09/03/2007 12:00AM

Street Sense's BC prep up in the air


FLORENCE, Ky. - Street Sense arrived at Churchill Downs at about 5 a.m. Eastern on Monday after leaving the previous afternoon from Saratoga, where the colt swept the Jim Dandy and Travers stakes in his drive toward championship honors.

While his assistant, Ian Wilkes, stayed behind for a few more days at Saratoga, trainer Carl Nafzger was at Churchill early Monday and said Street Sense arrived in perfect shape.

"He'll walk a day, gallop a couple days, and then we'll look at what we're doing about a work," said Nafzger.

Nafzger has not said which late-September race will serve as a final prep for Street Sense toward the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup Classic, but he knows that whichever track gets the colt, they will be pulling off a coup. Officials at Turfway Park, where the Sept. 29 Kentucky Cup series highlights a 22-day fall meet that begins Wednesday night, would dearly love to have a Kentucky Derby winner make an appearance in the $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic, the richest race in the series.

"We've told Carl we'd love to have him," said Turfway's racing secretary, Rick Leigh.

Nafzger said Monday that Turfway is "in the mix," but he specifically mentioned the $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup on Sept. 29 as being "right up the road there" at Hawthorne Race Course in Chicago, where owner Jim Tafel lives. Another possible prep that Nafzger has mentioned is the $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap on Sept. 22 at Suffolk Downs. All three potential preps are run at 1 1/8 miles.

"I don't know what we're going to do yet," said Nafzger.

Besides Street Sense, another possible runner in the Kentucky Cup Classic is Hard Spun, although as a Pennsylvania-bred, he would be competing for only a $200,000 purse. The Classic purse is supplemented with $150,000 from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund.

As a Kentucky-bred, Street Sense is eligible for the full Classic purse, but Turfway's president, Bob Elliston, said the track is "still evaluating" whether to boost the purse to further entice Street Sense and/or Hard Spun.

"We've talked about whether or not we should go up to something like $500,000, but we haven't done anything yet," said Elliston.

Two Derby winners have previously run in the Classic: Thunder Gulch won in 1995, and Silver Charm dead-heated for win with Wild Rush in 1998.

Election considered critical

Perhaps the most important race to affect Turfway's long-term future will come a little more than a month after the fall meet ends on Oct. 4.

The Nov. 6 gubernatorial election in Kentucky figures to be critical in determining whether Turfway will be able to flourish in the coming years by offering alternative gaming, or continue in its stagnant business pattern. While the Republican incumbent, Gov. Ernie Fletcher, has announced his unmitigated opposition to casinos in the state, his Democratic challenger, Steve Beshear, has said he favors a statewide referendum on the issue. Early campaign advertising has focused almost exclusively on the casino issue.

"It's become an all-in kind of proposition," said Elliston, a longtime Republican who said he and many others are supporting Beshear. In fact, a major fundraising dinner among key players in the Kentucky horse industry is being held Thursday night in Lexington. Elliston will be among those in attendance.

Turfway, more than any other Kentucky track, is affected negatively by the proximity of Indiana riverboat casinos, as three boats are within easy driving distance. For years, Turfway officials have pushed to achieve a competitive balance through legalization of alternative gaming at state tracks.

New track no major siphon

Although a handful of trainers who normally would be running their horses at the Turfway fall meet have instead taken a string of horses to the new Presque Isle Downs in northern Pennsylvania, Elliston is optimistic the negative effects on Turfway entries will be minimal.

"The geographics are in our favor," said Elliston. "It's what, about a seven-hour drive from here? Honestly, I'm curious and I'm envious about their situation. The kind of money they're able to give away not only has an effect on the smaller tracks like us, but some of the big boys, like Churchill Downs and Arlington, they lose horses, too. It's just another lesson in what slots-infused purses do to change the landscape of the game."

Presque Isle Downs began its inaugural 25-day meet on Saturday with purse levels expected to average about $500,000 per program. The Erie, Pa., track is expected to run about 100 days next year with a lower per-day average, but one still surpassing the $170,000 or so that Turfway will give away this fall.

While trainers with large stables, such as Steve Asmussen and Bernie Flint, have sent horses to Presque Isle, the bulk of Turfway regulars are back this fall, said Elliston.

"The guys we normally count on, they're here," he said.

Family battle in Bassinet

When Larry Melancon and Jamie Theriot hooked up in a lengthy stretch duel Saturday in the Bassinet Stakes at River Downs, their battle was more than just jockey versus jockey.

Melancon, riding Kadira, won the race by a hard-fought nose over Theriot, who was aboard Dreabons Legacy. That meant the uncle defeated his nephew in a memorable duel for a $100,000 purse. Melancon's sister, Judy, is Theriot's mother.