06/29/2011 12:14PM

The Underling always strong at Churchill Downs

Barbara D. Livingston
The Underling (right) wins an allowance race at Saratoga last summer.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Rusty Arnold will be among the masses Friday night at Churchill Downs, but you probably won’t be able to pick him out of the crowd. Arnold will be wearing a white shirt, which is apropos for the evening: Churchill is calling for a “White Out” theme, with everyone attired in white.

“I’m a Churchill guy, so yeah, I’ll get with the program,” said Arnold, who will saddle a 4-year-old filly named The Underling as one of the favorites for the featured 12th race, the $76,600 Roxelana, an overnight stakes at seven furlongs. The first of 13 races will go postward at 5 p.m. Eastern, with the last race going at 11:10.

The Underling, bred and owned by Alex Campbell Jr., has been sensational in three career races at Churchill, posting two wins and one second. A four-length victory in her last start, a May 29 allowance that marked her first race in 7 1/2 months, was particularly impressive.

“The filly had a little problem that we straightened out over the winter,” Arnold said. “She really came back great. She trained well up to that last race and ran even better than we’d expected.”

Arnold said he has some minor qualms about having to leave Churchill after a tornado heavily damaged his barn on the night of June 22.

“They didn’t have room to move around any of our horses, so we’re here at Keeneland with everything,” he said earlier this week from Lexington. “It’s not an ideal situation in regard to this particular race, especially considering how much this filly loves being there at Churchill. We had to take her off a surface she loves and train her here over the Polytrack for a week, and now we’re a shipper coming in for the race. It’s not what you’d want, but we’ll deal with it.”

The Underling, with Robby Albarado riding from post 8, is one of 10 fillies and mares in the Roxelana, named for the standout filly who won 7 of 11 starts from 1999-2003 for the late Blackie Huffman. The other top contenders also are drawn outside: Jocata (post 7), Decelerator (post 9), and Lady’s Laughter (post 10).

One of the fringe players in the Roxelana is Helen Belen (post 2), who recently returned from a six-month layoff with “a race I’m sure she needed” at Presque Isle Downs, said her trainer, Billy Denzik. “We’re in against some nice horses, but I’m looking for this filly to improve off that last race. If she brings her ‘A’ game, I’d say she could be there with them.”

One allowance (race 5) also is on the Friday card, which includes two more races than normal. Churchill lost the June 23 program to the tornado that ravaged several barns and is making up those races by parceling them out throughout closing week. The 39-day spring meet runs through Monday.

While general admission for night racing has been $10 (up from the regular $3) since Churchill first turned on the lights in 2009, track officials announced this week that it will cost you $20 after 10 p.m., and anyone under 18 must be accompanied by a parent. The move is an attempt to scale down the free-for-all feeling that has evolved among a younger, late-arriving crowd.

Clearly, Churchill is still tinkering with its highly successful formula for night racing. This will be the fourth and last night card of the 2011 spring meet, and the 12th overall. Ontrack attendance for the last two Fridays were 23,332 (June 17) and 25,523 (June 24), and with nice weather in the forecast, this one could exceed both of those.

With the expanded program, Churchill has shifted its popular “Bet Or No Bet” promotion to precede races 8 through 11. Fans selected at random are asked whether they want to make a $1,000 win bet or settle for $100 in cash.