05/06/2004 11:00PM

For Two Dot Slew, there's no place like Louisville


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Two Dot Slew is based at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., but her heart is in Louisville. A 7-year-old daughter of Evansville Slew, she has never won outside Churchill Downs in her 44-race career.

On Thursday she scored her fourth victory at Churchill Downs, winning a 1 3/8-mile turf allowance race under jockey Rafael Bejarano. Her previous three victories had come on the Churchill Downs main track.

Not that she had not run well elsewhere - she was second in three consecutive stakes races at Turfway and Oaklawn Park in early 2001. And last year, she was the runner-up behind Reason to Talk in the Dade Turf Classic at Ellis Park.

On Thursday, she won by 2 1/4 lengths in a three-other-than allowance, setting a slow pace and leading wire to wire. She raced 1 3/8 miles over a firm course in 2:16.71.

"She was looking for a win for a while," said her owner, Rick Chastain, who trained her for the first 41 starts of her career. "She deserved it."

The win proved particularly gratifying for Chastain, 66, who in January had to step away from training after undergoing heart surgery. At that time, he transferred the mare to trainer Dewayne Gibson, with whom he shared a barn at Ellis Park for many years. "I was real fortunate to know Dewayne," Chastain said.

Claim box a hot spot

Steve Asmussen is proving that good trainers are often good handicappers. Of his five claims at Churchill Downs this meet, three won the day he claimed them. He even had the claim "exacta" in the fourth race April 25, taking both the first- and second-place finishers, Black Heart and Fighting Skinny.

He has not been alone at the claim box. Through Thursday, there have been 43 claims at Churchill Downs - roughly an average of one claim per claiming race. Twice there have been six-way shakes for horses, and one $15,000 horse, Kingsize Performer, was claimed in an eight-way shake by owner-trainer Mary Bennett.

High purses relative to claiming prices make Churchill Downs a desirable place to claim horses, Asmussen said.

Jockey news

Jockeys Larry Melancon and Willie Martinez each won a pair of races Thursday at Churchill Downs. Melancon took the fourth on Exploding Affair ($8.40) and the seventh race with Pay the Fox ($4). Martinez rode a pair of longshot winners, Azure ($26.80) in the third and Sweet Bernice ($22.20) in the eighth.

Meanwhile, Pat Day rode a single race on the low-quality 10-race program, winning the fifth race aboard Lods.

This spring has been an exciting one for the Martinez. On April 24, opening day of the Churchill Downs meet, he worked Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones five furlongs in 58 seconds at Churchill for trainer John Servis, then hopped on a plane to Nebraska, where he won the Bosselman/Gus Fonner Stakes at Fonner Park aboard Sonic West.

"It's been a great story," Martinez said of Smarty Jones. "I feel blessed to have been around him."

His two winners Thursday came from five mounts. He is 2 for 23 this meet.

"My career has been upside down over the last few years," he said. "I'm not discouraged. There was a time when I was; not now. I've never lost faith in myself. I enjoy what I do."

That includes breezing Smarty Jones, even if never gets the opportunity to ride him. "John and me, we've developed a friendship over this horse," he said.

Race-caller can't see races

Churchill race-caller Luke Kruytbosch will be glad when the temporary Infield Village tents are finally removed from the infield. The giant tents, which are in the process of being dismantled, have been partially obscuring Kruytbosch's view of the backstretch from the temporary officials' stand on the finish line, forcing him to use various television angles and other unorthodox methods to see the races he is calling.

Races out of the mile chute have been particularly troublesome for Kruytbosch because the start of those races are partly hidden by the multi-tiered structures on the first turn.

"I called most of the first quarter-mile of the Derby Trial off the TV," said Kruytbosch. "But for the next mile race, all that was on the TV screen was tents, so I had to get a little creative."

The annoyances will be behind him soon. By this time next year, when Churchill's $121 million renovation is complete, Kruytbosch will be perched high above the track in a booth with a perfect view.

"I'm just grinning and bearing it until next year," said Kruytbosch, now in his sixth year at Churchill.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee