11/22/2001 12:00AM

KJC important step for Repent


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Perhaps more important than the long proud history of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, which dates to 1920, is the strong recent history of the race.

Seven of the last 10 winners of the Kentucky Jockey Club, Churchill Downs's premier race for 2-year-olds, have gone on to run in the Kentucky Derby the next year, several of them as highly regarded contenders. The names Dollar Bill, Captain Steve, Cape Town, and Concerto should be easily recognizable for serious racing fans.

So when the $200,000, Grade 2 KJC Stakes is run Saturday for the 75th time, trainer Ken McPeek will be well aware of the implications.

"It would be great to win it," said McPeek, who will saddle Select Stable's heavily favored Repent in the 1 1/16-mile KJC Stakes. "But winning it still doesn't get you to the Derby."

Of course it doesn't. But McPeek would be the first to admit that if Repent can win the KJC by running as well as he has in his last two starts - a victory in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, followed by a sharp runner-up finish behind Johannesburg in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile - then he wouldn't trade places with anyone in regard to the 2002 Derby.

"He doesn't have to win by a bunch Saturday, although I'd love to see him do it with something left," said McPeek. "But I also don't want to count my chickens before they hatch."

McPeek's primary concern about the KJC is that with just six starters, the race could unfold with an abnormally slow pace. As a come-from-behinder, Repent, to be ridden by Tony D'Amico, potentially could be hindered by such a scenario.

"He showed in the Kentucky Cup that he can haunt them from fairly close," said McPeek. "But obviously a paceless race wouldn't be in his favor."

Then again, perhaps the presence of Sky Terrace, a winner of two sprints in as many career starts, will help the tempo. Otherwise, the other starters - Gold Dollar, Request for Parole, High Star and Rylstone - have all tended to take back off the early pace.

The KJC, which anchors the closing-day program of the 24-day Churchill fall meet, is carded as the 11th of 12 Saturday races. Its sister race, the $200,000 Golden Rod Stakes, goes about an hour earlier as the ninth.

The 10th race, a $61,100 allowance, is the first two-turn race in 43 career starts for the top Midwestern sprinter Bet on Sunshine.