11/25/2004 12:00AM

KJC highlights getaway day

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Finally, mercifully, the end is here. Racing fans at Churchill Downs will have experienced the last of the inconveniences posed by the track's $121 million renovation when closing day of the fall meet arrives Saturday, with the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes highlighting a fitting celebration of the end of an era.

For the last 3 1/2 years, Churchill fans have been asked for patience while the track underwent a major facelift. When the track reopens next April for the 2005 spring meet, the renovation is scheduled to be complete, for all practical purposes, and another chapter in the fabled history of Churchill Downs will commence.

A different sort of history will be written Saturday when the $200,000 KJC Stakes is run for the 78th time. Nine 2-year-old colts will try to run themselves into contention for the 131st Kentucky Derby next May, and if there is one who will make an indelible mark on the division, he has yet to show it. That does not mean, however, that a potential star will not emerge Saturday, which lends itself to an exciting scenario.

, already an earner of nearly $350,000, ranks among the top contenders in the 1 1/16-mile KJC. Although his pedigree does not exactly shout Derby - he's by speed sire Yes It's True - he still has shown the quality to prevail around two turns, having won the $400,000 In Reality, the final leg of the Florida Stallion Series, in his most recent start.

Eddie Plesa Jr. is the trainer and Eddie Castro will be the rider of

B.B. Best, who figures to be on or near the lead early in a race that figures to have an honest pace.

Other major threats in the KJC include , a highly touted colt trained by Pat Byrne and ridden by Pat Day.

A live longshot could be , who will be going turf to dirt for trainer Ken McPeek and jockey Brice Blanc. "I really like the way he's coming up to this," said McPeek.

The rest of the KJC field is Highgrove, Rush Bay, Drum Major, and Social Probation.

The KJC, the 11th of 12 races on the Saturday card, long has marked the end of major 2-year-old racing in the Midwest. Recent winners include such standouts as Exploit (1998), Captain Steve (1999), and The Cliff's Edge (2003).

The KJC and its sister race, the $200,000 Golden Rod Stakes (race 9), anchor a sensational closing-day program. Of the 12 races, only one, the first, is for claiming horses; five other races are run under allowance conditions. Also on the card are a $70,800 overnight handicap (race 10) featuring Fire Slam, and the final leg of the Trails End marathon series (race 12).

The seventh race, a $53,700 second-level allowance at seven furlongs, drew a particularly strong field. Capac and St Averil, both of whom were regarded as Kentucky Derby contenders earlier this year, are part of a full field.

First post is 11:30 a.m. Eastern. Racing in Kentucky moves Sunday to Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.