08/31/2003 11:00PM

Congaree headed to Kentucky Cup


FLORENCE, Ky. - Ever since the Kentucky Cup was inaugurated in 1994, some of the sport's most high-profile trainers have supported the event by bringing their "name" horses.

That trend appears likely to hold true for the 10th running of the Kentucky Cup on Sept. 13. Bob Baffert has said he intends to ship Congaree, one of the top handicap horses in training, to Turfway for the marquee race of the program, the Grade 2, $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic.

Congaree is easily the most recognizable candidate for the Kentucky Cup, a five-race series that offers a total of $825,000 in purses. The 1 1/8-mile Classic might get another nationally recognizable starter in Balto Star, according to Turfway officials.

Nominations for the Kentucky Cup close Wednesday, but stakes coordinator Randy Wehrman said early this week that he has a fair idea about which horses might be headed to the event. In the other races:

* Champali, a winner of three Turfway stakes earlier this year, figures as the horse to beat in the Grade 3, $100,000 KC Sprint, a six-furlong race for 3-year-olds. Great Notion is another possible contender.

* Everyday Angel, a 12 1/2-length winner of an Aug. 11 Saratoga maiden race, is the big name for the $100,000 KC Juvenile Fillies. Trainer Pat Byrne is hoping to use the race as a springboard to the Alcibiades and Breeders' Cup. Sweet Jo Jo, winner of the Ellis Debutante, also is likely for the one-mile race.

* A number of top trainers have nominated 2-year-olds to the Grade 3, $100,000 KC Juvenile, including Todd Pletcher, Patrick Biancone, Nick Zito, Elliott Walden, and Steve Asmussen.

* The second-richest race of the series, the Grade 3, $175,000 Turfway Breeders' Cup, so far has drawn just a handful of nominations, including Desert Gold and So Much More, the respective two-three finishers in the Gardenia at Ellis Park.

The Kentucky Cup will be televised by Fox Sports Net. Previously scheduled for one week later on the calendar, the event was moved to the second Saturday of the month to better accommodate the opening round (Oct. 4-6) of stakes at Keeneland, said Turfway president Bob Elliston.

High-tech carrels

Turfway this meet becomes the first North American racetrack to offer the "super carrel," a touch-screen device that allows bettors to view everything they need without leaving their seats.

Super carrels use a high-speed Internet connection to allow customers to access hundreds of different screens, from odds and will-pays to race replays to cable television.

"It allows a player to do everything he wants without leaving his seat, from making bets to watching sports to ordering something to eat," Elliston said. "You can stay in your seat all day and literally have everything at your fingertips."

The super carrel is the brainchild of Cary Carlson, the head of Carlson Broadcast Technologies, a company that supplies dozens of racetracks with television graphics and other technological services. Carlson is hoping that the super carrels will be commonplace at many tracks in years to come.

Turfway has placed 20 super carrels in the first-floor race book. Members of the FasTrack rewards program have first preference, and although there is no charge for now, Elliston said there may be one in the future.

"Carlson invested a whole lot of money in research and development, and they eventually have to make their dollar back in some way," said Elliston. "They charge us a user fee, so we will have to make that dollar back, too. Once a serious handicapper sees how great these are, I don't think he'd mind spending $5 or $10 for one."

Slots could hinge on election

As always, Elliston is hoping that the political climate in Kentucky will eventually permit alternative gaming at state racetracks. More than any other state track, Turfway has been feeling the competition from Indiana riverboat casinos, three of which are located within easy driving distance of Turfway. Since 1995, ontrack handle at Turfway has tumbled by about 40 percent.

Elliston, who has been closely involved for years in discussions and lobbying efforts regarding slots at racetracks, said he is "more optimistic than ever" that Turfway will become "an entertainment destination" by getting slots.

"The more we've been talking to people in Frankfort, the more they see the need" for slots, said Elliston.

A pivotal event in the slots process is the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election. Democrat Ben Chandler has come out in favor of slots at racetracks, while Republican Ernie Fletcher has said he "won't get in the way" of a referendum that would amend the state constitution to allow slots.

In the meantime, Turfway is treading water. "I've said for years that the long-term viability of Turfway is in serious jeopardy in the absence of additional products," Elliston said.

Bassinet winner not coming

One horse who won't have the turnaround time to make the Kentucky Cup is In Rome, winner of the Bassinet Stakes on Saturday at River Downs.

"I'll probably think about taking her to Chicago, just like I did with Caressing," said trainer Dave Vance. In her 2000 championship season, Caressing sandwiched victories in the Bassinet and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies around a runner-up finish in the Arlington-Washington Lassie at Arlington Park, which this year will be run Sept. 27.

Vance said In Rome might not be of the same caliber as Caressing, but her Bassinet win demonstrated continuing improvement. Three starts back, Vance equipped the Saint Ballado filly with blinkers.

"I think the blinkers have really changed her mind," said Vance. "This filly is still really green, even after five races. She's a long, lanky filly that still has a lot of growing up to do."

At a glance: Turfway Park

RACING SCHEDULE: Wednesday through Oct. 3 (22 days); dark Mondays and Tuesdays.

POST TIME: 7 p.m. weeknights; 1:10 p.m. weekends.

ADMISSIONS: $3, all gates; some areas additional.

PARKING: General, free; valet, $3.

HIGHLIGHTS: $825,000, five-race Kentucky Cup series on Sept. 13, led by the Grade 2, $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic; three other stakes.

PURSES: About $180,000 per day.

LOCATION: Turfway Road, just off exit 182 on Interstate 71/75 in Florence, Ky.

SIMULCASTING: Daily except Tuesday.

PHONE: (859) 371-0200 or (800) 733-0200.

INTERNET: www.turfway.com.