10/31/2008 12:00AM

Speed should be doing better


LEXINGTON, Ky. - There are two different conclusions that might logically be drawn from the results of the first three days of racing at the current Churchill Downs meet.

A check of Sunday's opening day results shows that early speed was not very productive. There were no front-running winners from the nine races run on the dirt. In fact, there were only two first-call leaders who managed to finish second, and just one other who checked in third. These early leaders should have been more effective, as the longest shot of the group was only 12-1 and most of the others ranged from 7-2 to 8-1. There were also two even-money favorites among them. One was unable to finish among the first three, and the other finished a well-beaten third.

Horses with early speed won two of the eight dirt races when racing resumed on Wednesday, but that was still a weak performance, as one of them was the 3-5 favorite and the other six who didn't win failed to finish among the top three.

This trend changed on Thursday. The first-call leader won three of the eight races on dirt with payoffs of $6.80, $12.80, and $24. Another early leader finished second, so half of them participated in the exacta.

Looking at all three days, the performance of the early leaders was subpar, and I can understand why some handicappers might guess that trend will continue over the short to intermediate term. I'm more optimistic than that. My guess is that now that the main track has experienced normal use for a few days, it should settle into a more typical groove. I'm looking for it to be kinder to horses with early speed than it was during the first two days of this meet, but with a lower win percentage than the results we saw on Thursday.

Mild endorsement of Copper State

Sunday's feature race at Churchill is the Grade 2 Chilukki, a one-mile stakes for fillies and mares. Copper State is my selection based on second-place finishes in each of her last four races, including the Grade 1 Ruffian and the Grade 1 Go for Wand in her two most recent starts. But there are other contenders who would be no surprise.

Leah's Secret finished last of four in the Grade 1 Beldame, 21 3/4 lengths behind Cocoa Beach. But that race was run on a sloppy track. If you are willing to look past it you will see that she shows two seconds and a third in Grade 2 stakes, and a win and a second-place finish in a pair of Grade 3's from the other 11 races showing among her recent past performances. And she likes Churchill's main track with two wins, a second, and a third-place finish from five local starts.

Super Freaky is a turf specialist who earned no wins from her last 11 races. But she shows a Grade 3 victory 12 starts ago, and a few seconds and thirds in races against Grade 1, 2, and 3 rivals last year. Although she finished last of four, she still ran respectably while chasing Zenyatta last time in the Grade 1 Lady's Secret on Santa Anita's synthetic surface. If she runs as well, or better, on the move to dirt, she can contend in this softer field.

Baroness Thatcher edged an allowance field at Keeneland when she returned from a freshening. She finished second, a head behind the winner, going seven furlongs in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff five races ago, which was her most recent Churchill start. The 99 Beyer she earned in that performance matches up favorably against the recent Beyers of the other contenders, so an upset is possible with some improvement on the track switch.

The others in this field deserve a look in the exotics, but they must surpass their best recent form to take more than a minor award.