11/03/2008 1:00AM

Wide-open race is too close to call


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - State-by-state tallies being in vogue this week, the Wednesday feature at Churchill Downs will carry an appropriate theme. A lady from Illinois figures to ask to be heard, while another from Ohio will be tossing her hat into the ring, assuming she runs a race like her last.

Royal Leah, an Illinois-bred, and Mini Mom, an Ohio-bred, are two primary contenders among the 11 fillies and mares, including one also-eligible, entered in the ninth of 10 races, a $53,000, third-level allowance at a mile on the turf. The ultimate outcome might be a landslide, but the prerace polling looks tight, with no clear-cut favorite emerging from a crowded ballot.

That said, Royal Leah looks as good as any. Trained by Mike Stidham for TripleoC Thorobreds, the 6-year-old mare comes off a sharp runner-up finish in a restricted Hawthorne stakes Oct. 11. Once headstrong, Royal Leah "has started to settle in a little better as she's gotten older and more mature," Stidham said. "She was making a middle move and coming up empty, but now she's gotten smarter about what we've tried to teach her."

Julien Leparoux, the leading rider through the first six of 26 days at the Churchill fall meet, has the mount.

If Royal Leah won't do, then Mini Mom would be tough to deny with something close to the effort she gave in finishing second, beaten just a head, in a tough turf allowance at Keeneland last out. Mini Mom, with Jamie Theriot aboard, surged past a handful of front-runners and appeared to have the race won before being nailed in the bitter final yards by Whisper to Me.

A 4-year-old filly making her 25th career start, Mini Mom will be getting the diuretic Lasix for the first time Wednesday. Theriot has a return call from trainer Tim Hamm.

There are other constituencies to consider Wednesday. Queendom is steady, Cure for Sale comes off a 61-1 upset at Keeneland, Cruzada Americana ships in for the ever-dangerous Graham Motion, Sirmione exits three straight stakes, and Love Handles was narrowly beaten by Royal Leah in their last meeting.

One other allowance, a $48,000 entry-level route for older horses, directly precedes the feature as the eighth race. Fine Flyer, beaten last out as a favorite at Keeneland when making his first start for Dale Romans, looks like the one to beat.