10/04/2006 12:00AM

Rochester seeks fourth Sycamore win


Amid all the changes at Keeneland - the reconfigured main track with a Polytrack surface and a new toteboard, to name two - there will be one constant there this fall. That would be the presence of 10-year-old Rochester, who is entered in Friday's Sycamore Breeders' Cup Stakes for the sixth year in a row.

A three-time winner of the race - in 2001, 2002, and 2005 - he figures to start at odds of around 8-1 when matched against 10 opponents in the Sycamore, a Grade 3, $150,000 turf race going 1 1/2 miles.

His relatively large price is a reflection on the quality of the race. In addition to Rochester, there are four other graded stakes winners in the lineup - Always First, Rush Bay, Revved Up and Host - and another, Porfido, that has won three Group 1 races in Chile.

To win the Sycamore Rochester needs to run every bit as well as he did in 2001, 2002, and 2005 - if not better. Whether or not he will remains to be seen.

Although he has yet to win an official race in four starts this year - he reportedly won a flat race at a hunt meet in Georgia in April - he did not run like a horse that had lost a step when third in the Kentucky Cup Turf at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 23. Stuck in traffic, he was unlucky to not find a clear path until in the final furlong. Once angled to the outside, he finished well, losing by three-quarters of a length to Embossed and Lord Carmen.

The Sycamore appears to be a much stronger race than the Kentucky Cup Turf. Robby Albarado rides Rochester for Augustin Stable and Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard.

The likely Sycamore favorite is Rush Bay, who won the Grade 2 Nijinsky Stakes at Woodbine on Aug. 27 in his last start. A successful 3-year-old last year when he won the Grade 3 Jefferson Cup, he has excelled this year, winning three of five starts. In those three victories, he has posted Beyer Speed Figures ranging from 101 to 103.

Always First and Revved Up figure to be his greatest challengers. Both come off minor stakes victories and have posted triple digit Beyer figures in 2005 or 2006.