Shoemaker Mile winner Irish Prize contests Firecracker at Churchill Downs.

Shoemaker Mile winner Irish Prize contests Firecracker at Churchill Downs.

AP/Benoit photo

Irish Prize and Conserve Could Make Sparks Fly

Conserve, last year's winner of Churchill Downs' Firecracker Breeders' Cup (gr. II), faces stiff competition from California ship-in Irish Prize in Wednesday's race. Although Conserve has his familiarity with the racetrack on his side, Irish Prize has two big wins in his last two starts.

Although he is based at Churchill Downs and has the home turf advantage, Conserve has not won since last year's Firecracker. As a result, Irish Prize, winner of the grade I Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile in his last out, is the highweight at 122 and the morning line favorite at 9-5. Aly's Alley and Band Is Passing rank second in the weights at 117 each.

Frank Brothers, who trains Conserve, said bad luck and a lack of opportunities to race have contributed to his contender's latest form. "He's kind of a mile (horse) and not a mile-and-an-eighth horse and he's been kind of betwixt and between and there just haven't been races for him," Brothers said.

However Irish Prize's three wins in his last four starts look like more than luck. Regular rider Gary Stevens will be aboard for the race.

The field for the 12th running of the Firecracker Breeders' Cup, in post position order with weight and rider: 1) Strategic Mission, 116, Mark Guidry. 2) Northcote Road, 115, Larry Melancon. 3) Aly's Alley, 117, Calvin Borel. 4) Airbourne Command, 112, Gary Boulanger. 5) Irish Prize, 122, Gary Stevens. 6) Where's Taylor, 114, Robby Albarado. 7) Conserve, 114, Craig Perret. 8) Band Is Passing, 117, Pat Day.

The Firecracker is the 10th race on Wednesday's 11-race program at Churchill Downs. Post time is 12:40 p.m.