Updated on 09/17/2011 10:26AM

Sky Terrace, a fresh danger

Email

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Sure, there will be a crowd Wednesday at Churchill Downs - just 140,000-plus fewer people than what showed up the last time racing was held here.

The three-day break between the Kentucky Derby and the subsequent 45 days of racing at Churchill in the spring is something like the Grand Canyon, dividing the meet into two distinct parts. Casual fans overrun the track on Derby weekend, but then only about 5,000 or so are in attendance on a typical weekday, proud to represent the bread-and-butter on which racing relies so heavily.

Understandably, the caliber of racing Wednesday will not come close to approaching what the sports world witnessed here Saturday, but the feature race is a good one. Sky Terrace, winner of the 2002 Derby Trial, is one of a handful of stakes winners in the ninth of 10 races, a $58,900 allowance at seven furlongs.

Sky Terrace, owned by a syndicate estimated to include some 200 people, most of them from Louisville, last raced in October, when he was soundly beaten at Keeneland. Trainer Vickie Foley turned him out in South Carolina for about four months and now believes the time off did him well.

"He's put some weight on and filled out," Foley said. "Everything's going really well with him."

Last spring, Sky Terrace won twice at one mile at Churchill, so the seven-furlong distance of the Wednesday feature "is perfect starting out," according to Foley. Six furlongs "would have been a little too short, and a mile is his perfect distance, although this is great after the layoff," Foley said.

Several challengers could make this a tough return spot for Sky Terrace, led by Dash for Daylight, who was scratched from a Derby Day allowance race to await this race. Other capable runners in the field of nine include Horrible Evening, Accelerant, Discreet Hero, and Da Devil.

First post Wednesday is 1:15 p.m. Eastern, which marks a departure from recent tradition for post-Derby weekdays. In recent years, Churchill had used a twilight first post of 3 p.m. for all weekday cards after the Derby, but now the only twilight post (2:45 p.m.) of the week will be on Fridays.

Weekend post time also will be 1:15 p.m.

Tomlinson tries to stay on even keel

Mike Tomlinson's luck went from bad to worse last week. The greatest blow came Thursday, when Tomlinson's first Derby horse, Sir Cherokee, had to be scratched because of a hairline fracture in a hind ankle. When announcing the scratch early Friday, Tomlinson had to fight back tears.

Still, Tomlinson had a chance to salvage a little something from the weekend by running Love Talkin in the Citgo Distaff Turf Mile on the Derby undercard. But after all but the final horse had been loaded in the starting gate, Love Talkin became badly agitated and eventually had to be scratched.

"She'd never so much as wiggled an ear in the gate before," Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson was in a reasonably good mood Monday when talking about the way his Derby weekend unfolded.

"It's not an easy game, and nobody ever said it was," Tomlinson said. "You've got to take the hand that's dealt you. We'll regroup from this."

Sir Cherokee will remain with Tomlinson at the Trackside training facility in Louisville, where the colt will get two weeks of stall rest and 30 days of hand-walking before being reevaluated. "It'll probably be about 90 days before he actually gets to go back to the racetrack," Tomlinson said.

Velasquez joins Churchill colony

Every year, many big-name jockeys move their tack from Keeneland to Churchill, where they ride through Derby week, only to leave for the rest of the meet.

But Cornelio Velasquez, who this spring rode at Keeneland and during Derby week for the first time, is staying put. Velasquez, with Richard DePass as his agent, is joining Churchill's jockey colony. Velasquez is scheduled to ride in as many as seven races Wednesday.

Keeneland has large Derby Day crowd

Derby Day attendance at Keeneland, some 75 miles from Churchill, was a whopping 21,685, a figure made all the more impressive in that it includes only paid admissions and no drive-through business. Overall handle at Keeneland, including simulcasts, surpassed $2.8 million, with almost half of that coming on the Derby.

At Trackside, the Churchill-owned simulcast facility located only about four miles from the flagship track, Derby Day attendance was 8,149, a record for the day. Wagering on the 12-race Churchill card was $1,653,985, up 2 percent from last year.

Storm fortunately a day late

It's a good thing the Derby did not happen to fall on May 5 this year.

A major thunderstorm hit the Greater Louisville area late Sunday and continued into Monday, knocking down trees and power lines Monday morning.

Conversely, the weather Saturday was dominated by cool breezes and sunshine, making for ideal conditions for the large crowd.