Updated on 09/17/2011 11:24AM

Proud Citizen returns from surgery

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Only on Kentucky Derby Day could a race like the Churchill Downs Handicap become such an afterthought. For a number of reasons that become obvious after just a few minutes of handicapping, the $200,000 Churchill Downs Handicap is a Grade 2 race richly deserving of its own spotlight, even though everyone understands that such a scenario is impractical in the shadow of the Derby.

Nonetheless, horseplayers should have a great time with the multitude of variables that come with this 69th running of the Churchill Downs Handicap, which is carded as the fifth of 12 Saturday races (post time 1:26 Eastern). Proud Citizen, the runner-up in the 2002 Derby, will make his first start since being injured in the Belmont Stakes last June, and his return deserves attention in this fascinating race.

Proud Citizen, said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, has flourished since recovering from knee surgery that came several weeks after a fifth-place finish in the June 8 Belmont Stakes. Now 4, Proud Citizen had seven screws implanted into a knee fracture that Lukas says has healed completely.

"He has done just super," Lukas said. "We brought him back slowly, first at Santa Anita, before we started cranking him up here. I love the way he's coming into this."

Proud Citizen, by Gone West, drew the far outside post in the field of 13 older horses entered in the seven-furlong race. Cornelio Velasquez, whom Lukas has employed frequently this spring, will ride.

Aside from the difficulty of returning from such a serious setback, it is the level of competition that Proud Citizen will face Saturday that would make a return victory all the more impressive. Among his more accomplished rivals are Aldebaran, the Bobby Frankel-trained horse who has been first or second in 16 of 19 career starts; Wiseman's Ferry, winner of the Lone Star and West Virginia derbies last year; and D'wildcat, who won this race last year on the disqualification of the Lukas-trained Snow Ridge.

Other contenders include Mountain General, a highly consistent gelding trained by Steve Asmussen; Twilight Road, winner of the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill last fall; and Peeping Tom, a New York-based 6-year-old who has registered a Beyer Speed Figure of 105 or greater in each of his last four starts.

- Marty McGee

Distaff Turf Mile: Dedication, Bailey up

Trainer Christophe Clement was visually disappointed but not dismayed after an eventful trip kept Dedication from winning her United States debut in Tampa Bay Downs's Hillsborough Stakes. Saturday, Dedication is expected to make amends when she goes postward the co-choice along with fellow European-bred Heat Haze in the $100,000 Citgo Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs.

Dedication was reserved near the back of the pack during the early stages of the Hillsborough and was caught in traffic on several occasions before finally getting clear to finish a fast-closing second behind Strait From Texas. The outing was the first for Dedication since she closed out her 3-year-old campaign winning the Group 1 Prix de la Foret Stakes at Longchamp Oct. 13.

Jerry Bailey will be aboard Dedication for the first time in the Grade 3 Hillsborough.

Heat Haze also raced in France at 3, where she was a listed stakes winner before shipping to the U.S. and joining trainer Bobby Frankel's stable last fall in California. She has since won both of her U.S. appearances, an optional claiming race during the final week of 2002 and the Grade 3 Las Cienegas Handicap to open her 4-year-old season. Both victories came over the Santa Anita turf course.

Regular rider Jose Valdivia Jr. retains the mount.

Stylish, the late-running winner of the 2002 Citgo Turf Mile, may not get an opportunity to defend her title. She is on the also-eligible list in a race which overfilled with 15 fillies and mares entered to fill 12 starting positions. Stylish, who finished third in the Hillsborough, is part of a Thoroughbred Corporation-owned entry along with Sentimental Value, who will start.

Straight From Texas will attempt to upset Dedication for the second straight time Saturday. She has switch barns since her Hillsborough win and is now being trained by D. Wayne Lukas's former assistant Mike Maker.

- Mike Welsch

Juvenile: Pletcher running three

Trainer Todd Pletcher had two of the most impressive 2-year-old winners of the recently concluded Keeneland meet in the colts Heckle and Korsakoff.

Which one is better? That will be decided Saturday at Churchill Downs, when the Pletcher pair take on seven rivals in the $100,000 Three Chimneys Juvenile, a five-furlong race that goes as the sixth race on the Kentucky Derby card.

Jerry Bailey rode both Heckle and Korsakoff to runaway victories in 4 1/2-furlong races at Keeneland, making for a tough decision regarding who Bailey would ride here. He and agent Ron Anderson have chosen Heckle, who won by 12 1/2 lengths April 18, leaving Korsakoff, a 3 3/4-length winner April 9, for Gary Stevens.

"They're both very nice, but Heckle equaled the track record," Anderson said Thursday morning. "We think this one's slightly better. They might run one-two."

Both Heckle and Korsakoff were highly regarded before their debut races. Heckle, a son of Hennessy who cost Dogwood Stable $90,000 as a yearling, was sent off at 4-5 in his race. Korsakoff, a son of Stravinsky who races for owner Michael Tabor, was even-money.

Pletcher also trains the colt Limehouse, who also is owned by Dogwood, giving the trainer one-third of the field.

Bailey also rode a third Three Chimneys runner, the filly Fashion Girl, who won her debut at Keeneland April 13 in a race restricted to fillies. Cornelio Velasquez picked up that mount for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Fashion Girl, by Tactical Cat, was purchased at a 2-year-old-in-training sale for $500,000 two months ago.

Fashion Girl is one of three fillies in the race. Like Fashion Girl, both East Bay, a daughter of Stormin Fever, and Ide Be a Lady, a daughter of Ide, were debut winners last month at Keeneland.

Exploit Lad is the most experienced horse in the field, having raced twice last month. He returns just six days after beating maidens last Sunday at Churchill Downs.

- Jay Privman