09/22/2009 11:00PM

Wicked Style can play spoiler

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FLORENCE, Ky. - Finally, the all-or-nothing career of Wicked Style has settled into a decent rhythm. A Grade 1 winner in just the third start of his career, Wicked Style went badly off form before hitting a consistent pattern of respectability.

Rusty Arnold, who has trained Wicked Style throughout his 13-race career, has a reasonable explanation for it all, although he now is more concerned with the future than the past. Arnold will saddle Wicked Style as a fringe contender Saturday in the 16th running of the Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park, a 1 1/8-mile Polytrack race that could very well determine the Breeders' Cup fate of heavily favored Hold Me Back, who was assigned post 2 in a field of nine when entries were drawn Wednesday.

Wicked Style, winner of the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity over the Keeneland Polytrack at the 2007 fall meet, comes off a third-place finish in the Sept. 5 Washington Park Handicap, a race run in particularly slow fractions over Polytrack at Arlington Park. That latest race was the fifth in a row in which Wicked Style, a 4-year-old Macho Uno colt, had finished third or better, a streak that followed five straight subpar efforts, beginning with the 2007 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"He came out of the Juvenile with a hairline fracture, and when we brought him back at 3, he looked good and everything but just didn't run well," said Arnold. "Turns out he had a stress fracture in another leg. Now that we've got him right, he's starting to show himself to be a pretty nice horse."

Arnold is unsure whether Wicked Style, with Robby Albarado to ride from post 4, is capable of defeating Hold Me Back, the 3-year-old standout whose 2009 record includes a victory in the Lane's End at Turfway and runner-up finishes in the Blue Grass Stakes and recent Travers Stakes. Regardless of the outcome here Saturday, Wicked Style likely will run back in the Oct. 31 Fayette Stakes at Keeneland while forsaking the Breeders' Cup.

Conversely, the WinStar Farm connections of Hold Me Back are hoping to use the KC Classic as a momentum-building final prep toward the $5 million BC Classic, to be run Nov. 7 over the synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita.

"Maybe we can dash those plans a little," Arnold said mischievously.

Wicked Style is a Florida-bred and therefore is not eligible for the $50,000 in Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund bonuses that help make up the $200,000 purse for the KC Classic. Sligovitz, bred in Ontario, is the only other Classic starter running for a $150,000 total purse.

Hold Me Back, with Julien Leparoux to ride, arrived at Turfway shortly before noon Eastern on Wednesday following a flight from New York and van ride from Louisville. He was pegged as the 7-5 morning-line favorite by Turfway linemaker Mike Battaglia, followed by Dubious Miss (7-2), who will start from post 9 with Calvin Borel riding. Wicked Style is next at 9-2.

The KC Classic is carded as the 13th of 16 races on a Saturday card that includes six interspersed races from Kentucky Downs. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern, with the Classic set for 6:22.

In the other Kentucky Cup events, Bear Now and Indescribable head a field of 10 fillies and mares in the KC Distaff (race 10, 4:59), while Big Push, Guam Typhoon, Turfiste, and Brass Bay are contenders in a well-matched field of 11 3-year-olds in the KC Sprint (race 12, 5:52).

Both the Distaff and Sprint are Grade 3 races with $100,000 guaranteed purses.

Two potential contenders, Devil House and Abby's Angel, were withdrawn from consideration Wednesday morning from the 1 1/16-mile Distaff, while the six-furlong Sprint lost a major hopeful in Hollywood Hit.

The Kentucky Cup went from five to three races when the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies were canceled for this year.