09/20/2001 12:00AM

A big day has gotten just a little smaller


FLORENCE, Ky. - After seven years of calling the Kentucky Cup their "$1.15 million day of champions," Turfway officials have been rather quiet about the monetary value of this eighth running of the Cup.

That's because purses have been downsized for the Cup races. The total payout Saturday will be a maximum of $950,000. When any horse ineligible for the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund or not nominated to the Breeders' Cup finishes in the top four spots, bonuses for those programs go uncollected.

The $200,000 reduction in total purses stems from the Classic going from $500,000 to $400,000; the Turfway Breeders' Cup going from $250,000 to $200,000; and the elimination of the $50,000 Starter Stake, which on Saturday will be reprised as a $35,000 overnight race.

In addition, the commitment of KTDF funds to the Cup has grown significantly.

Whereas the Classic purse formerly consisted of $400,000 in general purse money and $100,000 from the KTDF, it now comprises an even $200,000-$200,000 split from the general fund and the KTDF.

These changes resulted in large part from demands by horsemen's groups for a greater percentage of Turfway's purse fund to be designated for overnight races. "It was also an effort on our part to reduce our overpayment on the day and to stabilize association purses," said Turfway president Bob Elliston.

The bottom line is that the series clearly favors horses eligible to the KTDF, at least in regard to potential earnings. For example, a horse who is ineligible to the KTDF and not a Breeders' Cup nominee would be competing for a share of only $75,000 in purse money in the Turfway BC.

No Baffert this time

Conspicuous by his absence from the Kentucky Cup is Bob Baffert, who had intended to run as many three horses. But Baffert decided against running any of his horses in the series early this week, saying he is uneasy about the problems that have snarled the nation's aviation system.

Baffert, who last year won two Kentucky Cup races, would have had Ecstatic as the heavy favorite in the Juvenile and So Urgent for the Classic. He also had The Thoroughbred Corp.'s Saudi Poetry as a possible for the Turfway BC, but she was withdrawn when Spain, who also is owned by The Thoroughbred Corp., was pointed to the Turfway race after the Ruffian at Belmont was canceled last weekend.

Baffert's absence creates a greater opportunity for D. Wayne Lukas, whose 11 wins and 33 starts in the Kentucky Cup dwarf the record of all other trainers. Lukas trains Spain, the Turfway BC favorite; the entry of Truman's Raider and Gold Dollar in the Juvenile; and Snow Ridge in the Sprint.

Walden gets his day

The day after the Kentucky Cup is run at Turfway, the turf version of the Kentucky Cup will be held for the fourth time at Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky.

Trainer Elliott Walden, who has just one starter in the Saturday series at Turfway, is primed for a big day at Kentucky Downs, the grass-only course formerly known as Dueling Grounds. Walden is represented in each of the four Kentucky Cup turf races, and all of his horses appear to be contenders.

The richest race is the $300,000 Kentucky Cup Turf, a 1 1/2-mile race in which Walden has Royal Strand. About 10 starters are expected, including Chorwon and Gritty Sandie.

The other Walden horses are Elite Mercedes in the $200,000 Mile, Gino's Spirits in the $100,000 Ladies, and Fantastic Finish in the $100,000 Turf Sprint.

A pair of Classic sleepers

Will lightning strike twice in the Kentucky Cup Classic? Two years ago, Da Devil stunned eventual Breeders' Cup Classic winner Cat Thief when he won the Kentucky Cup Classic at 65-1. This time, the odds on Da Devil won't be so high, but another victory would be another major upset.

Another sleeper in the Classic is Fajardo. Once a disappointment for Bill Mott, the 4-year-old colt has "really turned the corner," said Mott assistant Ralph Nicks. Fajardo looked sensational in winning the Governor's Handicap last month at Ellis Park, a race that marked his third straight triumph.

Doing their share

Like most other tracks and sporting venues across the United States, Turfway has been paying tribute to the victims and others involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

On its Sept. 13 reopening, Turfway donated its admissions fees to a relief fund. On Sept. 14, the track hosted a candlelight vigil. On Kentucky Cup Day, Elliston said he wants "to do something," although no specific plan had been set by Thursday.

*It has been just over a year since Spain won the 2000 Turfway BC. In that race, Pat Day guided Spain to a one-length victory over Ruby Surprise. In the days after the race, James Hines Jr., owner of Ruby Surprise, filed suit against Day and the Turfway stewards, claiming Ruby Surprise had been fouled by Day, even though no inquiry or objection was filed.

The wheels of justice have turned slowly in the case: The suit still has not gone to court, and none of the stewards have been deposed.