06/29/2004 11:00PM

Senor Swinger's home turf


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Senor Swinger, whose mild upset over Hard Buck three weeks ago in the inaugural Opening Verse Handicap punctuated his affinity for the Churchill Downs turf course, will return to his favorite surface Saturday as part of a sizable field of older horses in the $250,000 Firecracker Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Senor Swinger has won all four of his attempts at Churchill while going 0 for 7 over other grass courses. A 4-year-old gray colt with a steady off-pace run, Senor Swinger will be ridden once again by Pat Day in the Firecracker, a one-mile race that carries a Grade 2 ranking.

With weights, these are the known prospects for the 15th Firecracker: Perfect Soul, 121 pounds; Royal Spy, 118; Quantum Merit, 117; Senor Swinger, 117; Great Bloom, 114; Majestic Thief, 114; Academic Angel, 112; Minds Locked, 112; and Mr. Krisley, 112.

Entries were scheduled to be taken Thursday.

Few want to face Lunarpal, Sweet Miss El

The twin 2-year-old stakes that traditionally end the Churchill spring meet both appear to be coming up with short fields.

Sweet Miss El, making her stakes debut, is the likely favorite Sunday in the $100,000 Debutante Stakes, a Grade 3 race at 5 1/2 furlongs. Greg Foley trains Sweet Miss El, who will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano.

Lunarpal, the unbeaten winner of the Three Chimneys Juvenile and Kentucky Breeders' Cup, looks like a solid favorite to notch his fourth straight win Monday, closing day, in the $150,000 Bashford Manor Stakes. Trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Shane Sellers once again will join forces with Lunarpal for the Bashford Manor, a Grade 3 race at six furlongs.

Blanc headed to Saratoga

Count Brice Blanc in and Mark Guidry out among the handful of jockeys moving from Churchill to Saratoga later this month.

Blanc, who has enjoyed a terrific spring meet by winning four stakes, will rejoin Saratoga regulars Pat Day, Shane Sellers, Robby Albarado, and Cornelio Velasquez at the Spa meet that begins July 28.

Guidry has ridden at Saratoga in recent summers but wants to stay closer to his family in Louisville this year. His agent, Terry Miller, said Guidry plans to take a brief vacation after Churchill ends and then ride at Ellis Park.

"We won't ride the whole card every day, but we want to ride in a lot of the bigger races at Ellis," Miller said.

Badge of Silver preps for comeback

Badge of Silver, the speedy 4-year-old who has been sidelined with a foot ailment, continued along the comeback trail when he worked a half-mile in 48.40 seconds Wednesday at Churchill. Badge of Silver, trained by Ronny Werner, had his campaign interrupted in April when he had a small growth removed from a front hoof.

Also Wednesday, My Boston Gal, whose lone start this year was a victory in an allowance race on May 1, worked five furlongs in 1:00.40. Trainer Carl Nafzger said he has not yet pinpointed a return spot for My Boston Gal.

Fire Slam could face Champali at Ellis

The first stakes of the Ellis Park meet, the $75,000 HBPA Handicap, has drawn nominations from 42 fillies and mares. Ellis, located in the western Kentucky town of Henderson, begins Wednesday, with the one-mile HBPA set for Saturday, July 10.

Races worth circling on the Ellis stakes schedule include the July 24 Don Bernhardt and the Aug. 7 Gardenia. The Bernhardt could include the standout 3-year-old Fire Slam in a field of older horses that may include Champali, while the Grade 3, $200,000 Gardenia, for fillies and mares, is the richest race of the meet.

Byrne makes plans for Claiming Crown

Pat Byrne, who has trained a Horse of the Year (Favorite Trick) and a winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic (Awesome Again), said he is "very much looking forward" to July 17, when he will run a horse for the first time in the Claiming Crown series at Canterbury Park in Minnesota.

Byrne has Cherokee Prospect as one of the favorites for the Pepsi Express, one of six Claiming Crown events. This is the sixth year for the Claiming Crown.

* Bill Gavidia was a backstretch visitor here Wednesday. Gavidia, whose highlights during a lengthy riding career included titles at the 1974 and 1975 Churchill spring meets, was en route to Chicago, where he worked as a racing official for six years until becoming a steward in Mexico City in 1999. Gavidia, 65, recently retired from that position and plans to move to Cancun, Mexico.

* Separate tributes to Patti Cooksey and the late Danny Hutt will be conducted between races here Saturday. Cooksey, who retired last week as the second-winningest female jockey, will be honored with a sterling silver julep cup after the seventh race. Hutt, a trainer who died unexpectedly May 14 at 55, will be honored following the sixth race in a ceremony attended by his family.

* Local jockeys will be available for autographs here Monday at a 90-minute session to benefit the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund. Fans will be asked to donate at least $1 toward the MacBeth Fund, which benefits injured and disabled riders. The session begins at 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

* Bob Holthus, who took out his first trainer's license more than 52 years ago in his native Nebraska, recently passed another milestone when he celebrated his 70th birthday on June 24. Holthus, who continues to run a large and productive stable, suffered heart trauma in the early 1990's but has had few complications since then while enjoying stable health.

* Both radio shows in the local area will continue to air, even when the spring meet ends. "The Kentucky Winner's Circle," hosted by E.J. Clark and Lane Gold, airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on WKJK (1080-AM), while "Down the Stretch," hosted by Don Knobel, airs Saturday at 10 a.m. on WXXA (790-AM). Both one-hour shows will run through the Churchill fall meet in November.