10/05/2003 11:00PM

Bien Nicole earns trip to California

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - It was at the Breeders' Cup last year that trainer Donnie Von Hemel began thinking . . . well, Breeders' Cup, for the star of his barn, Bien Nicole.

"I felt like, last fall, when she won that stake the day before, that if she could get to that level, it'd be something we'd look into," recalled Von Hemel, referring to the Estrapade Handicap the afternoon before the BC at Arlington Park.

By following a highly respectable runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Beverly D. with a breathtaking triumph in the Grade 2 WinStar Galaxy at Keeneland on Sunday, Bien Nicole has stamped her Breeders' Cup ticket. Assuming she comes out of the Galaxy in good order, the 5-year-old mare will run Oct. 25 in the BC Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita.

Respect has been a while in coming to Bien Nicole. That's at least partly because she has done all her work far from the two coasts, winning races at Remington, Lone Star, and Louisiana Downs. But after she outran everything except Heat Haze in the Beverly D., then posted her remarkably easy Galaxy win, Von Hemel was convinced that now is the time to shoot for the moon.

"This is something we've been thinking about for the last year," he said. "After she won in Chicago, I was hoping she'd be able to take her game up another notch. I think this race shows us she has. I know we'll face some great mares out in California, but we're going there with a pretty nice one ourselves."

Ethan Man points for Sprint

Trainer Pat Byrne said he is optimistic that Ethan Man will be able to run in the BC Sprint. Making just his second start since a 16-month layoff, Ethan Man finished second behind BC-bound Najran in the Phoenix BC Stakes on Friday.

"He tore a little piece off the inside of his left front quarter, but it doesn't look like it'll be a big deal," said Byrne. "We'll miss a couple of extra days with him, and then he'll come back with a Z-bar" to protect the affected area of the hoof.

Byrne said he wants to run Ethan Man for at least two reasons. "This will be his third start off the layoff," said Byrne, alluding to an angle that many trainers and handicappers favor. "Plus I think the best horse in the Sprint is Aldebaran, and he's probably best at seven furlongs, not six."

Meanwhile, Beau's Town, eighth and last as the Phoenix favorite, is out of the Sprint. The 5-year-old gelding was scheduled for surgery this week at the Rood and Riddle veterinary clinic in Lexington after exiting the Phoenix with an ankle chip.

Unfortunately for trainer Cole Norman, the poor race by Beau's Town sparked a common theme throughout the weekend. The other two horses that Norman shipped in from Louisiana Downs, Mass Media and South Africa, finished 10th and 11th in their respective races.

"That's how this game goes," said Norman.

Cajun Beat to Santa Anita

Trainer Steve Margolis has announced that Cajun Beat, winner of the Kentucky Cup Sprint at Turfway Park, will run in the BC Sprint, meaning the 3-year-old gelding will bypass the $100,000 Perryville Stakes here Thursday.

Cajun Beat, based at Churchill Downs for owners Padua Stables and Joe and John Iracane, had gone 2 for 7 this year before upsetting the Sept. 13 KC Sprint at 7-1. Margolis said afterward that Cajun Beat would run back in the Perryville or BC Sprint, but not both.

His defection leaves Clock Stopper and Champali, the respective two-three finishers in the KC Sprint, as the probable favorites for the Perryville, which is run at the Beard Course distance of seven furlongs and 184 feet. Other probables include Roses in May, Shawklit Man, and Zydeco Affair.

Crowds, total handle up at Turfway

Handle from all sources increased by 22 percent over corresponding 2002 figures at the 22-day fall meet that ended Thursday at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.

Total wagering was nearly $53.5 million, with by far the greatest bump coming from out-of-state outlets, where wagering increased by 27.7 percent over last fall. Ontrack wagering was down less than 1 percent, although total ontrack attendance was up 9 percent.

Turfway president Bob Elliston attributed the increase in offtrack wagering to large fields (9.2 horses per race) and generally stronger racing, and the rise in attendance to favorable weather.

Jockey Rafael Bejarano, trainer Bernie Flint, and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey led their respective categories in wins.

Opening-weekend business strong

Business was excellent on the three-day weekend that opened the 17-day Keeneland meet. Total handle, not counting simulcast imports, was $25,447,657, an increase of nearly 13 percent over corresponding dates last year.

Combined ontrack attendance for the three-day period was 46,072, an increase of 6 percent.

Keeneland sticks to its saddlecloths

Simulcast players accustomed to color-coded saddlecloths probably don't like it, but Keeneland continues to use same-colored cloths for major sponsored races such as the Spinster, Shadwell, and others. Track officials maintain that the uniform saddlecloths are part of sponsorship packages.

Fans generally prefer color-coded cloths because they are easier to differentiate when watching races.

Trademark will sit out BC Mile

While Perfect Soul and Honor in War, the one-two finishers in the Shadwell Mile on Saturday, both are headed to the BC Mile, that is not the case for Trademark, the South African-bred 7-year-old who finished sixth as the 5-2 favorite.

Trademark was sensational at the Saratoga meet when sweeping the Bernard Baruch and Fourstardave handicaps, but "we were never considering the Breeders' Cup because of the supplement," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "This was our Breeders' Cup."

Sharbayan doubtful for BC Turf

Sharbayan, the Irish-bred 5-year-old who ran his record to 4 for 4 this year by winning the Sycamore BC on Saturday, was scheduled to return to California on Monday but most likely will not try tougher company in the BC Turf.

"That race has come up very tough this year," said Aimee Dollase, daughter of and assistant to trainer Wally Dollase.

Ten likely for Queen Elizabeth II

As usual, many of the top 3-year-old turf fillies in North America have accepted invitations to the $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, the Grade 1 race to be run here Saturday.

As of Monday, the probable field of 10 for the QEII is Casual Look, trained by Ian Balding; Campsie Fells, Christophe Clement; Film Maker, Graham Motion; Indy Five Hundred, Bobby Barbara; Maiden Tower, Henri-Alex Pantall; Ocean Drive, Todd Pletcher; Personal Legend, Bobby Frankel; Sand Springs, Tony Reinstedler; Solar Echo, Ron McAnally; and Spoken Fur, Frankel.

Simulcast presentation wins award

If you like how Keeneland packages its simulcast signal, you're not alone. The Keeneland television department recently was honored with the top simulcast award at the seventh annual International Simulcast Conference in San Francisco.

Keeneland's daily television presentation is provided by Galjour Electronics, a Louisiana-based company that Gaston Galjour started more than 30 years ago.

"We're extremely proud of this award," said simulcast director G.D. Hieronymus. "Everyone has put a great deal of effort into making changes and improvements to our signal. It is gratifying when all the hard work is recognized."

* The Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and Keeneland are hosting their annual scholarship raffle here Friday. College scholarships worth $1,000 each will be raffled off after each of the 10 races. College students with proper identification will be admitted free. For more information, call (859) 288-4307.