09/23/2002 12:00AM

Turf Festival right races at right time


FRANKLIN, Ky. - Although none of the 37 horses who competed Saturday in the four-race Kentucky Cup Turf Festival at Kentucky Downs appears headed for the Oct. 26 Breeders' Cup, the event was a success, horsemen said, because it filled several key niches on the racing calendar.

Even before Cetewayo finished fourth as the favorite in the richest race of the day, the $300,000 Turf, trainer Michael Dickinson said the race fit his horse perfectly, considering the lack of other high-dollar, lower-level graded races at a marathon distance at this time of year in North America.

Trainers with horses in the other three Kentucky Cup races also said the races are a welcome sight on the calendar.

"Timing-wise, there are a lot of horses around the country that fit these races, plus the money is good," said trainer Niall O'Callaghan, who ran Riddlesdown in the Turf. "I think you can see that by how the races tend to draw such nice big fields."

Meanwhile, trainer Jonathan Sheppard said Rochester, the 11-1 winner of the Turf, will run next in the $150,000 Sycamore Breeders' Cup Stakes at Keeneland. The Oct. 6 Sycamore, like the Turf, is run at 1 1/2 miles.

"He's a nice horse, probably better than a lot of people have given him credit for," said Sheppard. "Obviously he's not quite as good as With Anticipation," Sheppard's multiple Grade 1 winner, "but he's a useful kind of horse with some real talent."

Although Kentucky-based horses won the first three races in the series, worth a total of $700,000, out-of-state runners dominated the Turf, taking down the first four placings.

Record handle, tiny crowd

The six Saturday races at Kentucky Downs drew an all-sources handle of $2,265,056, a track record for a live racing card. The previous record was set two years ago during the Turf Festival, when $2,068,973 was bet.

"We're thrilled," said general manager Ryan Driscoll. "We'd like to believe the record handle is a result of the attractiveness of the races themselves. Our racing office did a great job recruiting the kind of horses and trainers that make a day like this successful."

Ontrack, the numbers at Kentucky Downs continue to be paltry. Probably fewer than 2,000 (there is no official count) turned out on a sunny day, with maybe a few hundred people enjoying picnics under tents near the finish line. Otherwise, most of the crowd remained in the main building near the eighth pole, where they could watch the races and simulcasts in air-conditioned comfort. The ontrack handle on the six Kentucky Downs races was $87,128.

Roxelana returns

At Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., Roxelana will make her return to action in the Wednesday allowance feature.

Roxelana, a romping winner of the 2000 La Troienne Stakes, was retired and bred last year, but she lost her foal in March, when she was determined to have a pelvis too small to produce babies.

Owner Bill Landes then made the decision to put Roxelana, now 5, back into training at Churchill Downs with Blackie Huffman.

* Risky Cat, trained by Ken McPeek, rallied to win the $45,000 Kimberlite Pipe Stakes at Kentucky Downs Sunday. Risky Cat, a 2-year-old Tale of the Cat colt, is owned by Billy Hays and Tom O'Grady. He returned $4.80 as favorite under Jose Martinez Jr.

* The last stakes of the 22-day Turfway fall meet comes Saturday with the $100,000, Grade 3 Turfway Fall Championship, a 1 1/8-mile race for older horses. Turfway runs through Oct. 3. Keeneland kicks off its 17-day fall meet the following afternoon.