09/21/2005 11:00PM

Course a little bumpier for Rochester


Rochester's record of two wins and a second in three starts in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Turf has earned him a reputation as a horse for the course at Kentucky Downs and will likely result in him vying for favoritism in Saturday's renewal.

I don't see Rochester as a likely winner, just a likely underlay. His fine record over the Kentucky Downs turf course has been more the result of astute placement and favorable circumstances than a love of the footing. Admittedly, he was awesome over the course in 2002, when he crushed the Kentucky Cup Turf field, earning a 109 Beyer Speed Figure. But his two more recent efforts there have been far less striking.

In 2003, he crossed the wire second, narrowly behind Art Variety, only to be put up by the stewards because of interference. Troubled or not, he ran slowly - at least by graded stakes standards - posting a 93 Beyer.

Then last year he ran second to favored Sabiango, a loose-on-the-lead front-runner, in his slowest Kentucky Downs performance to date. All out to edge 57-1 Gottabeabeachboy for second, Rochester earned a 90 Beyer.

Rochester was first or second in these races because of whom he faced, not where he raced. Against a better field Saturday than what he has caught in recent years, he may not be as dominant. Four opponents - Habaneros, Scooter Roach, Pellegrino, and Silverfoot - are graded stakes winners, and Pellegrino has won a Grade 1.

My choice is Silverfoot, a two-time winner of the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs. Although he ran dreadfully when finishing seventh in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer last month, he has been a consistent and quality performer for the last two years.

A winner of 7 of 14 starts, Silverfoot seems a good bet to bounce back from his Sword Dancer flop - he needs to. He never got out of the rear-half of the pack at any call in the Sword Dancer, and in losing by 14 lengths, he checked in 8 1/4 lengths behind Rochester, who ran fifth.

Silverfoot likely bounced off his previous race, a breakout runner-up finish to Better Talk Now in the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap.

In four head-to-head match-ups in 2004-2005, Silverfoot and Rochester have traded decisions. Silverfoot came out on top of Rochester twice in the Louisville Handicap, and Rochester finished in front of Silverfoot when both were unplaced in the past two runnings of the Sword Dancer.

Pellegrino - one of the main threats to Silverfoot and Rochester - has been off his game in four starts since winning the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup last year, but a fourth-place finish this summer at Del Mar in the paceless Escondido Handicap was a respectable effort.

In a surprising statistic, California shippers have struggled in these Kentucky Cup Turf races at Kentucky Downs. Horses that raced in California in their prior starts are a combined 0 for 17, going back to 1998, when the series started. They are 0 for 9 in the Turf, with the best finish being Perim's second-place finish in 1998.

That noted, Sabiango won the Kentucky Cup Turf last year after breezing at Hollywood Park leading up to the race. His pre-Kentucky Cup start came in the Arlington Million.

Silverfoot, 5-2 on the track line, can beat Pellegrino and Rochester with a return to form.

Other choices in stakes on the Kentucky Cup Turf Festival card:

Yaqthan: Seeking Answers, a Saratoga invader, has blossomed in recent months for trainer Chuck Simon. He is also reunited with jockey Rafael Bejarano, who rode him to his last victory Apr. 29 at Keeneland.

More so than other trainers, Simon gears up his stakes horses for this meet. He has four wins and three seconds from seven stakes starters here since 2001.

Kentucky Cup Turf Dash: Tacirring, coming off four consecutive stakes victories, stands out on form and Beyers. Although his recent wins have come on the lead, perhaps his most visually impressive race in recent months came when he rallied to victory in the Ben Cohen Stakes at Pimlico.

If he handles the course and the stretch-out from five to six furlongs, he appears difficult to defeat.

Kentucky Cup Ladies Turf: In what looks like the most competitive stakes on the card, Fast Cookie rates a narrow edge in her second start

following a layoff. Last month, when returning from a break at Saratoga in the De La Rose Stakes, she found herself pressing a dawdling pace, which is not how she runs most effectively. Being less fresh - and with more speed in this race - she should be able to revert to her preferred stalking style.

The presence of Spring Season and Kaylan's Rose should ensure fair odds on Fast Cookie, who is 6-1 on the morning line.