09/23/2008 11:00PM

Ky. Cup Sprint serves well as BC Sprint prep

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FLORENCE, Ky. - Through the years, the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Sprint has been a perennial overachiever. Although the six-furlong race is restricted to 3-year-olds and has just a $100,000 purse, it consistently produces starters for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, most notably Reraise and Cajun Beat, both of whom swept both races.

And with the BC Sprint set for its first running over a synthetic surface next month at Santa Anita, it seems logical that a runner or two from the KC Sprint on Saturday at Turfway Park will have every right to proceed to California.

The KC Sprint drew the largest, and perhaps the deepest, of the five Kentucky Cup races Saturday, with Fatal Bullet and Hatta Fort likely to be favored in a field of 10. Other serious contenders include three horses exiting Saratoga races: Nautical Storm, Eaton's Gift, and Gentleman James.

The card Saturday is topped by the $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic. As for the rest of the Kentucky Cup undercard:

* Besides Zanjero, the morning-line favorite for the Classic, only one other Kentucky Cup starter is a millionaire - Bear Now, who looks like a solid favorite for the $100,000 KC Distaff.

Bear Now, based in Canada with trainer Reade Baker, will be ridden by Eurico Rosa Da Silva and break from post 4 in a field of seven fillies and mares in the Distaff, a Grade 3 race run at 1 1/16 miles. Bear Now has won 8 of 18 career starts, but more importantly, she is 7 for 11 over synthetics.

Maren's Meadow (post 6), winner of the Grade 3 Bourbonette Stakes here in the spring, and the speedy Devil House (post 7) look like the top challengers.

* There are plenty of questions to be answered in the Grade 3, $100,000 KC Juvenile, a 1 1/16-mile race that drew eight 2-year-olds and only one stakes winner, Proud Jefe.

Several others have shown promise, namely Retap, a Steve Asmussen-trained colt who makes his first synthetic start after opening his career with three starts on three different dirt tracks; Tar Beach, winner of an off-the-turf maiden-special race at Saratoga last out; and West Side Bernie, a winner at Monmouth Park in his lone start.

* In contrast to its brother race, the $100,000 KC Juvenile Fillies looks a little top-heavy, with the Asmussen-trained Juliet's Spirit, unbeaten in three starts, squaring off against the fleet New Jersey shipper Bold Union in a field of nine. The one-mile Juvenile Fillies, the only ungraded race in the Kentucky Cup, is the leadoff race in the series as the sixth of 12 Saturday races.

Busy date, heavy competition

While the September date that Turfway has chosen for the Kentucky Cup has changed over the years, this is the third straight year the series will be on the last Saturday of the month. With the Breeders' Cup set for four weeks later, the timing seems ideal, except for one small thing: competition.

"With all the races you've got everywhere else, it's been kind of tough getting horses to come here," said Turfway racing secretary Rick Leigh.

Indeed, the racing calendar is packed on Saturday. Belmont and Santa Anita are hosting monster days, while Presque Isle has several races in direct competition with the Kentucky Cup, and Hawthorne has its prestigious Gold Cup.

Turfway is co-owned and managed by Keeneland, and the tracks long have been careful to coordinate their races so that the Kentucky Cup doesn't step on the FallStars stakes on opening weekend of the Keeneland meet, which is set for Oct. 3-5. But perhaps more than the competition for horses, Turfway officials are hoping they don't get mauled in the competition for betting dollars in the international simulcast market Saturday.

"There's a whole lot of action to be had out there Saturday," said Leigh.

All-sources wagering on the full Kentucky Cup cards has averaged about $7.3 million in the past five years.

McCarron to ride against his students

Before the Saturday program gets under way at Turfway, Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron will ride in a five-furlong exhibition race against eight of his current and former students from the North American Riding Academy. The race is set for 12:30 p.m. Eastern, 40 minutes before first post.

Four of the riders are currently enrolled in the academy program in Lexington, Ky., while four others have graduated and are launching careers in racing. McCarron and his wife, Judy, established the program in 2006 at the Kentucky Horse Park.

* On Friday evening, Turfway is hosting its first "Horses and Hope Day," which aims to increase breast cancer education and awareness. The first Kentucky track to host such a day was Ellis Park in August. The Horses and Hope program was initiated by Jane Beshear, the wife of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. More information is available at (859) 647-4804.