09/19/2005 12:00AM

Kentucky Cup handle increases


FLORENCE, Ky. - There were no superstar horses, and the ontrack crowd seemed a little sparser than in some previous years. But the racing was good, the weather better, and even the final business figures strongly suggested the 12th running of the Kentucky Cup series Saturday at Turfway Park was a success.

Handle was up in every category in comparison to last year, according to Turfway president Bob Elliston. "We had a very good day, with big fields of good quality," he said Monday.

Combined ontrack handle Saturday (which includes 10 races from Turfway, four races from Kentucky Downs, and imported simulcasts) was $927,921, an increase of 17 percent over last year. The all-sources handle of $6,195,158 was up 6 percent over last year.

Because Turfway does not charge admission, there was no official attendance count, but Elliston estimated the crowd to be about 9,300, based on average per-capita handle. Although many areas of the facility were filled to capacity with spectators, others were mostly desolate, a disheartening sight on the second-biggest live racing date (behind only Lane's End Day in March) at Turfway.

Nonetheless, there were many uplifting aspects to the afternoon, notably the unanimous positive reaction from horsemen to Turfway's new Polytrack surface.

"The folks who had never seen it or ridden over it said they really like it," said Elliston. "They just continued the praise we've had from other people."

There was no discernible track bias during the Kentucky Cup races, nor throughout the live 10-race card, perpetuating what has been a trend of apparent fairness in the track since opening day, Sept. 7. The KC Juvenile Fillies was won wire-to-wire by Beau Dare. The KC Juvenile was won last-to-first by Stream Cat. Shaniko laid several lengths off the pace before romping in the KC Classic. Miss Fortunate rallied from sixth of nine to win the Turfway Breeders' Cup, and Estate Collection led every step in taking the KC Sprint.

The two 2-year-old winners both made their previous starts on turf, but none of the next three winners has ever run on turf.

As for winning favorites, there were two (Shaniko and Estate Collection) in the five races. No huge longshots won, but perhaps the most remarkable numbers on the afternoon were the medium-to-huge odds on all five second-place finishers. They were Delicate Dynamite at 9-1 in the Juvenile Fillies, Rungius at 29-1 in the Juvenile, Ball Four at 45-1 in the Classic, Sheer Luck at 10-1 in the Turfway BC, and Humor at Last at 23-1 in the Sprint.

"It was very encouraging to see how varied the results were, no matter which way you looked at them," said Elliston. "I think horsemen and fans from all over the country were watching to see how the track would play when top-caliber horses ran over it, and I don't think we could ask for much better results than what we got."

Also in the Kentucky Cup aftermath:

* Trainer Todd Pletcher said he was glad to see KC Classic winner Shaniko continue his climb within the handicap division but was hesitant to commit the colt to something as demanding as the Breeders' Cup Classic for his next start.

"We're just happy where we are with him today," Pletcher said afterward.

* Trainer Patrick Biancone, who spent most of the afternoon with retired basketball star Bobby Hurley and several other friends, also declined to commit Stream Cat to anything definite. Hurley co-owns Stream Cat.

Biancone did, however, hint that Stream Cat might try the dirt in the near future, saying the colt already had proven himself on grass and Polytrack.

"Maybe he is a dirt horse, too," he said.

* John McKee had an eventful afternoon. The 21-year-old jockey and former Turfway riding champion won aboard Beau Dare, then escaped serious injury in the 14th and final race of the card when thrown in midstretch while riding Hallowed Flag, a first-time starter sent out by Beau Dare's trainer, Bob Holthus.

* Beyer Speed Figures for the winners are: Beau Dare, 80; Stream Cat, 73; Shaniko, 105; Miss Fortunate, 91; and Estate Collection, 102.

Andrew Beyer is personally compiling the Beyer Speed Figures for the inaugural Polytrack meet.