08/31/2008 11:00PM

Good place for Cup preps


FLORENCE, Ky. - It won't be difficult to connect the synthetic dots from Kentucky to California this fall. With most of the Oct. 24-25 Breeders' Cup championships being run on the synthetic surface at Santa Anita, horsemen throughout North America are looking long and hard at giving their horses a final prep in Kentucky.

That's because the Kentucky Cup series will be run Sept. 27 on the Polytrack at Turfway Park, followed by the FallStars series on Oct. 3-5, opening weekend of the fall meet at Keeneland, which also uses Polytrack as its primary racing surface.

"It certainly didn't escape our notice when the Breeders' Cup announced they would be going to Santa Anita to run on a synthetic track for the first time ever," said Turfway president Bob Elliston. "You'd have to think that will give both Turfway and Keeneland some horses we might not otherwise have gotten, obviously because you'll be getting a critical prep into your horse over a synthetic track."

The Kentucky Cup, a five-race series with $750,000 in total purses, long has been a producer of Breeders' Cup candidates since its 1994 inception. Last year, Hard Spun posted a mild upset over Street Sense in the series anchor, the Grade 2 KC Classic, after which both horses proceeded to run in the BC Classic at Monmouth Park.

Nominations for the Kentucky Cup races close Sept. 17.

At Keeneland, which co-owns and manages Turfway, nine stakes are slated for opening weekend, including four Grade 1 races.

"With our races giving you a four-week run-up to the Breeders' Cup, and Keeneland giving you three, we're positioned very well," said Elliston. "Those will be two critical weekends of racing."

Turfway tied to TVG through April

Unlike at Churchill Downs, River Downs, and other tracks in North America where horsemen and track owners are engrossed in the highly publicized stalemate over account-wagering revenues, Turfway has a full year to negotiate a new contract with Television Games Network, its exclusive carrier since 1999.

"We've got that breathing room that some other tracks don't have right now, so the issue isn't as pressing for us," said Elliston. "Our contract with TVG expires when the winter-spring meet ends [April 2, 2009], so we won't have to arrive at a new agreement until our 2009 fall meet starts. In the meantime we'll be watching very closely what happens throughout the industry, because obviously account wagering is one of the most important issues in the game today."

Elliston said the exclusive agreement that Turfway has had with TVG "isn't in vogue right now," and "clearly a lot has changed in the 10 years since we first became partners with TVG. We think we've had an equitable agreement, but obviously we and the horsemen both will have our say about how those industry changes translate into what we all need for the future."

Churchill stakes cuts predictable

The announcement last Friday by Churchill Downs that stakes purses were being slashed by nearly $1 million was not at all unexpected, according to several horsemen. Because of contractual obligations that require stakes to comprise no more than 30 percent of total purse allocations, Churchill had no choice but to cut stakes after slashing overnight purses by 20 percent for the last eight weeks of the spring meet. The spring decrease came in the wake of the account-wagering dispute.

"We knew this was coming," said Dale Romans, perennially one of the winningest Churchill trainers in stakes and overnight races. "We were saying in the spring that the stakes were going to have to come down in the fall to get right with the contract. The end result is unfortunate, but it is what it is, at least for now."

Churchill cut $100,000 from five stakes, $50,000 from four more, $25,000 from one more, and dropped two $100,000 turf sprints from the 2008 fall schedule, which now includes 12 stakes, all graded. The meet runs Oct. 26 to Nov. 29.

Churchill's new voice to be hired soon

Churchill expects to name a new race caller "probably within the next week or two," according to publicist Darren Rogers. A committee has been busy evaluating a number of candidates, and a decision is needed well before the five-week fall meet begins, said Rogers.

The new caller will replace Luke Kruytbosch, who died July 14.

Ky. Downs showcase on opening day

Like their counterparts at Turfway, officials at Kentucky Downs are preparing for a September meet. For the first time, the Kentucky Cup turf series will be held on opening day, Sept. 13. The three-race series at the turf-only track in Franklin, Ky., is highlighted by the $200,000 Kentucky Cup Turf at 1 1/2 miles.

The Kentucky Downs dates are Sept. 13, 15, 16, 20, 22, and 23. Six races will be carded on Saturdays and will combine with 10 races from Turfway to form 16-race cards, while eight-race stand-alone cards will be run each Monday and Tuesday.

* The biannual scholarship day, sponsored by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, will be held at Turfway on Kentucky Cup Day. Meanwhile, Kentucky Downs also is giving the scholarship promotion a try for the first time, with a twist: Only students at nearby Western Kentucky University will be eligible for the seven $1,000 scholarships to be raffled off during the Sept. 13 opener.