07/24/2002 11:00PM

Sunshine's recent form darkened

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After Bet on Sunshine was soundly beaten when trying for a three-peat in the Aristides Handicap last month at Churchill Downs, trainer Paul McGee wondered if the 10-year-old gelding had lost a step or whether he needed races with more distance.

Maybe Bet on Sunshine isn't the same horse who has racked up more than $1.4 million in earnings the last seven years. Or maybe he does need longer races, such as the 1 1/16-mile race that he won by 7 1/4 lengths last fall at Churchill.

But in any case, those hypotheses will have to wait, for Bet on Sunshine is among a field of nine older horses entered Saturday in the $60,000 Don Bernhardt Stakes at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky.

Bet on Sunshine, owned by David P. Holloway, drew post 4 in the 6 1/2-furlong Bernhardt, a race the gelding already has won twice, in 1997 and 1999. Charlie Woods Jr., who rode Bet on Sunshine in several races earlier in his career, will be back aboard Saturday.

Several younger rivals will be looking to deal Bet on Sunshine his third straight defeat. They include U.S. Jets, who defeated Bet on Sunshine in a June allowance race last month, and Big Bad George, who will have the services of the perennial leading rider at Ellis, Jon Court. Both U.S. Jets and Big Bad George are trained by Bob Holthus.

Another potential upsetter is Chindi, an 8-year-old gray who has amassed more than $770,000 with an uncanny late-running style. More often than not, Chindi, an El Prado gelding trained by Steve Hobby, prefers to have a fast pace ahead of him to facilitate his stretch kick.

Others entered in the Bernhardt are Dash for Daylight, Better Road, One By the Knows, Wouldn't We All, and Gallant Frolic.

Dash for Daylight, trained by Elliott Walden, won the Bernhardt last year under Tony D'Amico, who also rode the 2000 winner, Proven Cure.

One by the Knows and Wouldn't We All both came to hand at the Churchill spring meet, so either is eligible to surprise.

The Don Bernhardt is the ninth of 10 races on a Saturday card that begins at 1:10 p.m. Central. Post time for the Bernhardt is 5:20.

* Jon Court bobblehead dolls will be given away Saturday. Court has become an Ellis legend, having won the last four riding titles, a feat matched only once before - by Mike McDowell from 1984-87.

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