09/10/2008 11:00PM

Meribel a standout on class, Beyer Figures


Meribel has the bankroll and Beyer Speed Figures that make her look best on paper in the Kentucky Cup Ladies Turf. Now all she has to do is prove she's best when taking on 11 other fillies and mares in the $100,000 race at Kentucky Downs.

With Robby Albarado to ride, Meribel figures as a solid favorite in the one-mile Ladies Turf, one of the three Kentucky Cup races set for Saturday at the turf-only track in Franklin, Ky.

Meribel, a 5-year-old mare with a race-high $471,615 in career earnings, will be making her third start for trainer Helen Pitts after previously racing for Christophe Clement. Although she earned Beyers of 87 and 97 in her two starts for Pitts - the Grade 3 Locust Grove Handicap at Churchill Downs and the Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington Park - Meribel didn't come close to threatening the winner in either race.

Still, given what amounts to a drop in class, Meribel clearly figures as the one to beat in a field that also includes such fringe contenders as Royalties, Sousaphone, Royal Pleasure, Platinee, and Swingit.

Swingit, with Victor Lebron to ride, will try to rebound off a last-place finish as one of the wagering choices in her last start, the Aug. 23 Ellis Park Turf.

"We're still trying to figure that last one out ourselves," said trainer Hal Wiggins. "It was by far the worst race she's ever run. We've checked her out and she's fine, so hopefully she'll bounce back and run a good race like we know she can."

The Ladies is carded as the 13th of 17 races on the melded card with Turfway Park. The anchor race of the day, the Kentucky Cup Turf, goes as the 15th.

Turf Dash: Kingship hard to figure

The main question for handicappers regarding the $100,000 Kentucky Cup Turf Dash (race 11) concerns Kingship. Can he run like he did 12 days earlier at Saratoga, when he narrowly missed winning the Quick Call while returning from a 16-month layoff?

The correct answer should go a long way toward solving the Turf Dash, which drew a field of 10 older horses. Kingship, with Larry Sterling Jr. to ride, will start from post 1 in the six-furlong race. Other logical contenders include Lord Robyn, Hold the Salt, Atticus Kristy, How's Your Halo, and Fort Prado.

Marfa: Semaphore Man tries Polytrack

Semaphore Man, winner of the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park in his last start in April, returns in a difficult spot, the $75,000 Marfa Stakes (race 14) at Turfway Park.

Not only does Semaphore Man face the likes of Ball Four, Junior College, and Off Duty among his 10 opponents, but the 6-year-old gelding never has raced on a synthetic surface.

Dylan Williams, who recently returned to Kentucky after riding successfully on the circuit as an apprentice, has the mount on Semaphore Man, who drew post 1 in the 6 1/2-furlong Marfa.

Turfway kicks off the melded program with the first race going at 1:10 p.m. Eastern.

Long-absent jumpers return

The $50,000 Belle Meade Plantation Stakes, the second live race Saturday at Kentucky Downs, is named for a historic landmark near Nashville that was a highly prominent Thoroughbred breeding farm in the late 1800s. Iroquois, the first American-bred to win the English Derby, was among the stallions that stood there.

Steeplechase racing at Kentucky Downs (then known as Dueling Grounds) made national headlines in 1990, when a purse of $750,000 was offered for a race called the Dueling Grounds International Hurdle. Saturday will mark the first time since 2000 that steeplechases will be held at Kentucky Downs.

Finding the best date to draw fans

Although in its infancy the Kentucky Cup turf series was run the Sunday after the Kentucky Cup series at Turfway, the traditional date had become the Saturday before or after its Turfway counterpart.

In fact, Kentucky Downs initially had scheduled its 2008 Kentucky Cup races for next Saturday, Sept. 20, before realizing the event would have a difficult time competing with the Ryder Cup, which is set for next weekend in Louisville. Kentucky Downs dodged the conflict when switching to the Sept. 13 date, knowing it might also be able to attract some of the thousands of people who will be in downtown Franklin for a popular vintage automobile show Saturday.

The Kentucky Cup at Turfway is set for Sept. 27.

* John Lies (pronounced "Lees"), who for the last several years has been the regular race-caller at Lone Star Park and more recently has worked on the in-house television production at Del Mar, replaces the late Luke Kruytbosch as the Kentucky Downs race-caller. Kruytbosch, 47, died July 14. He had worked every Kentucky Downs meet since 1999.

* The Jumbotron television positioned in the Kentucky Downs infield will be in use for the first time Saturday and Monday, but not for the remaining four days of the meet because of the high cost to lease it, according to track spokesman Jon Goodman. Watching races at Kentucky Downs, which doesn't even have an infield tote board, long has been difficult for ontrack fans, given the vastness of the track and the lack of large-screen televisions in proximity to the homestretch area where many fans gather.

* Jon Court is in on a busman's holiday. Formerly a leading rider on the Kentucky circuit, Court, 47, is scheduled to ride in at least two races Saturday at Kentucky Downs while taking a break from the Southern California circuit during the Fairplex Park meet. Court still has a house in Shelbyville, Ky., and usually returns at this time of year to look after personal business and for recreation, including hunting.

* For the first time in track history, Kentucky Downs is hosting a handicapping contest with $10,300 in cash prizes and three automatic berths to the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas in January. The contest will be held Sept. 20 at the track. Entry fee is $150, with 200 spots being sold. Complete information is available at kentuckydowns.com.

* Reprising a popular promotion used at Keeneland, Turfway, and Ellis, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association is sponsoring another college scholarship raffle Saturday at Kentucky Downs - albeit with a twist. Only students at nearby Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green are eligible to register for the seven $1,000 scholarships that will be raffled off after each live race.

* The conspicuous absence of Sunday racing on the abbreviated Kentucky Downs schedule is due to one thing: the National Football League. Previous management decided several years ago that it was futile to knock heads with the Tennessee Titans, who are based in Nashville, some 35 miles from the track. The result is a Saturday-Monday-Tuesday schedule.

* With Kentucky Downs filling holes by running each of the next two Mondays and Tuesdays, and Turfway maintaining its regular five-day schedule, live racing will be conducted for 19 straight days on the Kentucky circuit, from Sept. 10-28, until Sept. 29 is dark.