05/31/2004 12:00AM

Silverfoot nips Rochester by a nose

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Silverfoot, a gray gelding making his stakes debut, beat the grizzled veteran Rochester to the Churchill Downs finish line by a nose to capture the 67th running of the $112,400 Louisville Handicap on Monday.

Ridden by Robby Albarado, Silverfoot had won three of his four previous starts, all in allowance company, leading trainer Dallas Stewart to raise his latest star into Grade 3 company in the Louisville, a 1 3/8-mile turf fixture. Stewart waited anxiously near the winner's circle before results of the tight finish finally were posted, and when Silverfoot's No. 3 went up first, he began celebrating and laughing with employees and friends.

Silverfoot, a Kentucky-bred 4-year-old by With Approval, is owned by Chrysalis Stables. Silverfoot returned $10.40 as second choice in a field of nine older horses after being timed in 2:17.63 over a course rated yielding. He now has won 5 of 8 career starts.

Ballingarry, the even-money favorite who shipped in from California for trainer Laura de Seroux, rallied to finish 1 1/4 lengths back in third. Art Variety and defending Louisville champion Kim Loves Bucky finished in a dead heat for fourth.

Rochester, an 8-year-old multiple graded winner and an earner of nearly $900,000, took the lead in midstretch under Cornelio Velasquez before being nipped at the finish by Silverfoot.

"He might have hung a little bit because he made the lead too early," said Rochester's trainer, Jonathan Sheppard. "[Velasquez] didn't have much choice, though, because a hole opened up and he had to go."

An objection against the winner for alleged interference in the upper stretch by jockey John McKee, who rode sixth-place finisher Feel the Wind, was quickly dismissed.

The $2 exacta returned $48.40 and the $2 trifecta paid $127.60.