05/21/2009 11:00PM

Sara Louise tries to get back on track

Email

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When Sara Louise defeated Rachel Alexandra by nearly four lengths last fall in the Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs, it might not have been too far-fetched to say a superstar was emerging.

But you would have been going farther out on the limb to predict that it would be the runner-up in that Nov. 1 race - and not the winner - who would proceed to set the racing world on its ear by winning her next six races, including a record romp in the Kentucky Oaks and a thrilling triumph as the favorite over male rivals in the Preakness.

Sara Louise raced once after the Pocahontas, finishing second to Rachel Alexandra four weeks later in the Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill. Owned at the time by the Eldon Farm of Ken Luke and trained by Dale Romans, she was sold shortly thereafter to the Godolphin powerhouse of Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum for an undisclosed seven-figure sum.

"She was the best filly I ever had," said Romans.

So far, Sara Louise has not panned out for Godolphin.

"She went to Dubai for the winter and didn't do that well," Rick Mettee, the New York-based assistant to head Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor, said early Friday from Belmont Park, where Sara Louise is in light training. "She actually came off the racetrack just a few minutes ago. She's just starting to put weight back on. We don't have a particular race in mind for her. We just want to get her going good again."

Sara Louise, by Malibu Moon, earned back-to-back 91 Beyer Speed Figures in those two fall races at Churchill. Meanwhile, as Rachel Alexandra reached the pinnacle of American racing when earning 108 Beyers in both her 20 1/4-length Oaks score and her Preakness win, the last horse to defeat her has been virtually forgotten.

The Pocahontas "was pretty long ago," said Mettee. "So, no, nobody really brings it up."

Tribute to a longtime bettor

As a tribute to its loyal horseplayers in general and one in particular, Churchill has designated Sunday as "Howard Lerner Day" in honor of a 71-year-old Louisville attorney who has been coming out to the races since he was 14.

"I tell people that I only come to the track on days that end in 'Y,' and that I'm the most knowledgeable loser at the racetrack," joked Lerner.

Lerner maintains meticulous records of his wagering activities and claims to have won the pick six on 55 occasions at a variety of tracks, mostly via simulcast. "My biggest was for $6,060 on a $4 ticket," he said. "I never bet more than $16 on the pick six."

Lerner will present the winner's trophy after the sixth race Sunday, when Churchill will have "Howard Lerner Day" buttons and other mementos available. Eric Hampton, a customer-service representative, said the track plans to hold similar tributes to other horseplayers later at the spring meet and during future meets.

Wilkes horses on parallel tracks

To say that Warrior's Reward and Miss Isella - two of the top horses in the barn of trainer Ian Wilkes - are on a similar racing and training schedule is a clear understatement.

They both raced and won on Oaks Day, May 1. On May 16 they recorded their first breezes after their respective wins, and on Friday, they both worked again, recording an identical time for five furlongs, 1:02.40, despite not working in company.

If all goes well, they'll even make their next starts on the same day. Wilkes said Warrior's Reward is being pointed toward the Grade 3 Northern Dancer and Miss Isella to the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis, which both happen to be undercard races on the day of the Stephen Foster Handicap, June 13.

Warrior's Reward, a flashy winner of his last start against a talent-laden allowance group, will be seeking his first stakes win in the Northern Dancer, while Miss Isella will be aiming to score a repeat stakes victory after just taking the Grade 2 Louisville Distaff.

Dubai Majesty may go favored in Winning Colors

Temple Street and Dubai Majesty, both of whom finished just behind Informed Decision in Grade 1 Humana Distaff on Derby Day, head a field of seven that was drawn Friday for Monday's headliner at Churchill - the Grade 3, $100,000 Winning Colors.

Temple Street, second at 34-1 in the Humana Distaff, and Dubai Majesty, who finished in a dead heat for third in the race after setting the pace, face opposition from Keep the Peace, Nadeshiko, Tar Heel Mom, Lady Chance, and Tiz to Dream.

With a cutback from seven to six furlongs, Dubai Majesty could go favored in a competitive race that lacks a standout sprinter such as Informed Decision.

Monday's 11-race Memorial Day card also includes a pair of allowances.

* With racing being held here Monday, Churchill will make up for the missed dark day by staying dark until Friday, when a three-day race week (Friday to Sunday) will commence. The track then will be on a four-day schedule (Thursdays through Sundays), having recently eliminated Wednesdays for the balance of the spring meet.

* Pure Clan, winner of the Grade 1 American Oaks Invitational last summer at Hollywood Park, is on target for the June 6 Early Times Mint Julep after working six furlongs in 1:14.60 over the Churchill turf Thursday morning. Bob Holthus trains the 4-year-old filly.

* Nominations have been released for the two Grade 3, $100,000 stakes to be run here May 30. Twenty-five 3-year-old fillies have been named to the Dogwood, and 21 3-year-olds and upward to the Aristides.

* Julien Leparoux, the leading rider at the meet, will be away Monday to ride at Lone Star Park, most notably aboard It's a Bird in the $400,000 Lone Star Park Handicap.

- additional reporting by Byron King