09/09/2005 12:00AM

With opening week past, focus is on Kentucky Cup


An eventful first week of the Turfway Park fall meet will go into the books after a 10-race Sunday card is completed. With 81 horses entered for Sunday, it is becoming increasingly clear that Louisville-based trainers who staged an unofficial boycott are willing to run their horses, although some stables still are holding out.

The main features of opening week were the scarcity of starters on the first three programs and the unveiling of Turfway's new synthetic racing surface, Polytrack. As the second week unfolds, it is Polytrack, along with the 12th annual Kentucky Cup series, that Turfway officials are hoping will become the dominant storylines.

The Kentucky Cup, to be run next Saturday at the Florence, Ky., track, is a five-race series with a total of $825,000 in purses. Turfway stakes coordinator Randy Wehrman said Friday that the number of Kentucky Cup nominations is well above what the same races attracted last year, probably because both dirt and turf runners are presumed to perform well over the Polytrack surface. Nominations closed late Friday.

"I started thinking last week, 'Maybe I'd better start hustling the turf horses, too,' " said Wehrman. "We've already got 34 nominations for the Classic, and last year we only had 18."

The purse for the Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Classic is $350,000, but that includes $150,000 in bonuses for horses eligible to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. The other four Kentucky Cup races essentially are open races, with no added KTDF funds.

The leading candidates for the 1 1/8-mile Classic include Royal Assault, Senor Swinger, M B Sea, Grand Reward, Silverfoot, and possibly Shaniko, who was entered in Saturday's Woodward at Belmont.

The other Kentucky Cup races are the $175,000 Turfway Breeders' Cup (includes $75,000 in Breeders' Cup awards), $100,000 KC Sprint, $100,000 KC Juvenile, and $100,000 KC Juvenile Fillies.

A wide variety of seating options, ranging from $5 to $37, are available for Kentucky Cup Day by calling (859) 371-0200.

Unofficial boycott largely over

Meanwhile, Turfway racing secretary Rick Leigh said Friday that he was glad Louisville horsemen are no longer withholding entries, although "we're still lacking a few of them," he said. "Overall, we're doing pretty good."

Dale Romans oversees one of several major stables that did not have a starter at Turfway during opening week. Romans said Friday that he planned to begin running horses Wednesday night. He said he and many other trainers are satisfied that the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority has brought horsemen and veterinarians into the process of revising the language in the new equine medication rules that are at the root of the controversy.

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher recently signed the new medication rules into law as an emergency measure. Before the rules become permanent, they must pass through normal legal channels, and it is during that process that horsemen and veterinarians are hoping to make headway.

Romans said the power of horsemen's solidarity was evidenced by the substandard quality of the first three Turfway programs.

"I think the authority now has a better idea of what we are trying to accomplish," he said.

Minnock, 16, rides first winner

Apprentice rider Brandon Minnock, 16, registered the first victory of his career on Wednesday's opening night card when he guided Tres Copy to an 8 1/4-length victory in the seventh race.

Tres Copy was just the fourth career mount for Minnock, whose father, trainer Wayne Minnock, is a former jockey.

"It was a great win," said the younger Minnock.

Minnock has been working with his father's horses over the Polytrack surface at the Highpointe Training Center near LaGrange, Ky. He plans to continue with his high school education while also working horses at Highpointe and riding races at Kentucky tracks.