10/13/2004 12:00AM

Claim puts positive spin on defeat

Benoit & Associates
Ticker Tape is one of the favorites in Saturday's QE II Challenge Cup.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Owner Billy Hays and trainer Joe Woodard had a horse finish last in the fifth race Wednesday at Keeneland. Still, they were elated with the results of the race.

That's because Woodard met the runaway winner of the race, Sterling Gold, back at his barn afterward. Hays, a Louisville automobile dealer, successfully submitted a claim for Sterling Gold for $100,000, a price for which claiming horses rarely compete in Kentucky.

Hays and Woodard, whose stable is based primarily at Churchill Downs but tends to win most of its races in Ohio, were represented by Slider in the seven-furlong race that Sterling Gold won by 5 1/4 lengths. Slider, making his first start in nine months, dueled inside of Sterling Gold before fading down the stretch.

"I was hoping Slider would run a little better," said Woodard. "But it's good to get a horse like the winner. He had some nice Beyer and Ragozin numbers, and we'll hope to do some good with him down at Tampa this winter," he said, referring to the Tampa Bay Downs meet that starts in early December.

Although $100,000 claiming races occasionally are held in California and New York, they are rare in Kentucky - and a horse actually being claimed for as much as $100,000 is even more rare.

Hays and Woodard can only hope they do as well as the first three owner-trainer teams did with Sterling Gold. A 5-year-old gelding, Sterling Gold was profitable when competing for trainers Mitch Shirota, Greg Foley, and the man who lost him Wednesday, Bernie Flint. Sterling Gold now has earned $283,060 from 30 career starts.

Ticker Tape arrives for QE II

Ticker Tape, one of the favorites for the $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup here Saturday, arrived Tuesday afternoon at Keeneland from California.

"She's in great shape, ready to go," said trainer Jim Cassidy. "I really loved the way she ran in her last race," he said, referring to a 2 3/4-length victory in the Sept. 18 Pucker Up Stakes at Arlington Park.

Ticker Tape, with Kent Desormeaux to ride, will be one of six or seven fillies whose connections will accept invitations to the QE II, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies. With riders, the other likely starters are Barancella, Edgar Prado; Island Sand, Pat Day; Mambo Slew, Tony Farina; Phantom Wind, Jerry Bailey; and River Belle, Rafael Bejarano.

Humorous Miss is a possible starter. Entries were to be drawn Thursday.

The QE II, the fourth and last Grade 1 race of the fall meet, will be televised live on ESPN on a telecast that begins at 4 p.m. Eastern.

Big numbers on opening day

For various reasons, Keeneland has long enjoyed big weekends when opening its fall meet. But this year was better than ever: attendance for the three-day opening weekend totaled 60,825, an increase of 32 percent over the corresponding dates last year. Likewise, ontrack handle was nearly $6.9 million, for an increase of 25 percent.

"It was a combination of a lot of factors," said Keeneland spokesman Jim Williams. "Ideal weather, great racing, the promotion of the opening, a lot of things."

Bejarano with four BC mounts

Rafael Bejarano is on the verge of another breakthrough. Bejarano, who leads the North American jockey standings in wins, has at least four mounts lined up for his first Breeders' Cup: Champali in the Sprint, Consolidator in the Juvenile, Runway Model in the Juvenile Fillies, and Shaconage in the Filly and Mare Turf.

* When the Keeneland main track was rated sloppy Wednesday, it was the first time since late August at Ellis Park that racing was conducted over anything other than a fast or good track on the Kentucky circuit, where rain has been in extremely short supply in recent weeks.