Updated on 09/16/2011 9:13AM

Tenpins back and ready to strike

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Trainer Don Winfree has rested Tenpins almost all summer so he will be fresh for a fall campaign.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Don Winfree has seen and done enough in 31 years of training racehorses that his instincts are his guide.

Some trainers might have been tempted to get a good horse like Tenpins back into action as soon as possible after he recovered from an illness following his last start in June, but Winfree trusts what his experience tells him. He is secure in the knowledge that giving Tenpins virtually the entire summer off might very well return dividends this fall.

Tenpins, a Smart Strike 4-year-old whose victory in the Schaefer Handicap on the May 18 Preakness undercard at Pimlico put him on the national radar screen, will make his return Saturday in the $400,000 Kentucky Cup Classic, a Grade 2 handicap that serves as the centerpiece of the five-race Kentucky Cup series at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.

"You've got to give horses a break at some time," said Winfree, a 54-year-old New England native who long has made a year-round circuit of Kentucky and New Orleans. "If you don't, then they'll take the big break, if you know what I mean. You see a lot of 'em going by the wayside now, don't you?"

Indeed, with handicap stars such as Street Cry, Left Bank, and Sky Jack having been sidelined in recent weeks, Winfree believes Tenpins may have dodged the kind of bullet that could have waylaid the Michigan-bred colt if he had remained active this summer. Because Tenpins was suffering from what Winfree called a "significant" guttural pouch infection when he finished third behind Street Cry in the June 15 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, the colt was going to be sidelined for an indefinite period, anyway. Winfree viewed the down time as a blessing in disguise.

"Because of the infection, I did miss a couple of breezes with him, but no training," he said. "I just thought it'd be good to give him a little time when it was going to be hot, then gear back up for a fall campaign. I could've run him in the [Aug. 18] Iselin, but it was extremely hot that week, and I didn't want to risk going back to square one with him."

Tenpins, owned by Detroit trucking magnate Joe Vitello, has the potential to become the best horse Winfree has trained since Lazer Show earned nearly $900,000 when she dominated the filly-mare sprint ranks in the East and Midwest in the mid-1980's. Before the Foster, Tenpins had finished first six straight times, although he was disqualified from a maiden race in the first of those races.

Oddly enough, Tenpins was defeated in his career debut in June 2001 in a four-furlong race for Michigan-bred maidens at Great Lakes Downs. After that, Tenpins was sent to Winfree, who has trained for Vitello for about 12 years.

"The colt came up [to Michigan] from South Carolina with a big reputation," said Winfree. "He was too good to get beat, so Mr. Vitello sent him down to me."

Now based at Churchill with a 12-horse string, Winfree long has been regarded as an extremely capable trainer. His career pinnacle came in the early- to mid-1980's, when he and his main client, James Devaney, had nearly 40 horses at Churchill. Specializing mostly in precocious 2-year-olds, Winfree won races in bunches, and Devaney was the leading owner at the 1986 and 1987 Churchill spring meets.

Winfree is an old-school horseman who would much rather make a little wager on a horse race or ballgame while sipping on a cup of light beer - always with ice in it - than spend time promoting himself.

Invariably outfitted in a beret-style cap and blue jeans, Winfree personifies the racetrack lifestyle, thriving on action while hoping for the next big horse to come his way.

With Tenpins, Winfree may have just that horse. After the Kentucky Cup, the tentative schedule for Tenpins calls for the Fayette Stakes next month at Keeneland, then the Clark Handicap at Churchill in November.

"Then we'll give him another little break and look at the big races in New Orleans," he said. "Hopefully he'll be able to stay the course."

Tenpins could be part of what is shaping up as one of the biggest fields in years for the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Cup Classic. As many as 11 horses could start, which would be the most in the nine-year history of the race. Entries will be drawn Thursday.

Tenpins will be ridden by Robby Albarado. Other notable jockey assignments include Pat Day on Dollar Bill, Mike Smith on Pure Prize, Richard Migliore on Abreeze, and Kent Desormeaux on There's Zealous.

Four other Kentucky Cup races will be run Saturday at Turfway: the $200,000 Turfway Breeders' Cup, the $150,000 KC Sprint, the $100,000 KC Juvenile, and the $100,000 KC Juvenile Fillies.

Four races from Kentucky Downs, the all-turf track in Franklin, Ky., will be interspersed with 10 from Turfway, forming a 14-race Saturday card. First post is noon. Whereas admission is free every other day of the 22-day Turfway fall meet, the charge Saturday is $3.

Although temperatures reached the high 90's in this region Tuesday, a cool front has been forecasted to move in by Saturday, when the high should be about 80.