08/31/2008 11:00PM

Polytrack matters much as new meet opens

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FLORENCE, Ky. - For five of the next seven months, live racing on the Kentucky circuit will be held at Turfway Park. The first month, however, has a considerably different feel than the last four, according to Turfway president Bob Elliston.

As opposed to the winter racing that takes place from late November to early April, "the weather gives us more options in September," said Elliston. "We can hold more outdoor events than we can in the middle of winter."

Indeed, with the start of the 22-day fall meet Wednesday evening, there's plenty on the plate at Turfway, which is entering its fourth year of racing on Polytrack. Besides a crowded slate of ontrack activities, including a barbecue festival and dollar specials on Fridays, the meet highlight, the five-race Kentucky Cup series, will be held Sept. 27 with added emphasis as potential Breeders' Cup preps because most of the Oct. 24-25 BC championships will be run on the synthetic surface at Santa Anita. In addition, the first stakes of the meet, the $100,000 Turfway Fall Championship on Saturday, is part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge Win and You're In series.

Turfway also will host the first Quarter Horse race ever run over Polytrack on Sept. 12 - the $25,000 John Deere Sprint Stakes at 330 yards, and an amateur exhibition featuring students from the North American Riding Academy will be given prior to the Kentucky Cup card.

Turfway, which for years has struggled in the face of fierce competition from the riverboat casinos in neighboring Indiana, will average about $175,000 in purses per card, including stakes and Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund bonuses, according to racing secretary Rick Leigh. Competition for horses at Hoosier Park, where a new racino ultimately could lead to substantial purse increases, has not yet had a major effect on Turfway, Leigh added.

The familiar rosters of stables and jockeys, plus a smattering of new faces, will be back at Turfway, which runs through Oct. 2 before eight weeks of racing ensue at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. Kentucky trainers who have spent the last six weeks at Saratoga usually run some of their horses during the fall meet, lending a touch of class to the racing.

The opening-night feature - such as it is - is a $30,000 restricted claiming race for 3-year-olds and upward at one mile. Montalvo, with Victor Lebron riding for Angel Montano, could be the one to beat in the ninth of 10 races.