Elkhorn Closes Curtain on Keeneland Stakes

The top three finishers from last year's Elkhorn Stakes (gr. IIIT) are back to renew their rivalry Friday when the $200,000 race is contested at Keeneland on closing day. A field of 12 older males has signed up for the marathon turf test run at 12 furlongs.

Epicentre took the 2004 Elkhorn by nearly five lengths for trainer Bobby Frankel, but the Juddmonte Farms homebred has not visited the winner's circle in three races since. He did run a credible third at the same distance in the San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita a month ago.

Rochester, a 9-year-old gelding, was second to Epicentre in last year's running, and is nearing the $1-million mark in lifetime earnings. But the Augustin Stable runner was winless from eight starts a year ago. On the bright side, he seems to enjoy Keeneland, as he ran third to Mustanfar in the Sycamore Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. IIIT) last October. The multiple graded-stakes winner is conditioned by Jonathan Sheppard.

Third in the 2004 Elkhorn was Art Variety, a Brazilian bred who is trained by soon-to-be bloodstock agent Ken McPeek. Art Variety is seeking a form reversal as he's finished ninth and eighth in his 2005 races.

The 'now' horse appears to be Navesink River, who exits a score in the 12-furlong Pan American Handicap (gr. IIT) at Gulfstream Park. The 4-year-old son of Unbridled is trained by red-hot Todd Pletcher for the Char-Mari Stable of Charlie and Marianne Hesse. This will mark his first Keeneland start.

Magistretti holds a class edge on the field, as the 5-year-old was champion colt at 3 in England and has already banked better than $1.2 million. In his first North American race, Magistretti finished third and was placed second in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) last August, then came back to take the Man o' War (gr. IT) in September before a runner-up effort in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT). Trained by Patrick Biancone, Magistretti has not started since landing a fourth in the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Lone Star.

The field for the Elkhorn Stakes, in post position order with jockeys and weights:

1) Balestrini (Mike Smith, 118)
2) Epicentre (Jerry Bailey, 118)
3) Brickell (Larry Melancon, 118)
4) Stage Call (Jorge Chavez, 118)
5) Swagger Stick (Cornelio Velasquez, 118)
6) European (Brice Blanc, 118)
7) Rochester (Robby Albarado, 118)
8) Navesink River (John Velazquez, 120)
9) Salford City (Gary Stevens, 118)
10) Magistretti (Edgar Prado, 118)
11) Art Variety (Calvin Borel, 118)
12) Scooter Roach (Rafael Bejarano, 118)
AE Macaw (Javier Castallano, 118)
AE Classic Piper (Robert Landry, 118)