09/02/2002 12:00AM

Fall meeting step up from winter meet

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FLORENCE, Ky. - Because it long has been the winter home of Kentucky racing, Turfway Park often is associated with dreary weather and frigid nights.

But Turfway also is the home of September racing in Kentucky, a tradition that sometimes gets lost in the stereotype. Not only is the weather far more hospitable at this time of year, but with so many top stables returning to Kentucky from Saratoga and other summer destinations, the level of competition at Turfway figures to be better this month than at any other time.

The 22-day fall meet, which runs through Oct. 3, begins Wednesday, when first post is 7 p.m. As usual, the highlight of the meet will be the Sept. 14 Kentucky Cup, a five-race series with total purses of nearly $1 million.

"We're looking forward to another big Kentucky Cup day," said Rick Leigh, Turfway's racing secretary. "As for the overnight races, we'll have quite a few top stables back in the state, many of them shipping in from Churchill Downs. Trainers like D. Wayne Lukas, Dallas Stewart, Ken McPeek, and quite a few others usually help make our fall meet a success."

The opening-night feature, a $34,800 allowance, drew a solid field of six older sprinters. Slider, who posted a 120 Beyer Speed Figure in April at Keeneland, likely will be the favorite in this, his first start since he was privately purchased by Louisville automobile dealer Billy Hays.

Slider was soundly beaten in his last start, the Cigar Stakes on the Aug. 17 Arlington Million undercard. If he is not in sharp form for new trainer Joe Woodard, then U.S. Jets, who has been facing high-class company at Ellis Park, or Sea of Tranquility, who tends to do his best running at Turfway, could upset.

The feature is the eighth of nine races, the standard number for Wednesdays and Thursdays here. Turfway will run 10 races on Fridays and Sundays and 12 on Saturdays.

Besides the Kentucky Cup, three other stakes will be run here this fall, beginning Saturday with the $75,000 Weekend Delight for filly and mare sprinters.

Later this month, the fall meet at one of Turfway's sister tracks, Kentucky Downs, also will take place. The Franklin, Ky., track runs Sept. 14-23. The pinnacle of the meet is the turf counterpart to the Kentucky Cup, a $700,000, four-race series on Sept. 21.