09/11/2002 11:00PM

Value stars in Classic

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FLORENCE, Ky. - What Saturday's ninth running of the Kentucky Cup Classic lacks in star power, it compensates for with wagering value. The probable favorite in the field of nine is the perennially luckless Dollar Bill, but there would seem to be plenty of viable options among the rest.

The $400,000 Classic has become a stopover for many top horses since Turfway Park inaugurated the Kentucky Cup series in 1994, with genuine stars including Tabasco Cat (1994), Thunder Gulch (1995), Silver Charm (1998), and Captain Steve (2000) having won the Classic.

Clearly, the 2002 renewal has fewer starry names, and the chances are fairly good that the race will not even produce a starter for the World Thoroughbred Championships next month at Arlington Park.

"We're probably 50-50 to go back in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but obviously that depends on how he runs Saturday," said Dollar Bill's trainer, Dallas Stewart.

Yet even without serious implications for the Breeders' Cup, the K.C. Classic is a terrific race from a strategic standpoint. Dollar Bill, who has won just one of his last 12 starts, is a confirmed come-from-behinder in a field otherwise dominated by speed horses Abreeze, There's Zealous, and Tenpins.

Indeed, the tempo should be hot.

"My horse can probably rate off the pace, but I don't know," said Kiaran McLaughlin, a Lexington, Ky., native who will send out the suddenly capable Abreeze, a 7-year-old who just four starts ago was competing against $35,000 claiming horses. "He's so sharp, we'll just have to see how the race unfolds."

Other contenders in a wide-open race include Nothing Flat, a 3-year-old who was a late-running third in the Travers Stakes last month, and Pure Prize, a Shug McGaughey-trained colt seeking his first stakes win. Hero's Tribute, Woodmoon, and Miner's Prize complete the field.

As the 13th of 14 Saturday races, the Classic will be run as the last of the five Kentucky Cup events. From the top, the other four Cup races will be the $100,000 K.C. Juvenile Fillies, the $100,000 K.C. Juvenile, the $200,000 Turfway Breeders' Cup, and the $150,000 K.C. Sprint. Post time for the Classic is 5:27 p.m. Eastern.

With special emphasis on the Kentucky Cup, TVG will provide live, onsite coverage of Turfway's entire card, which includes four simulcasts from sister track Kentucky Downs. Admission is $5. First post is noon.

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