04/20/2004 11:00PM

Kim Loves Bucky goes for three-peat


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland has been running stakes races since 1937, but only once in track history has a horse been able to win the same stakes in three consecutive years. That horse was Royal Harmony, a local legend who captured the Fayette Handicap each year from 1969 to 1971 for Pat Devereux Sr.

Friday, that longstanding record stands a chance of being equaled. Kim Loves Bucky is back to try for a third straight victory in the $150,000 Elkhorn Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile turf marathon that helps close the books on the 15-day spring meet.

Last year, Kim Loves Bucky surprised most Keeneland fans when he captured the Grade 3 Elkhorn at 11-1. Two starts later, he won the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs. He then failed to hit the board in five subsequent starts, and breeder-owner-trainer John Glenney decided soon thereafter that it was time to regroup and point for an Elkhorn three-peat.

"He's trained exactly the same as he did before we brought him back in this race last year," said Glenney. "In my mind, he hasn't lost one step. He's got a very youthful way about him, which I think helps a lot."

, a 7-year-old gelding by Green Dancer, will be ridden by Shane Sellers when he leaves from post 9 in a field of 10 older horses entered in the three-turn Elkhorn. The task is formidable, for a handful of horses that specialize in long-distance turf races are entered against him.

Perhaps the best of that opposition is , who was good enough to finish first (although eventually disqualified) in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup last fall for trainer Bobby Frankel. Epicentre disappointed in his last start, but that was at 1 1/8 miles, and the extra distance should make him more prominent. Jerry Bailey has the call on Epicentre, a 5-year-old Juddmonte Farms homebred.

Other contenders include Host, a rapidly improving 4-year-old colt trained by John Kimmel; Californian, winner of the Forerunner over this course last spring for trainer Kristin Mulhall; Freefourinternet, upset winner of the Grade 2 Kelso last fall at Belmont; and Art Variety and National Pride, both winners of allowance races earlier at this meet.

Grand, Rochester, and Autonomy complete the field.

The Elkhorn is the ninth of 10 races on the closing-day card. Four allowances (races 4, 6, 8, and 10) also are on tap.