11/01/2017 11:46AM

Rain-softened turf course would benefit Melaleuca

Linscott Photography
Melaleuca wins the 2016 Brandywine Stakes.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Inclement weather could influence the outcome of Friday’s ninth race at Churchill Downs, a $65,000, second-level allowance with a $62,500 claiming condition scheduled for five furlongs on turf. If it rains Thursday evening into Friday, as forecasters were predicting, the race might be run on wet turf or get moved to the main track.

Damp course conditions would leave Melaleuca as the most likely winner. One of the classiest runners in the field, a stakes winner with earnings of $254,384, she has performed well in three races over good turf, with a win, a second, and a close fourth. The runner-up finish came over the Churchill grass in November 2015, a three-quarter-length defeat to multiple stakes winner Super Saks.

Trainer Brian Michael, who co-owns Melaleuca with Robert E. Ritchie Jr., has given the mount to veteran jockey Jon Court, who has ridden her to two wins, three seconds, and two thirds from 10 mounts.

Tia Flor and Luvin Bullies are the two other entrants in the 10-horse field that have either won or placed over good or yielding ground.

If conditions are so wet that the featured ninth race is moved to the main track, the balance of power shifts from Melaleuca to Sentence. The latter has raced exclusively on dirt over her six-race career, with her best effort being an 8 1/4-length victory over a wet-fast surface at Churchill in May.

Out of action since running eighth in the slop at Churchill on June 22, Sentence returns for trainer Tommy Drury, who has won with 22 percent of his comebackers racing following breaks of 61 to 180 days over the past five years, according to Daily Racing Form’s Formulator statistics.

First post Friday is 2 p.m. Eastern, and the card will have extended breaks between races late in the day to avoid conflicts with the simulcast of the Breeders’ Cup from Del Mar.

The ninth is set for 6:30, between the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the Juvenile Turf, and the last of 10 races at Churchill is scheduled for 7:10, 25 minutes before the Distaff.