09/15/2008 11:00PM

Despite the heat, big crowd on opening day

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FRANKLIN, Ky. - A September heat wave that left a lot of brows sopped and shirts soaked was not enough to keep one of the biggest crowds in recent memory from turning out Saturday for the 12th annual Kentucky Cup turf series at Kentucky Downs.

Although attendance is free and an official admission is not recorded, track president Corey Johnsen estimated that about 4,000 people turned out in 90-plus-degree temperatures for opening day of the six-day meet.

"We really feel good about the numbers and how the day went," said Johnsen, who reported that ontrack handle on the seven live Kentucky Downs races, which were interspersed with 10 from Turfway Park, was $96,782, up marginally over the 2007 Kentucky Cup date. All-sources handle was $1,693,842, up 19 percent.

"We thought the day was a tremendous success, with the big fields we got for the stakes races and our overall presentation," said Johnsen.

Helping to pad the ontrack numbers amid a festive atmosphere were:

o Large groups of students and alumni from nearby Western Kentucky University on hand for organized outings.

o A scholarship raffle sponsored by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association.

o The first steeplechase race held here since 2000.

o Some of the overflow from the thousands of people attending a vintage automobile show in downtown Franklin.

Also along for the ride were the usual curiosity-seekers wanting to see the unique style of racing offered by the asymmetrical, undulating surface at turf-only Kentucky Downs.

"I've never been here, and I think it's neat because of how really different the place is," said Tom LaDuca, a longtime Maryland racing fan who now lives some 2 1/2 hours north in Louisville, Ky.

Rumor Has It's speed was key

David Hinsley, the Chicago-based trainer who was here to saddle Rumor Has It for a stunning upset in the anchor race of the Kentucky Cup turf series, the $200,000 Turf, said Monday he was not overly surprised at the victory.

"I thought it was worth taking a shot because he likes to go long, he's speed, and there was absolutely no other speed in the race," said Hinsley. "I told our people, 'This is a chance we might not get again.' As it turned out, everything just fit into place."

Rumor Has It, bred and owned by William Patterson and James Glenn, led all the way under Eddie Perez and paid $121.20 as the longest shot in a field of nine in the Grade 3 KC Turf.

It was the first win for the 7-year-old gelding since the John Henry Stakes at the Meadowlands on Nov.o5, 2005, when he was based in Maryland with Hamilton Smith. A ligament injury caused Rumor Has It to keep from racing for more than two years in the interim, Hinsley said.

Rumor Has It earned a 93 Beyer Speed Figure in the KC Turf, and returned Sunday to Arlington Park. Hinsley said he probably will return to Kentucky for the Grade 3, $150,000 Sycamore Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile turf race on Oct. 18 at Keeneland.

Off Duty repeats

After successfully defending his title by winning the Marfa Stakes at Turfway on Saturday, Off Duty might try to do the same Oct. 4 in the Grade 3 Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland, according to trainer Lynn Whiting. Off Duty, a 5-year-old horse by Yes It's True, won the Phoenix last year at 13-1.

"He's won some really fine races for us," Whiting said. "He'll run on any surface. Hopefully, this will set him up for his next one."

Whiting said the Grade 2 Nearctic Stakes on the Woodbine turf on Oct.o4 is another option for a next start.

As a Florida-bred, Off Duty was not eligible for the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund bonuses that were part of a possible $75,000 purse. He earned $35,712 from a total purse of $62,250.

* Turfway canceled its Sunday program after two races because of high winds. "It was just too dangerous," said Turfway publicist Sherry Pinson. Meanwhile, Churchill Downs incurred only minor damage and power outages in the windstorm that ravaged much of the Louisville area, according to track spokesman John Asher. "We were lucky," he said.

* Nominations close Wednesday for the five Kentucky Cup races that will be run Sept. 27 at Turfway Park. Turfway officials are hoping for a particularly good renewal of the $750,000 series, considering the Polytrack races could serve as timely preps for the Oct. 24-25 Breeders' Cup races, which also will be run on a synthetic surface at Santa Anita.

* Among the visitors Saturday at Kentucky Downs was Joe De Francis, the former longtime president of the Maryland Jockey Club. De Francis was discussing business matters with potential clients from South America.