04/20/2003 11:00PM

Rochester seeks to end slump


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Some horses like Kentucky, and, well, some horses love it. Rochester seems to fit the second category, having won two of the richest races of his career last fall in the Bluegrass State.

Rochester won the $300,000 Kentucky Cup Turf at Kentucky Downs in September, then wheeled back in just two weeks to win the $100,000 Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland. For the first time since that nifty double, Rochester, a turf-marathon specialist, is back to run in Kentucky, this time as one of the likely favorites in Wednesday's $100,000 Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland.

An overflow field of older horses was entered in the Elkhorn, a 1 1/2-mile, three-turn turf race that helps kick off the final three-day stretch of the Keeneland spring meet. Rochester, owned by the Augustin Stables of George Strawbridge and trained by Jonathan Sheppard, will break from post 8 under Pat Day, who guided him to victory in the Sycamore last October.

Not only might Rochester's apparent fondness for Kentucky help the 7-year-old gelding snap a modest four-race losing streak, but it might also pull his trainer further out of an uncharacteristic slump. Sheppard suffered through a poor Gulfstream meet, but he did win a highly competitive turf allowance earlier at this meet with Spanish Spur, a race that could signal an overdue breakthrough for the stable and a big race for Rochester.

Two of the more successful turf runners at the Gulfstream meet also were entered in the Elkhorn: Man From Wicklow, who won the Grade 1 Gulfstream Breeders' Cup in February, will start from post 9 with Jerry Bailey aboard, while Quest Star, winner of the Grade 2 Pan American last month, will start from post 1 with Edgar Prado riding.

Prado has been hot in Keeneland stakes races this spring, winning the Blue Grass on Peace Rules, the Commonwealth BC on Smooth Jazz, and the Lexington on Scrimshaw.

Other notables in a deep Elkhorn field include Mystery Giver, winner of the Fair Grounds BC in February; Candid Glen, who in his latest start won the Grade 2 Explosive Bid at 84-1 at Fair Grounds; the 2002 Elkhorn winner, Kim Loves Bucky; and Williams News, who would surpass the $1 million earnings mark with a win.

The balance of the cast includes Muntej, Gritty Sandie, and Full of Wonder. Two other horses, Macaw and Dr. Brendler, form an also-eligibles list.

First post for the 13th of 15 programs is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.