09/08/2011 4:43PM

Kentucky Downs: Rahystrada favored in Kentucky Cup Turf

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Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Rahystrada, with Sheldon Russell riding, wins the Colonial Turf Cup.

Some pretty nice grass horses have found their way to Kentucky Downs through the years, and now Rahystrada is headed to the rural environs of Simpson County. Although the 1 1/2-mile distance and undulating terrain are new for Rahystrada, there is little doubt the 7-year-old gelding will be a deserving favorite when Kentucky Downs opens its four-day meet Saturday with the 14th running of the Grade 3, $150,000 Kentucky Cup Turf.

Owned by Robert Courtney and based at the Thoroughbred Training Center in Lexington with Scooter Hughes, Rahystrada has developed into one of the top turf horses in the Midwest, having captured the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap last year and the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup 12 weeks ago. He most recently was a respectable fifth behind Cape Blanco in the Aug. 13 Arlington Million.

“I think he’s better this year than he was last year,” said Hughes. “He came out of the Million real well, and I actually don’t think he got to run his race that day. He was feeling pretty froggy after that, which is why we’re running him back a little sooner than we usually do.”

Rahystrada, who has earned more than $850,000 and recorded Beyer Speed Figures of 90 or better in 12 of his last 13 starts, has never raced beyond 1 1/4 miles, and the course at turf-only Kentucky Downs is an irregularly shaped oval with all sorts of dips and rises. Still, Hughes said those shouldn’t be problems.

“We gallop him in a field similar to that here at the Thoroughbred Center,” said Hughes. “He gallops there most of the time if it’s too wet or too dry.” The 1 1/2 miles is “another thing I’ve wanted to try him at. I think he can handle it. He’s usually moving along pretty good at the end of all his races.”

Rahystrada, with Greta Kuntzweiler to ride from post 6, is one of 10 older horses in the Turf, which anchors a seven-race opening-day card. First post is 12:40 p.m. Central, with the Turf, the sixth race, going at 3:21.

Kuntzweiler won the KC Turf last year aboard Rezif, a triumph that remains her richest since she returned in June 2010 from a 4 1/2-year layoff. In light of what happened before and after that eye-popping 6 1/4-length win, Rezif has been a one-hit wonder: The KC Turf remains his only victory in more than two years. Victor Lebron picks up the mount Saturday on Rezif, who will break from the far outside post.

Other notables in the KC Turf include Harrods Creek, Formaggio, Odds On, and Rules of Honor.

Odds On, a Brazilian-bred, “might be in an ambitious spot,” said trainer Ken McPeek, who eight years ago sent out a Brazilian-bred, Art Variety, to finish first in the Turf, only to see him disqualified. “But this horse was a group winner in South America, and he’s run well in his last couple starts and we figured we’d give him a try.”

The Turf, which dates to 1998, has been won by such standouts as Chorwon (2001), Rochester (2002-03), Silverfoot (2005), and Cloudy’s Knight (2009). It is one of just two remaining grass races in the scaled-back series along with the $50,000 Kentucky Cup Ladies The one-mile Ladies (race 5) drew an excellent field, with A She’s Adorable, Snow Top Mountain, Seniga, and Persuading the likely favorites in a field of 11 fillies and mares.

Kentucky Downs will run the next two Saturdays and Mondays (Sept. 10, 12, 17, and 19). One other stakes is scheduled: the $50,000 Franklin-Simpson on Sept. 17.

Opening day comes nine days after Kentucky Downs declared 200 newly installed Instant Racing parimutuel machines open for business. The legality of the machines has been challenged by anti-gambling forces, but a request for an injunction to close them had not been ruled on as of Thursday.