10/05/2005 12:00AM

Rochester eyes 3rd Sycamore win


When the Sycamore Breeders' Cup received a purse hike in 2001 and was moved to the beginning of the Keeneland fall meet, it was positioned to become a prep for the Breeders' Cup Turf.

With a value of $150,000-added, the purse remains too low to attract the nation's premier turf horses, but the quality of the race has undoubtedly improved. It was awarded Grade 3 status in 2003, and in an example of how far the once minor stakes has come, last year's winner, Mustanfar, went on to compete in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Turf, finishing fifth.

On Friday, opening day of the Keeneland fall meet, eight horses were entered for the 1 1/2-mile Sycamore, led by Grade 1-placed Denon and two-time Sycamore winner Rochester.

Denon is the established class, having run competitively against such established turf horses as Sweet Return and Better Talk Now.

, now 9, is a course specialist, having recorded 3 wins, 2 seconds, and 2 thirds in 9 starts over the Keeneland grass course. He won back-to-back runnings of the Sycamore, in 2001 and 2002, and was third in the race last year. He ran seventh in the 2003 running, his only poor performance in the race.

In his last start Sept. 24, Rochester finished a distant second to Silverfoot in the Kentucky Cup Turf, a historically key race. Every year since the inaugural running of the Kentucky Cup Turf in 1998, at least one horse exiting the KC Turf has recorded a top-three finish in the Sycamore. On three occasions, a Kentucky Cup Turf runner has won.

Gary Stevens has the mount on Rochester for trainer Jonathan Sheppard.

Although Vangelis does not have the proven Keeneland track record of Rochester, Vangelis's trainer, Bobby Frankel, does. Frankel is 6 for 11 in Keeneland turf stakes in 2004-2005. Frankel's winning history at Keeneland will likely contribute to Vangelis starting as the betting favorite - not that Vangelis does not have qualifications of his own. He ran fourth in his last start, the Grade 1 Man o' War at Belmont, and was twice third in Grade 1 company earlier in the year. Edgar Prado rides.

pose the greatest threats to the favorites. Dreadnaught, a dual Grade 2 winner in 2004, comes off sixth-place finishes in the Sword Dancer and Man o' War, and Ball Four, the runner-up to Shaniko in the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park, looms the controlling speed.