Updated on 09/16/2011 8:22AM

Off and running

Affluent uses Friday's Grade 2 WinStar Galaxy as a prep for the BC Filly and Mare Turf.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - For thousands of sports fans in Kentucky, few things in life are more enjoyable than kicking back and watching Thoroughbred racing on an autumn afternoon at Keeneland Race Course. The first of 17 opportunities to savor that experience comes Friday, when two Grade 2 stakes help open the Keeneland fall meet.

The $500,000 WinStar Galaxy and the $400,000 Walmac International Alcibiades are the Friday co-features, and like four other graded races that will be run here opening weekend, both have major implications for the Oct. 26 World Thoroughbred Championships.

The Galaxy, in just its fifth year of existence, already is an extremely important prep for the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, as underscored by the quality of the field for Friday. Affluent, a consistent California filly, will clash with Surya and five other fillies and mares in the Galaxy, a 1 3/16-mile turf race carded as the eighth of nine races.

Two races earlier, the Bob Baffert-trained Atlantic Ocean could go a long way in marking herself as one of the horses to beat in the BC Juvenile Fillies when she takes on eight other 2-year-old fillies in the 51st running of the 1 1/16-mile Alcibiades.

In the Galaxy, Affluent and Surya will be joined by such other accomplished turf fillies as Snow Dance and Owsley, giving the race the kind of depth that brings it closer to the stature of long-established filly-mare grass races such as the Flower Bowl and Yellow Ribbon. The Galaxy appeared to be even deeper until trainer Christophe Clement declined to enter Voodoo Dancer, who has won three graded grass races this year.

"The weather forecast is not great for Kentucky this weekend, so she will not run," Clement said Wednesday from Belmont. "She will probably run in the Yellow Ribbon" Saturday at Santa Anita.

Affluent, a 4-year-old Affirmed filly, returns to a course over which she won the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup last fall for owner Jan Whitham and trainer Ron McAnally. Since then, Affluent has raced just once on grass, capturing the Grade 1 Mabee/Ramona Handicap at Del Mar in her most recent start. Overall, Affluent has finished in the money in 15 of 17 starts for earnings of nearly $1.3 million.

Surya, one of a handful of horses who arrived here Tuesday from New York for Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, has won 4 of 5 starts in the U.S., with the only defeat being a fourth-place finish behind Affluent in the July 27 Mabee/Ramona.

The Galaxy and Alcibiades raise the curtain on what should be another strong Keeneland meet. Opening weekend, which is billed as "Fall Stars Weekend," will have two more graded races Saturday, and two Grade 1's, the Spinster and Shadwell Mile, Sunday.

Although front-loaded because of the obvious necessity of offering major preps three weeks before the Breeders' Cup, the meet will offer some of the highest quality of racing in North America through closing day (Oct. 26). Purses are expected to average about $585,000 per card.

Maiden special weight races will be worth at least $50,000, while purses for allowance races will range from $52,000 to over $60,000. Besides the 10 graded races, eight other stakes also will be run.

Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, who has won 16 of the last 20 fall meet riding titles at Keeneland, and Robby Albarado, who won the Keeneland title in the spring, figure to battle for top honors. Other top jockeys riding on a regular basis include Craig Perret, Calvin Borel, Jon Court, and Eddie Martin Jr.

Kurt Becker, the only full-time race-caller ever to work a Keeneland meet, will be back at the mike again. Keeneland first used a public-address system at the 1997 spring meet after 50 years of going without one.

The weather forecast for opening day calls for a 60 percent chance of rain and a high of about 80. Keeneland officials are leery that the remnants of Hurricane Lili will come through this region and make opening weekend a soggy one.