09/21/2001 11:00PM

Walden bench gets call for Mile, Turf

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There is comfort in numbers. Elliott Walden had planned to saddle several of his best horses in the Kentucky Cup turf series Sunday at Kentucky Downs, with Pat Day riding all of them.

Then Royal Strand was diagnosed with a slight strain of an upper suspensory ligament, and Elite Mercedes suffered a slight injury to a stifle.

No problem. Walden, calling on his prodigious reserves, simply plugged Three Wonders into Royal Strand's spot in the $300,000 Turf, and named Cocktails and Lies to replace Elite Mercedes in the $200,000 Mile.

Walden, who said he and Day probably would make the two-hour-plus southbound drive together to Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky., was philosophical Friday about the defections.

"Hopefully both of the horses I had to take out will be able to make it back by Keeneland [next month]," said Walden.

Three Wonders is a highly capable substitute. A 4-year-old Storm Cat colt, he has earned more than $300,000 in 18 starts and most recently finished a sharp fourth in the Sea O'Erin Handicap at Arlington.

Cocktails and Lies will be something of a longshot in the Mile but has shown glimpses of occasional brilliance He won a third-level allowance in a one-mile turf race at Churchill Downs in July.

Walden also has two horses in each of the other two Cup races: Gino's Spirits and Tabadabado in the $100,000 Ladies, and Fantastic Finish and One By the Knows in the $100,000 Turf Dash. Day rides for Walden in all four Cup races.

Shippers have thrived in Mile

The Mile has been a good spot for out-of-staters in the brief history of the Mile. Rob 'n Gin, in from New York, won the 1998 inaugural, and Treat Me Doc, in from Chicago, captured the

1999 running. (Glick won last year after shipping from Churchill.)

This year, trainer Pat Cuccurullo has an excellent shot with Promise of War, who most recently upset the Tri State Handicap on Ellis Park's closing-day card. Promise of War has come to life in recent months since Cuccurullo, based primarily in Chicago, began spotting him on the turf.

A 5-year-old son of Lord at War, Promise of launched an impressive run at the top of the stretch to capture the Tri State over favored Chorwon.

The Mile is a solid betting race, with only five pounds separating all seven starters under handicap conditions.

Gino's Spirits tough in Ladies

Walden could very well continue his complete domination of the Ladies. No other trainer has ever won the Ladies, as Walden runners have swept the first three runnings: Pleasant Temper in 1998-99, and Silken last year.

Gino's Spirits, as the winner of the $100,000 Hialeah Breeders' Cup earlier this year, figures to be a strong favorite under Day. A 5-year-old mare, she comes off a sharp runner-up effort in a recent classified allowance at Saratoga.

For insurance, or perhaps to help fill the race, Walden also entered Tabadabado, making a field of five.

Morluc strong choice in Turf Dash

The Turf Dash could have been a spot for the strongest favorite of the day in Morluc, the defending champion. But trainer Randy Morse said Friday he is waiting for the Nureyev Stakes at Keeneland with Morluc, who has earned over $575,000 for owner Mike Cloonan.

His defection leaves a considerably more contentious race, with Vinnie's Boy figuring as the logical favorite in a field of seven.

Driscoll at helm

Although fans probably won't notice, Kentucky Downs is now being self-managed. In April, the management contract with Turfway Park expired although Turfway continues to own 24 percent of the track.

Several months before that, the track's board of directors - which includes Bob Decker of Churchill Downs Inc., Bob Elliston of Turfway, and Brad Kelly - hired Ryan Driscoll as an onsite general manager. Driscoll is a former longtime publicist from Louisiana Downs. Kelly, a major Churchill stockholder who lives in nearby Bowling Green, Ky., has bought out several minority partners in Kentucky Downs L.L.C. and now wholly owns 52 percent of the track. Churchill and Turfway own 24 percent.

*This is the first year that veteran race caller Luke Kruytbosch has been at the mike at Kentucky Downs. Kruytbosch, who calls at Churchill and Ellis, replaced John Asher, whose many duties as a Churchill vice president forced him to give up one of his favorite gigs. "It's been fun," said Kruytbosch. "Some spots on this unusual layout can make it tough, but you learn pretty quickly how to deal with it."

*Beware, you racing fans expecting to have a few drinks Sunday at Kentucky Downs. The county in which the track is located, Simpson County, is dry. Customers are allowed to bring their own alcoholic beverages.