09/21/2005 11:00PM

A resurgent Tacirring rolls into KC Turf Dash

Matt Goins/EquiPix
Rochester will try for his third Kentucky Cup Turf win Saturday.

It is not unusual to see a horse improve dramatically once it has been claimed by, or sent to, trainer Scott Lake, whose stable typically undergoes frequent turnover.

What is unusual is the lifetime form of Tacirring, who figures to be favored Saturday when facing seven other older horses in the $100,000 Kentucky Cup Turf Dash at Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky.

, now 6, began his racing career more than four years ago, and after 17 races, he had only one win. After 29 races, he had struggled to record four.

But sometime in the last seven months or so, the light went on. Tacirring, who has spent his entire career with Lake, has captured 6 of his last 7 seven starts and has suddenly blossomed into one of the most fearsome turf sprinters on the East Coast.

Tacirring has captured five-furlong grass stakes at Pimlico, Penn National, and Monmouth Park during the streak, and should prove tough to catch again Saturday if he can negotiate the extra furlong of the KC Turf Dash under Roberto Alvarado Jr.

look like the main challengers to Tacirring, with Sgt. Bert a live longshot play.

Spring Season one of the favorites

One would guess that the trainer with the most starts at a Kentucky Downs meet would be based in Kentucky.

After three of six programs, however, Jonathan Sheppard, whose stable competes primarily in the East, had the most starts, with six. Sheppard, a native of England, has often said he enjoys the Kentucky Downs layout and ambience that are almost unique in American racing. Clearly, he has gone far out of his way to show his appreciation for Kentucky Downs by shipping some 700 miles from his Delaware Valley base.

Saturday, Sheppard may see some of that love returned when Spring Season goes as one of the likely choices in the $100,000 Kentucky Cup Ladies Turf. Coming out of strong races at Arlington and Saratoga, Spring Season figures very tough given what amounts to a subtle class drop. Robby Albarado has the call for Sheppard.

Fourteen were entered in the Ladies, a one-mile race, but only as many as 12 can start. One main-body runner, Very Very, may come out, allowing either Air Kaper or Rose Hunter off the also-eligible list. Chuck Simon said he entered Very Very, winner of the Pleasant Temper Stakes here last Saturday, "just to take a look. Off the one week's rest, it's probably asking too much, so we'll probably scratch."

Bejarano on Rochester's side now

Rochester's history in the KC Turf is a remarkable one, indeed.

A 9-year-old gelding bred and owned by the Augustin Stable of George Strawbridge Jr., Rochester won the Turf by 2 1/2 lengths under Eddie Martin Jr. in his first try in 2002. In 2003, when ridden again by Martin, Rochester was awarded victory following a controversial disqualification of Art Variety, trained by Ken McPeek and ridden by Rafael Bejarano. By coincidence, Sheppard has given the call Saturday on Rochester to Bejarano.

Last year, when ridden by Pat Day, Rochester had to settle for second when Sabiango set a dawdling pace and won by three lengths.

Although he hasn't actually finished first in a race in nearly three years (the 2002 Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland), Rochester has remained highly competitive while racing primarily in graded stakes, including second-place finishes behind Silverfoot in each of the last two runnings of the Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs. He passed the million-dollar mark earlier this year and enters his fourth straight KC Turf. Overall, he has 10 wins and 10 seconds in 43 starts and a bankroll of $1,043,427.

* Preceding the three Kentucky Cup events, there is a fourth stakes on the Saturday card at Kentucky Downs: the $50,000 Yaqthan Stakes, named in honor of the first KC Turf winner in 1998.

Nine older horses, led by the Dale Romans-trained coupling of Everything to Gain and Bail Out the King, is entered in the one-mile Yaqthan (race 6). Seeking Answers, trained by Simon, looks like a plausible longshot.