09/04/2003 11:00PM

Offlee Wild to return on Kentucky Cup Day

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Offlee Wild, the Holy Bull Stakes winner who finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby in his last start, will run Saturday, Sept. 13, in the $100,000 Kentucky Cup Sprint, one of five races in the 10th annual Kentucky Cup series at Turfway.

Trainer T.V. Smith said he doesn't expect the six-furlong distance of the Sprint to be a major problem for Offlee Wild following the layoff of more than four months. Offlee Wild has plenty of natural speed but spent the winter and spring progressively stretching out in distance.

"We're getting back into the swing of things," Smith said Friday at his Churchill Downs base. "He won sprinting earlier in his career. I know it will probably be a salty race, but this colt should be pretty sharp after having those few months off. We're sure not going in thinking we're a beaten horse already."

The probable favorite for the Sprint is Champali, the Greg Foley-trained colt who also is turning back in distance. Champali ran fourth as the 1-2 favorite in his last start, the 1 1/16-mile Iowa Derby on July 5.

Baffert contingent due in

Trainer Bob Baffert has booked three horses, including Congaree, on a Tex Sutton charter flight from California to Kentucky for early next week.

Congaree is, by far, the most accomplished horse expected for the Kentucky Cup. With Edgar Prado to ride, Congaree will be a heavy favorite in the richest race of the day, the $350,000 Classic. The race will serve as Congaree's final prep for the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

Meanwhile, Turfway officials are keeping their fingers crossed in the hope that Todd Pletcher will send Balto Star from New York to make the Classic something more than a walkover. Two accomplished Louisville-based horses, Perfect Drift and Tenpins, are passing the Classic in favor of the $750,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup on Sept. 28.

Surface switch

The new racing surface at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., is one that not only is expected to provide improved drainage and fewer weather-related problems, but also is far kinder to jockeys and horses.

"We always heard from jockeys about how the type of sand we used would really sting when it was thrown back," said Bob Elliston, president of Turfway. "Since we brought in this new sand from Ohio, we've heard that it's much easier on the horses and jockeys."

Handicappers had long theorized that horses at Turfway sometimes got beaten much farther than what might have been expected partly because of the stinging nature of the track surface. Turfway spent about $100,000 by completely renovating the surface for the 22-day fall meet that began Wednesday.

* Admission will be free throughout the Turfway meet, including Kentucky Cup day for the first time. The track formerly charged as much as $15 for the day.

* Rafael Bejarano, easily the leading rider at the Ellis Park meet, missed the entire first week of Turfway to serve a suspension stemming from a race last month at Ellis. He is scheduled to return Wednesday.

* As an enticement to fans who normally stay home or go elsewhere to watch football on Sundays, Turfway now has the "NFL Ticket" package in the Homestretch Lounge. "The NFL is so popular that we had to do something to keep some of our fans here on Sunday," said Elliston. One other new attraction at Turfway is the "Corona Cantina," an outdoor beer garden with a Mexican theme.

* Quarter Horse racing could return on a limited basis to Kentucky next year after an absence of some 20 years. Races might be held in July at The Red Mile harness track and in September over the Kentucky Downs turf course if representatives for the Kentucky Quarter Horse Association meet all legal requirements and file their dates requests by the Oct. 1 deadline, said Bernie Hettel, executive director of the Kentucky Racing Commission.

* David Woods, the Louisville farrier who nearly died when suffering major heart trauma July 2, continues to make steady progress while undergoing physical therapy five days a week. Woods, 49, said he has another four weeks of therapy. "We'll find out during that time when or if I'll be able to get back to shoeing horses," he said.