09/27/2007 12:00AM

Superstar matchup sets up big day for track

EmailFLORENCE, Ky. - Even before the Turfway Park fall meet started Sept. 5, track president Bob Elliston mulled the possibilities of hosting a matchup between Street Sense and Hard Spun when the Kentucky Cup rolled around.

Elliston theorized that only one negative factor could be created with both horses entering the Kentucky Cup Classic - and even with that, there is a positive spinoff.

"You chase the other horses away when you get two great horses like Street Sense and Hard Spun, so you're left with a short field, which fans generally don't like," Elliston reiterated earlier this week in his office adjacent to the Turfway paddock. "But it creates a halo effect for the rest of your day, and when you've got big fields like we've got on the rest of the Saturday card, you could be in for a huge day."

Seldom, if ever, in the 48-year history of Turfway Park and its predecessor, Latonia, has a more big-time matchup been staged than the one set for Saturday, when Street Sense and Hard Spun square off among a field of five entered in the Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Classic. Tabasco Cat won the first KC Classic in 1994, Thunder Gulch won the second in 1995, and Silver Charm dead-heated for win in 1998. But with the one-two finishers returning from the Kentucky Derby, this may be as good as it's ever gotten at Turfway.

The Kentucky Cup Classic is the first post-Triple Crown Derby-exacta matchup since Unbridled and Summer Squall, the winner and runner-up in the 1990 Derby, were third and ninth in the 1991 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

"With these two horses facing each other, we've got to be the center of the racing universe Saturday, don't we?" Elliston asked.

Indeed, they've got to be. The Kentucky Cup has never commanded the amount of attention in the Cincinnati region that the Lane's End Stakes gets every spring, when crowds of more than 20,000 turn out. But there seems a chance the event record for attendance and all-sources handle may be threatened Saturday with an excellent 12-race card surrounding the Street Sense-Hard Spun clash. The largest crowd, 11,223, attended in 2003, while the record handle of nearly $9.6 million was set in 1997.

"I think you could argue that getting a small field in your biggest race isn't necessarily a bad thing," Elliston said. "When you get two horses like this, everybody has their attention focused on you that day."

Stream Cat up for the challenge

As the only plausible spoiler in the KC Classic, Stream Cat figures to be no worse than third, and trainer Patrick Biancone said he doesn't mind trying to slay a couple of giants.

"Certainly, it would be ideal if those two horses were not running," said Biancone, who won the KC Classic last year with Ball Four. "But we have to do what we have to do. Stream Cat is a very nice horse and ran very well in the Arlington Million."

He dead-heated for fourth, beaten just a length.

"Everyone knows he loves the Polytrack at Turfway," Biancone said. "It's a very big race on Saturday, so we have to take a shot."

Stream Cat rallied to win the 2005 Kentucky Cup Juvenile over the Polytrack at Turfway for the first of his three stakes wins. The 4-year-old gelding has developed primarily into a turf specialist, although he raced twice on Polytrack last spring at Keeneland, winning an allowance and finishing a close fourth in the Ben Ali Stakes.

After Stream Cat, the other two starters in the 1 1/8-mile KC Classic appear overmatched. Cat Shaker has won just 3 of 34 starts, while Muqbil was claimed two starts ago by trainer Duane Knipe for $30,000 at Mountaineer Park.

"If I thought he'd embarrass me, I wouldn't be running him, " trainer Craig Callis said of Cat Shaker. "I think the distance is perfect. He's fit and ready to go."