09/22/2011 1:56PM

Turfway Park: No clear-cut favorite in WinStar Kentucky Cup

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Four-Footed Fotos
Workin for Hops has made his last 12 starts in graded company. He is likely to be close to the pace in the WinStar Kentucky Cup.

FLORENCE, Ky. – Realistically, it might not prove to be a springboard for the Breeders’ Cup this year, but the Kentucky Cup has to start somewhere.

Make that restart.

Having gone dormant a year while Turfway Park dealt with ongoing financial difficulties, the Kentucky Cup resurfaces Saturday with an interesting and competitive – if not star-studded – revival of a five-race, $600,000 series.

The newly named anchor race is the Grade 2, $200,000 WinStar Kentucky Cup, replacing the Classsic, which during its first 16 runnings drew such superstars as Thunder Gulch, Silver Charm, and Street Sense. The WinStar got eight older horses and no clear-cut favorite, with Workin for Hops, General Quarters, Baryshnikov, and Demarcation all likely to draw solid support.

Workin for Hops, based in Chicago with trainer Mike Stidham, enters in good form when making his 12th straight start in a graded race. The 4-year-old gelding has been assigned post 1 and will be ridden by Southern California riding star Joe Talamo.

Workin for Hops is “always right there,” Stidham said. “He tries hard and gives you a big effort, and you can’t ask for more than that.”

Besides the name change, the WinStar also has been shortened from its customary 1 1/8-mile distance to 1 1/16 miles, with the intent of making it a more alluring prep for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. There are several speed horses in this two-turn Polytrack race, with Workin for Hops likely to challenge Strike Impact and Future Prospect for early command, while the balance of the field is comprised of stalkers (Baryshnikov, General Quarters, Havelock) and closers (Shediak, Demarcation).

General Quarters (Jamie Theriot, post 8), the leading earner in the field with nearly $1.2 million, is the unknown of the group. On class, he is superior, having won Grade 1 races at 3 and 4 – but on recent form, he seems iffy, having run seventh in his last two races, the Firecracker Handicap and Washington Park Handicap.

Owner-trainer Tom McCarthy is granting his stable star an excuse for the Washington Park, saying the 5-year-old horse “cut his tongue in two places and bled really bad in his mouth, which impaired his breathing.” In the three weeks since then, “we’ve made the adjustments that I believe will help him run a lot better,” added McCarthy.

Baryshnikov (Corey Lanerie, post 5) has become extremely consistent since Mike Maker assumed his training last fall, never finishing worse than third in his last 10 races. He also is proven over the Turfway Polytrack, having won 4 of his last 5 here.

Demarcation (Jesus Castanon, post 4), a multiple graded winner and earner of nearly $660,000, is among the most experienced in a very experienced group, having raced 41 times, occasionally against some of the top handicap horses in America. His two career races on synthetic both came in 2007 at Keeneland, with an allowance win and an eighth-place finish in a Grade 3 sprint.

Among the others, Strike Impact (Calvin Borel, post 2) may rate the best shot at a mild upset when making his race-high 57th start. Trained and co-owned by Pat Dupuy – the husband of Louisville Courier-Journal racing writer Jennie Rees – the 7-year-old gelding has been in terrific form for months and recently surpassed the $500,000 earnings mark.

Rounding out the WinStar field are Shediak (Pat Valenzuela, post 3), a resurgent French-bred in from California; Future Prospect (Edgar Prado, post 6), a New York-bred with a 4-for-6 synthetics record and a three-race win streak; and Havelock (Jermaine Bridgmohan, post 7), a winner of two straight stakes entering this, albeit at shorter distances.

The Kentucky Cup and Turfway owe no small thanks for its return to WinStar, the Versailles, Ky., powerhouse owned by Kenny Troutt. When it appeared the series might miss a second straight year, Troutt stepped up to sponsor the races in a variety of ways, and hence the new name of the showcase event. The other four series races all carry the name of a WinStar stallion in their titles. In all, 46 horses are entered in the five Kentucky Cup races.

Turfway mutuels officials rearranged their usual wagering menu so that a pick five, pick four, and pick three all will end on the WinStar. There are no guaranteed pools. The Kentucky Cup events are being run consecutively as races 6 through 10, ending with the WinStar (6:05 post).

First post for a 12-race card is 1:10 p.m. Eastern. Admission is free, with seating upgrades going for $5 to $100. TVG will have an onsite presence throughout the day with Mike Joyce, Tom Amoss, and Donna Barton Brothers.

The forecast for the Greater Cincinnati area on Saturday calls for a 30 percent chance of shower and temperatures in the high 60s. Officials are hoping for good weather to boost ontrack attendance, which peaked four years ago when 13,640 saw Hard Spun defeat Street Sense in the Classic.