09/26/2006 12:00AM

Premium Tap can validate his upset


Since the Kentucky Cup was inaugurated in 1994, there probably are very few instances of a horse coming off a Grade 1 victory making its next start in the Turfway Park series.

But that's what will happen Saturday, when Premium Tap, coming off a 31-1 upset in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes, starts in the Kentucky Cup signature event, the Grade 2, $350,000 KC Classic.

Trainer John Kimmel acknowledged Tuesday that the typical progression for a Woodward winner would be to run back in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, but with Bernardini and Invasor set to run there Oct. 7, Kimmel said he thought the prudent move would be to run as fast as he could in the opposite direction.

"Bernardini, he's just a superior animal right now," said Kimmel. "The only way we would've stayed in New York was if either of those horses came up with a problem. I just thought we'd take the easier route, try to put some money in the till, see if we could dodge the heavy heads while still doing some good for ourselves."

For Premium Tap, the KC Classic should be a proving ground of sorts. Seemingly from nowhere, he thrust himself into the upper echelon of the handicap division with his half-length triumph over Second of June in the Sept. 2 Woodward at Saratoga. Kimmel said he is as eager as anyone to see Premium Tap reaffirm that big effort.

"The only question is how he handles the Polytrack," he said, referring to the synthetic surface at Turfway. "But for a horse with the kind of problem he's had, that track is probably going to be good for him."

A 4-year-old, Premium Tap raced three times at 2, ending with a nine-length maiden win at Aqueduct in November 2004. After that, the Jupiter, Fla.-based ownership group that purchased him for $60,000 and still owns him - George Kline, Pete Alevisoz, and David Whelihan - were offered what Kimmel said was "a whole lot of money," which the group declined. They had their share of subsequent regrets. Premium Tap soon began suffering chronic bruising in a hind cannon bone and remains susceptible to the problem to this day, forcing Kimmel to tread lightly with his training schedule. During the summer, Kimmel said, he had to stop galloping Premium Tap every day, opting instead for easy jogs because he was worried about the bruising coming back. "With a softer program, they hold together better, but then the problem becomes having their fitness level where you want it."

But Kimmel said a regular racing schedule has helped in that regard, and entering the Woodward, he was confident Premium Tap was ready to fire his best shot. He did, earning a lifetime-high 107 Beyer Speed Figure.

After the KC Classic, Kimmel said he won't be tempted by the Breeders' Cup, for the simple reason that Premium Tap isn't even eligible. He said he will point to the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 24.

Premium Tap, with Kent Desormeaux riding again, figures to be one of the secondary wagering choices in the KC Classic, a 1 1/8-mile race that is shaping up with a field of at least six horses. Perfect Drift, who with a bankroll of nearly $4.6 million is the richest horse in training in North America, is the likely favorite with Julien Leparoux to ride.

The other probables are Good Reward, Gouldings Green, Greeley's Galaxy, and It's No Joke, with several more considered possible. Entries were to be drawn Wednesday at the track.

Turfway BC leads other four stakes

The KC Classic will be part of an NTRA National Pick Four wager and an ESPN broadcast originating from Belmont. It is the anchor of a five-race, $825,000 series that also includes the $175,000 Turfway Breeders' Cup, $100,000 KC Sprint, $100,000 KC Juvenile, and $100,000 KC Juvenile Fillies. All of those races were expected to attract big fields, Turfway stakes coordinator Randy Wehrman said Tuesday.

The Grade 3 Turfway BC will have La Reason and Prospective Saint as the probable favorites. La Reason is trainer Todd Pletcher's only entrant in the series, according to assistant Mike McCarthy.

The Grade 3 KC Sprint, historically a producer of top sprinters, is shaping up with a capacity field of 12 3-year-olds. The probable favorites for the Sprint, a six-furlong race, include Changing Weather, Likely, and Mark of Success.

The Grade 3 KC Juvenile will be headed by Shermanesque, the Tony Reinstedler-trained colt who scratched as the morning-line favorite from the Arlington-Washington Futurity this month. Shermanesque ran second to divisional leader Circular Quay in the Bashford Manor Stakes in June.

Among the probable favorites in the ungraded KC Juvenile Fillies is Cherokee Sheik, an impressive maiden winner last month at Saratoga for Bill Mott.