Bill Landes' Roxelana, an easy winner at Turfway Park in her return to competition in September, will continue her comeback on Friday in a six-furlong allowance race over her home track at Churchill Downs.
The 5-year-old daughter of Boundary, trained by William "Blackie" Huffman, heads a field of eight older fillies and mares in a 6 1/2-furlong optional claiming allowance scheduled as Friday's featured ninth race. Regular jockey Larry Melancon is scheduled to ride at 119 pounds.
"She has a ton of talent, a ton of heart and she's a very special horse to me," said Huffman. "It's very special to get her back and it looks like she's headed in the right direction."
Roxelana displayed unlimited potential at three when she scored an 11 3/4-length victory in the La Troienne Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs and turned in a strong third-place finish behind Finder's Fee in the Acorn (gr. I) at Belmont Park. But she raced only twice more and was retired from racing in early 2001.
It was thought that Roxelana would spend the rest of her life as a broodmare at Hermitage Farm in Goshen, Ky., where Landes serves as farm manager. But her first pregnancy was difficult and she lost a foal by Carson City that was delivered stillborn by Caesarean section.
Huffman said that Roxelana appeared listless on the farm after she recovered from her surgery and that led to a surprising phone call from Landes, who said he wanted to send the mare back to Huffman's barn.
"They obviously weren't going to breed her back this year and they were going to give her time off," said Huffman. "She always seemed to be happy at the racetrack and they sent her back -- with no kind of instructions to run her or when to run her."
Roxelana thrived on her return to training and, by early autumn, Huffman was looking for a race for her. He found one at Turfway Park on Sept.25 and Roxelana romped to a 2 3/4-length victory in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race that was far easier than it appears on paper.
"There was no pressure whatsoever to run her anywhere," said Huffman. "I thought she was getting there, we ran her and she ran well. She was very competitive and we're just going to take it from there."
Huffman considered Keeneland's Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. III) as the mare's next start, but a minor illness caused her to miss about 10 days of training and eliminated that race as an option. He also looked Saturday's one-mile Churchill Downs Distaff (gr. II) as a possible spot before Friday's allowance race became an option.
Roxelana has raced just eight times in her career with five wins and a third and earnings of $193,706.
Huffman believes she is the finest horse he has trained in a career that began more than four decades ago.
"If it didn't look like she was going to come back and get to the level where she left at, we wouldn't have run her at all," he said. "But she looks like she's on the right track to getting back in the game at a high level."