09/22/2004 11:00PM

Rochester's third Turf won't come easy


Kentucky Downs may be an out-of-the-way place, but plenty of in-the-know horsemen sure have figured out how to get there. Top trainers and jockeys find their way to the south-central Kentucky town of Franklin every September to compete against each other, most notably when the lucrative purses of the Kentucky Cup turf series are up for grabs.

Total purses for the four-race Kentucky Cup grass races equal $500,000, or enough to have attracted the likes of Hall of Famers Pat Day and Jonathan Sheppard and lots of other highly accomplished horsemen Saturday. The richest of the Kentucky Cup races, the , is a race in which Day and Sheppard will team together with Rochester, the two-time defending champion.

Rochester, an earner of more than $900,000 for breeder-owner Augustin Stable, is in good form, but the 8-year-old gelding still figures to have his work cut out for him in the seventh running of the Grade 3 Turf, a 1 1/2-mile race that drew seven other older horses. The two horses that finished in a tight photo with Rochester in this race last year, Art Variety and Quest Star, are back to re-engage him, as are several other capable new shooters, including Sabiango, a German-bred speedster owned by Monty Roberts of "The Horse Whisperer" fame.

Overall, the KC Turf looks like a highly competitive race in which Rochester, perhaps because of Day, may be a slight favorite.

"I thought the race looked real tough," said Elliott Walden, who will send Quest Star from his Louisville base. "My horse runs well over firm turf, and that's what it's supposed to be like Saturday. So we'll give them a try."

Quest Star, with Larry Melancon to ride, has tactical speed that should make him a strong race-long factor, just like when he won the Grade 2 Pan American the last two years over firm turf at Gulfstream Park.

Art Variety, disqualified from first last year, is another solid contender. Red-hot jockey Rafael Bejarano will ride.

The KC Turf is the anchor race in a series that begins with the $100,000 KC Turf Dash, $100,000 KC Mile, and $100,000 KC Ladies Turf.

The Kentucky Cup is part of a six-race Kentucky Downs program that is being interspersed with 10 more races from sister track Turfway Park, forming a marathon 16-race card. First post is 12:10 p.m. Central.

Television Games Network is providing live coverage of the Kentucky Cup races.