09/26/2007 12:00AM

Three challenge the big two

EmailFLORENCE, Ky. – Hard Spun will break from the rail while Street Sense will start two doors down in post 3 when the rival 3-year-olds clash Saturday in what promises to be a memorable running of the Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park.

Hard Spun, with Mario Pino to ride, figures as the dominant speed in the 1 1/8-mile Classic, which drew just three other horses besides him and Street Sense, the Kentucky Derby and Travers winner who will be ridden as always by Calvin Borel. In post position order, the field is Hard Spun, Cat Shaker, Street Sense, Stream Cat, and Muqbil.

Turfway linemaker Mike Battaglia made Street Sense the 3-5 program favorite, followed by Hard Spun at 8-5 and Stream Cat at 4-1. The Classic is the anchor of the 14th annual Kentucky Cup series, which includes four other races. The Classic is carded as the 10th of 12 Saturday races, and as the last of the five Kentucky Cup events. Post time for the Classic is 5:42 p.m. Eastern. TVG will telecast coverage of all the Kentucky Cup races.

The Classic would seem to unfold rather simply, with Hard Spun setting the pace - just as he did before finishing second to Street Sense in the May 5 Derby - and Street Sense looking to run him down.

"I don't want Mario out there walking the dog," Borel said Tuesday at Churchill Downs, shortly after breezing Street Sense five furlongs in 1:01.80. "But you don't want to take Street Sense out of his game, either. We'll have to see how it goes."

Street Sense will be vanned from Churchill on the morning of the race, then return that night. Trainer Carl Nafzger said the easy ship was a primary reason in using the Classic as a final prep for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 27 at Monmouth Park.

The only opponent with a plausible upset chance is Stream Cat, a 4-year-old gelding who has raced mostly on grass this year. Trained by Patrick Biancone, who won the Classic last year with Ball Four, Stream Cat most recently finished in a dead heat for fourth, beaten just a length, in the Aug. 11 Arlington Million.

At 2, Stream Cat won the 2005 Kentucky Cup Juvenile in his only race over the Polytrack surface in use at Turfway.

The other starters seem overmatched. Cat Shaker has won just 3 of 34 starts, while Muqbil was claimed two starts back for $30,000 at Mountaineer Park.

The base purse for the Classic is $350,000, with $150,000 being restricted to horses eligible to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. Of the five starters, only Hard Spun, a Pennsylvania-bred, is ineligible to the KTDF. However, another $150,000 is being offered to the winner if he has won a Grade 1 in 2006 or 2007. Street Sense and Hard Spun are the only members of the field eligible for that bonus.