Keeneland kicks off its October meet on Friday and racing fans from coast to coast can share in the Lexington, Ky., track’s 75th anniversary celebration thanks to “Autumn at Keeneland,” four hours of live coverage over two weekends on NBC and VERSUS.
VERSUS will take the reins beginning Friday and televise three consecutive days of stakes action from 5-6 p.m. ET at Keeneland. The opening day program features two graded stakes, the $400,000 Darley Alcibiades and $175,000 Stoll Keenon Odgen Phoenix, both “Win and You’re In” events for the Breeders' Cup Nov. 4-5 at Churchill Downs.
Wide open is a fair description of the Grade 1 Alcibiades, a 1 1/16-mile test for two-year-old fillies on Polytrack that has attracted an overflow of 15 entries. Only 14 will be allowed to start, and track handicapper Mike Battaglia has tabbed And Why Not as a lukewarm 5-1 favorite on the morning line.
And Why Not won her career debut on August 7 at Saratoga, posting a convincing 5 ½-length victory for trainer Michael Matz, and the bay Street Cry filly exits a respectable third in the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes on September 4. She will break from post 9 with jockey Garrett Gomez.
Canadian invader Tu Endie Wei will put her two-race win streak on the line. Conditioned by Reade Baker, the Johar filly has captured the My Dear Stakes and Ontario Debutante over the Polytrack at Woodbine and will keep regular rider James McAleney in the saddle. She is the 6-1 co-second choice.
Sweet Cat and New Wave are also listed at 6-1. Sweet Cat exits an easy maiden win at Saratoga and hails from the barn of top trainer Todd Pletcher. New Wave finished a good second in the grassy P.G. Johnson Stakes in her last start.
Flashy Lassie captured the Grade 3 Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs two starts back and will try a synthetic track following a second in the Mountaineer Juvenile Fillies Stakes at Mountaineer Park. Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux has the assignment. Egg Drop has shipped in from California off a good-looking maiden score in her career bow and will keep the hot-riding Joe Talamo.
Frolic’s Revenge was stakes winner two starts back at Calder, scoring by 4 ¾ lengths in the Linday Frolic, and exits a second in the September 17 Brave Raj on the South Florida oval. Putthebabiesdown recorded a second in the grassy Tippett Stakes at Colonial Downs two starts back and finished fourth in the P.G. Johnson most recently.
Stephanie’s Kitten broke her maiden on Arlington Park’s Polytrack prior to a respectable third in the Grade 3 Natalma Stakes at Woodbine last out. Ann of the Dance and Venetian Sonata, the third- and fourth-place finishers in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes on September 10, will both look to challenge.
Maiden winners Cheerleader, Heart of Destiny and Tavern on the Bay round out the main body of the field, and On Fire Baby will need a scratch to join the fray from the also-eligibles list.
The Grade 3 Phoenix, a prep for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint, has attracted a much shorter field than the Alcibiades with only seven runners, but there are a couple of well-respected participants in Flashpoint and Aikenite.
Flashpoint opened his racing career this year with a pair of smashing victories, including a 7 ¼-length romp in the Grade 2 Hutcheson at seven furlongs, but his connections decided to give him a chance at the classics. Following a couple of unplaced efforts at two turns, the gray three-year-old son returned to shorter distances with a smashing seven-length win in the Grade 3 Jersey Shore Stakes on July 3 at Monmouth Park.
The Wesley Ward-trained colt exits a disappointing fifth at short odds in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop Stakes at Saratoga in which he wound up being cooked on a hot pace (Uncle Mo finished second by nose in the race), but Flashpoint is eligible to rebound in this spot. Cornelio Velasquez retains the mount on the front runner.
Aikenite will be running late and has shown an affinity for the local Polytrack. A two-time Grade 2 winner earlier this spring, including a convincing win in the Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt exits a third in the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga. John Velazquez rides.
Hamazing Destiny has back class, finishing second in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and managed a decent fourth in the Forego last time. Trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, the 5-year-old can’t be dismissed from contention with jockey Robby Albarado.
Sterling Outlook posted a dead-heat victory in the Pirate’s Bounty Stakes last out over Del Mar’s Polytrack and looks like a very savvy claim for John Sadler. Haltered for a $40,000 price tag two starts back, the in-form colt has good speed and looms as a
+possible top three player with Garrett Gomez.
New Zealand import Hoofit captured his U.S. debut last time, winning an allowance at Presque Isle Downs, but he will receive a serious class test here. Cool Bullet and Southern Style are both outsiders who would be a major surprise.
Kentucky Derby champion Animal Kingdom was unable to go out a winner, fading quickly in the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday in his last race before retirement.
Ramon Dominguez, a three-time Eclipse Award winner as the leading jockey in North America, retired on Thursday due to a head injury suffered in a fall earlier this year.