09/20/2001 12:00AM

Kentucky Cup Sprint's a springboard


FLORENCE, Ky. - Surely no one could have predicted the manner in which the Kentucky Cup has become a producer of top sprinters. Since its 1994 inaugural, the $150,000 Kentucky Cup Sprint has yielded exceptionally good horses, from Lord Carson and Appealing Skier to Reraise and Caller One.

In fact, every winner since 1995 has been deemed good enough to run back in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. One of them, Reraise, actually won the Breeders' Cup in 1998. Last year's winner, Caller One, faded badly in the Breeders' Cup Sprint but won the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen nearly five months later.

It appears possible that the Kentucky Cup Sprint's successful legacy could be perpetuated again this year. That is primarily because of the presence of City Zip, who, unlike horses such as Reraise and Caller One, comes into the Kentucky Cup highly proven.

Although trainer Linda Rice gave City Zip a chance at longer distances last winter, she has settled on him becoming a sprinter. The results have been impressive: In his last seven races at 6 1/2 furlongs or shorter, City Zip has won, a record that makes him the one to beat Saturday in the six-furlong, Grade 2 Sprint.

Six other 3-year-olds will give City Zip and jockey Jose Ferrer a try, and a solid bunch it is. Dream Run, who this year has earned checks in the Florida Derby, Illinois Derby, and Derby Trial, figures to be City Zip's main rival under Kent Desormeaux. Other serious challengers are Wild Hits, who figures

to go a long way on the lead; Snow Ridge, an impressive winner of his last start at Saratoga; and One By the Knows, an easy winner of the Hansel Stakes here six months ago. Homem Ra and Dancing Missile round out the field.

In the day's other stakes:

*French Assault goes for his second straight stakes win in the $100,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile, a 1 1/16-mile race that attracted a field of seven 2-year-olds. French Assault, trained by Keith Desormeaux, older brother of jockey Kent Desormeaux, enters the Grade 3 race off an 11 3/4-length win in the El Joven Stakes at Retama Park.

Gold Dollar and Truman's Raider, both trained by D. Wayne Lukas, were each good enough to win a maiden race at Saratoga. They are coupled. And Hunter Cruise, who shipped in Thursday from New York for trainer Todd Pletcher, has won three straight races, the last being the Continental Mile on the Monmouth Park turf.

The rest of the field consists of Shining Career and Repent.

Ten-year-old Patrick Engelhardt, a fifth-grader in Cincinnati, is the co-breeder of Juvenile longshot Watch Me Fire, an Ohio-bred. As the winner of the restricted Loyalty Stakes, Watch Me Fire is one of just three stakes winners in the field.

"Ohio-breds have been on a roll lately," said John Engelhardt, who is Patrick's father and the longtime publicity director at nearby River Downs, where Ohio-breds Joanies Bella and Harlan's Honey recently won River Downs's two premier races, the Bassinet and Cradle stakes, respectively.

Because Watch Me Fire, the only non-Kentucky-bred in the field, is ineligible for state-bred bonuses, the race could be worth less than $100,000.

*Six weeks ago, Ron Moquett got the biggest thrill of his six-year training career when Asher captured the $200,000 Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park. Saturday, Moquett, a 30-year-old native of Ft. Smith, Ark., will hope for more of the same when Asher teams again with jockey Mark Guidry in the $200,000 Turfway Breeders' Cup.

Asher, a gray 4-year-old by Mountain Cat, is one of several legitimate challengers to the probable favorite, Spain, who last fall swept the Turfway BC and the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

"It's a really competitive field," said Moquett. "Our filly obviously has good speed, but so do a couple of others in there. Trip and The Happy Hopper are used to running shorter distances, and they're usually pretty close up in their races. It'll be interesting to see how it develops."

Spain, with Victor Espinoza to ride, will start from the outside post in a field of seven. The others in the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 3 race are March Magic, Royal Fair, and Precious Feather.

*As the 13th of 14 Saturday races, the last of the Kentucky Cup races is the $100,000 Juvenile Fillies, in which Playing 'n Gold, Splendid Victory, and Dixie Witch figure as the top betting choices.

The Juvenile Fillies often is a prelude to other major fall races for 2-year-old fillies in Kentucky, including the Alcibiades at Keeneland and the Pocahontas and Golden Rod at Churchill Downs.