05/22/2008 11:00PM

Two turf races hold appeal


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There aren't many better remedies for short fields than turf racing. With short fields the rule at the Churchill Downs spring meet - the average has been slightly fewer than eight horses per race, well short of the track's target of nine - the timing is right for a couple of turf races with classy fields.

The Sunday feature at Churchill fits that bill. Ten older turf sprinters, many fresh from the stakes ranks, will travel five furlongs on the turf in a $50,400 allowance carded as the ninth of 10 races. As happy as Churchill officials will be to have ideal weather - the forecast is for sunny skies and a high of 82 - so, too, will a few of the horses in the feature race be happy not to have to run against Mr. Nightlinger.

Half the field ran in the April 13 Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland or the May 2 Aegon Turf Sprint at Churchill, and some of them in both. Mr. Nightlinger won both of those Grade 3 races, effectively writing himself out of this race Sunday, which is restricted to horses who "have not won $10,900 twice" since last Sept. 25, and to horses being risked for a $100,000 claiming price.

One of the Aegon returnees is Indian Ashton, a speedy California-bred gelding who ran a brave race before finishing fourth. After bobbling and hitting the starting gate, leaving him at a distinct tactical disadvantage, Indian Ashton persevered as a serious challenger to deep stretch, fading only in the final yards.

Elvis Trujillo, who got off to a terrific start at Churchill after moving here about a week ago, has the call from trainer Wesley Ward aboard Indian Ashton.

Other contenders in the ninth of 10 Sunday races include Atticus Kristy and The Nth Degree, the third and fifth finishers in the Aegon; Prosico, who had a productive winter in Florida for Chicago-based trainer Dale Bennett; and First Regent, a sharp main-track winner here Kentucky Derby week.

An hour or so earlier, Final Refrain will be looking to improve off a mediocre effort in the 1 1/2-mile Bewitch Stakes last month at Keeneland when she turns back in distance in the seventh race, a second-level allowance worth $45,200. Seven fillies and mares will challenge Final Refrain in the 1 1/8-mile turf race.

Churchill will be open Monday, when the $100,000 Winning Colors Stakes highlights a 11-race card. The track then will be dark Tuesday and Wednesday before action resumes Thursday.