06/12/2007 12:00AM

Steep drop for Grade 2 winner


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It isn't often that a graded stakes winner gets to run in a first-level allowance race, but that will be the case Thursday at Churchill Downs when Bel Air Beauty, winner of the Alcibiades Stakes last fall, returns to action against eight other 3-year-old fillies in the featured eighth race.

A secondary condition of the $50,000 feature calls for horses that have never won two races, and with her 47-1 upset of the Grade 2 Alcibiades at Keeneland marking her lone victory in three career starts, Bel Air Beauty will be competing against horses whose only wins have been in maiden company.

Still, because she has not raced in more than seven months, and because the one-mile distance may prove to be a touch short for her, Bel Air Beauty is no cinch in a well-balanced field.

"She's trained okay, but I don't really think the mile is her ideal distance," said Bruce Lunsford, the Louisville businessman who owns Bel Air Beauty. "But the time was right for her to come back to the races, and this looked like a good spot. We need to see where we are with her, anyway."

Bel Air Beauty, trained by Frank Brothers, raced once after her October stunner at Keeneland, finishing a distant eighth in the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Lunsford said the filly entrapped her epiglottis in that race, and although she underwent minor surgery to correct the flaw, "eventually we had her undergo a full myectomy" after she had returned to training for two or three months.

"Once we knew we were going to miss all the early 3-year-old filly races, Frankie decided we needed to just go on and take our time with her," said Lunsford.

Bel Air Beauty will be treated with the bleeder medication Lasix for the first time Thursday.

For alternatives, there are Awesome Ashley, who was second as an odds-on favorite for this same allowance condition here May 10; Inside Passage, who earned an 85 Beyer Speed Figure in a sharp maiden triumph here; Angels' Share, who was beaten a nose for this same condition on May 16; and Runway Queen, who has been freshened since two failed stakes tries at Tampa Bay Downs last winter.