by Tom LaMarra
-- Rochester, owned by George Strawbridge's Augustin Stables, is something of a late bloomer. He didn't win his first stakes until last year at age five, and won his first graded stakes Sept. 21 when he stormed home to win the $300,000 Kentucky Cup Turf (gr. IIIT) at Kentucky Downs.
This year's marquee event, one of four races that make up the $700,000, four-race Kentucky Cup Turf Festival, lured a field of 12 headed by grade I stakes winner Cetewayo, who ended up the 9-5 favorite. It was Rochester, though, who stole the show.
With Eddie Martin Jr. aboard, Rochester was reserved in seventh early in the 1-1/2-mile event, moved wide entering the long Kentucky Downs stretch, took the lead by a half-length midway through the lane, and drew away to win by 2-1/2 lengths on a course rated good after heavy overnight rains. The final time was 2:38.28.
"He's a nice horse," trainer Jonathan Sheppard said of Rochester, winner of Keeneland's 1-1/2-mile Sycamore Breeders' Cup Stakes in 2001. "He has run some good races, and when he hasn't, he has had some excuses."
Rochester won the Cape Henlopen Stakes at Delaware Park in July, then finished second in the Caesar Rodney Stakes there in his start before the Kentucky Cup Turf. His first graded stakes win netted him $186,000, which pushed his career earnings to $534,212.
Nowrass followed Rochester around the sweeping course to finish second, 4-1/2 lengths ahead of Continental Red. Cetewayo checked in fourth.
Sheppard said Rochester would attempt to defend his title in the Oct. 6 Sycamore at Keeneland.
Other winners on the program were John Murphy and Pam Slaughter's Jake the Flake ($200,000 Kentucky Cup Mile), David Mounts' San Dare ($100,000 Kentucky Cup Ladies), and Phillip Maas' Red Lightning ($100,000 Kentucky Cup Sprint).