Level Playingfield, the longest shot in the field of five, stormed from behind under the guidance of John McKee, who took advantage of a fast pace to run down favored Cuvee and win the $100,000 Kentucky Cup Sprint (gr. III) for 3-year-olds at Turfway Park Saturday.
It was the second win for McKee and trainer Robert Holthus in Kentucky Cup stakes races – they teamed to win the Juvenile with Greater Good earlier – and their third on the day. Level Playingfield, sent off at odds of 10-1, won his first graded stakes race for owner Fly Racing LLC. He was returning to the dirt after making his previous five starts on the turf, all losses.
Level Playingfield defeated 6-5 choice Cuvee, a grade I winner at 2 who was ridden Saturday by Shane Sellers, by 2 1/2 lengths, with Swift Attraction and Pat Day finishing third, 3 3/4 lengths behind the winner. The winning time was 1:09 3/5 for the six furlongs on a fast track.
Heckle, with John Velazquez aboard, took the lead from Cuvee at the eighth pole, but tired in the late stages to finish fourth as the 8-5 second choice. Silver Minister was last in the field of five.
A son of Level Sands–Chao Praya (Gold Legend
), Level Playingfield bumped with Swift Attraction after the start and was outrun by the rest of the field for the first half of the race. He advanced three wide from there and finished with a flourish to win going away.
"Bob said there was a lot of speed in the race and to sit off the pace and make one run," said McKee, who won the Juvenile with a similar come-from-behind tactic. "I had a lot of confidence in him. It was another race that set up well."
Making his second start since his 12th-place finish in last fall Breeders's Cup Juvenile, Cuvee showed his gameness by fighting back along the rail to reclaim the lead after Heckle had edged past in mid-stretch. But he was too weary to rebuff the late challenge of Level Playingfield. Cuvee blazed through fractions of :21 2/5 and :44 1/5 before drifting out a bit, bumping Heckle and briefly giving way after five furlongs were run in :56 3/5.
Cuvee finished 1 1/4 lengths in front of the Swift Attraction, who was making his stakes debut for trainer D. Wayne Lukas and Overbrook Farm.
Level Playingfield paid $22.80, $5.40 and $3.40. Cuvee returned $3.20 and $2.80 and Swift Attraction, who recovered after his early bump to vie for the early lead, was $3 to show.
Level Playingfield, who was sixth in his only previous graded stakes attempt, the 1 1/16-mile American Turf (gr. IIIT) at Churchill April 30, had lost six in a row since taking a $60,000 optional claiming allowance race Feb. 29 at Oaklawn Park. He had been competitive, however, finishing on the board in four of those defeats. He was coming off a second-place effort in an overnight handicap sprint on the grass at Ellis Park Aug. 29.
Overall, he has won four of 13 with four seconds and three thirds for earnings of $190,190. Bred in Kentucky by Briland Farm and Mrs. Stacy L. Mitchell, Level Playingfield was a $15,000 Ocala sale in April 2003.