "But they're both nice horses, and there's not a whole lot separating them."

Terrific Storm has posted 2 wins, 3 seconds, and 1 third from 7 starts on the Churchill turf course. A 6-year-old Storm Cat horse bred and owned by Alex Campbell Jr., he will be ridden by Rene Douglas.

Heat of the Night, a South African-bred 5-year-old, has earned Beyer Speed Figures of 97 or higher in 3 of 4 starts since being imported from his native land. Rafael Bejarano has the call Friday.

If neither of the Pletcher runners gets up, the feature could go to Northern Scene, a hard-trying gelding who was entered under the $100,000 claiming option by breeder-owner Don Eberts and trainer Ralph Nicks.

* One race earlier, Nolan's Cat will return from a 13-month layoff when he faces seven opponents in a $52,500 second-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. The race will be the first for Nolan's Cat, a 5-year-old gelding, since Mike Maker assumed his training for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey.