04/07/2008 11:00PM

Pyro tuned for Blue Grass start


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Pyro turned in his final major workout for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes by breezing a half-mile under the cover of darkness early Monday at Keeneland, finishing in 50.60 seconds over the main Polytrack surface.

Pyro will be a solid favorite Saturday in the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass, a crucial Kentucky Derby prep race for which Keeneland officials are expecting a field of eight to 11.

Pyro, working without company and with Dominic Terry aboard, covered his final quarter-mile in 23.80 seconds. Trainer Steve Asmussen, who was on hand for the work, said he was very pleased.

"He's never raced on the Polytrack, so we'll get to see how he likes it," said Asmussen. "He trains great over it, but then they all do. I think he's coming up to the race just the way we'd like him to."

Pyro will be ridden again Saturday by Shaun Bridgmohan, who has been aboard in all six of the colt's races. Pyro, a son of Pulpit, won the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby as an odds-on favorite in his two previous races this year.

At least seven other horses are considered likely for the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass: Cool Coal Man, Cowboy Cal, Halo Najib, Kentucky Bear, Medjool, Miner's Claim, and Visionaire. Three more are possible: Monba, and either of the Barclay Tagg duo of Big Truck and Elysium Fields.

Big Truck won the March 15 Tampa Bay Derby in the race known for War Pass finishing last as the 1-20 favorite, while Elysium Fields was 11th in the March 29 Florida Derby. Tagg's main Derby prospect, Wood Memorial winner Tale of Ekati, joined the Keeneland string Sunday.

Horses bypassing the Blue Grass become logical candidates for the Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington, to be run one Saturday later at Keeneland at 1 1/16 miles.

Blue Grass entries will be drawn at the traditional media breakfast Wednesday in the sales pavilion. The race will anchor a 90-minute tape-delayed broadcast on ESPN Saturday (5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern). TVG will have live coverage of the race.

Curlin gallops

Curlin was out for training Monday for the first time since his Dubai World Cup victory, having an easy morning gallop over the main Polytrack surface at Keeneland.

The 2007 Horse of the Year, Curlin had arrived the previous day at about noon following a flight from New York, where he had spent several days in quarantine after flying back from Dubai.

"I just wanted to let him out today," said trainer Steve Asmussen. "We let him stretch his legs, let him know he's still a horse. I wanted to see how he traveled, how he felt, and he went great."

Asmussen said he is undecided when the next race for Curlin will be. He said the 4-year-old colt might work once at Keeneland before moving to Churchill Downs with the rest of Asmussen's main string a week or so before the May 3 Kentucky Derby.

"It'll depend on how I think he's doing," he said. "He'll train here for a little while, and then I'll decide if or when he breezes."

Ashland bunch headed for Oaks

At least four of the seven fillies from the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes on Saturday are likely to run back in the May 2 Kentucky Oaks.

The one-two-three finishers - Little Belle, Bsharpsonata, and Proud Spell - are all pointing that way, along with the Ashland favorite, Country Star, who finished fifth in her first start of the year.

Little Belle, now a winner of three straight races, won twice at Aqueduct before the Ashland. She could soon join the Godolphin stable after having raced under the Darley banner. Typically, the best horses under the Sheikh Mohammed umbrella compete under the blue Godolphin silks.

"She has proved to be a Grade 1 filly," said Neal McLaughlin, assistant to his brother, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "Usually they move up to the elite team at the end of their 2-year-old year, but she had not proven herself and did not really blossom until over the winter."

Meanwhile, trainer Bobby Frankel said Country Star "came back fine."

"We scoped her and everything looked good," he said. "I don't know, she didn't put any effort into the race. I think I probably trained her too much for the race."

Country Star, winner of the Grade 1 Alcibiades and Grade 1 Starlet from three starts at 2, was supposed to begin her year earlier, at Santa Anita, but was sidetracked by a minor illness.

Rafael Bejarano will have the mount back from Robby Albarado for the Oaks, said Frankel.

Ten entered in Beaumont

Ten 3-year-old fillies, including several possibilities for the Oaks, have been entered in the Thursday feature, the $250,000 Stonerside Beaumont Stakes. The Grade 2 Beaumont is run at the Beard Course distance of seven furlongs and 184 feet over Polytrack.

From the rail, with jockeys, this is the field: Ariege, Garrett Gomez; Passion, John Velazquez; Armonk, Joe Bravo; Tasha's Miracle, Albarado; Acacia, Shaun Bridgmohan; Minewander, Larry Melancon; Keep the Peace, Edgar Prado; Golden Doc A, Bejarano; Officer Cherrie, Patrick Husbands; and Zee Zee, Kent Desormeaux.

Theriot appealing ban

Jockey Jamie Theriot has appealed a three-day suspension for a riding infraction in the first race of the meet. Above Board, with Theriot aboard, finished first in the first race Friday but was disqualified to fifth for repeatedly bumping a rival. Theriot has an automatic stay of the suspension pending a hearing.

Theriot, the leading rider at the recent Fair Grounds meet, enjoyed a good start to the meet otherwise, with three winners Saturday and another Sunday. His four wins trailed only Desormeaux's five on the opening three-day weekend.

Also, Albarado has been held blameless by the Keeneland stewards for his role in the disqualification of his mount, Great Thought, from an apparent victory in the fourth race Friday.

* Keeneland has announced a change in post time, effective Wednesday. First post now will be 1:10 p.m. Eastern, five minutes earlier than what had been the regular post time for the last several years. The track's director of racing, Rogers Beasley, said the change was made to "minimize post time conflicts with other major racetracks across the country." Races will be run every half-hour, at 10 and 40 minutes past the hour.

* Churchill sold 500 pair of Derby tickets and 210 pair of Oaks tickets at a drawing Saturday at the track. This was the second year the track has made Derby tickets available to the general public through a drawing. The drawing began at 7 a.m., with many fans getting in line at 6 p.m. the previous evening.

* The Transylvania Stakes, run Friday, has had its Grade 3 status reinstated by the American Graded Stakes Committee. When the race, scheduled for turf, was switched to the main track, it was automatically downgraded pending review. Boss Lafitte won the race.

* Keeneland and Daily Racing Form<.em> are sponsoring a handicapping contest every Wednesday during the meet with $2,500 in total prizes. Registration begins at 11 a.m. near the walking ring. The entry fee is $10.