Rapid Proof brings the best form into Monday's $100,000-added Louisville Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs. But he must answer a major distance question if he is to defeat six rivals in the 1 3/8-mile event on the Matt Winn Turf Course.
Dolphus Morrison's homebred Rapid Proof is the 9-5 morning line favorite in a field of seven 3-year-olds and up. The 5-year-old gelding has scored back-to-back stakes victories for trainer Hal Wiggins and jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. in the $500,000 Mervin Muniz, Jr. Handicap (gr. IIT) and the John B. Connally Breeders' Cup at Sam Houston Park. But Rapid Proof has never won beyond nine furlongs, and he must prove that he can handle the additional distance to win the Louisville.
Wiggins, who won the Louisville Handicap in three successive years (1997-99) with the late Thomas Mueller's Chorwon, likes Rapid Proof's chances.
"He's never gone that far," said Wiggins. "Talking with Brian, we think he can ride him just like he always does and, if he does, I think he'll handle the mile and three-eighths all right."
Rapid Proof, who will carry highweight of 119 pounds, brings a record of 5-5-6 in 24 races and earnings of $679,303 into the Louisville Handicap.
Looming as the main threat to Rapid Proof is Stephanie Clark's Silverfoot, who scored a dramatic nose victory in last year's running of the Louisville. A second win by the 5-year-old With Approval gelding would give trainer Dallas Stewart a sweep of the Memorial Day Weekend stakes races at Churchill Downs. He saddled John D. Gunther's Molto Vita to win the $100,000-added Winning Colors on Saturday.
Silverfoot returned from a six-month break with an April 23 allowance victory on the Keeneland grass. Robby Albarado will ride the 2-1 second choice in the morning line.
Other contenders include Juddmonte Farm's Epicentre and Augustin Stable's Rochester. The Bobby Frankel-trained Epicentre is coming off a disappointing seventh-place finish as the favorite in the 1 ½-mile Elkhorn (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland. The 9-year-old Rochester will compete in the Louisville for the fourth consecutive year. He finished second in each of the last two years.
$100,000-added Louisville Handicap (gr. IIIT), 3 & up, 1 3/8 miles (turf)
PP. Horse (Weight), Jockey, M/L Odds
1. Gulf News (108), Willie Martinez, 30-1
2. Gottabeachboy (110), John McKee, 20-1
3. Rochester (115), Pat Day, 4-1
4. Grey Beard (112), Calvin Borel, 30-1
5. Epicentre (116), Brice Blanc, 5-2
6. Silverfoot (117), Robby Albarado, 2-1
7. Rapid Proof (119), Brian Hernandez, Jr.,9-5