Updated on 09/16/2011 8:13AM

Ben Ali field small but tough

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Considering the mere $100,000 pot and its Grade 3 ranking, the Ben Ali Stakes sure came up a rough one.

The Ben Ali, to be run for the 72nd time Sunday at Keeneland, attracted just five starters, but two of them have credentials that go well beyond everyday Grade 3 fare: Invisible Ink, who finished second in the 2001 Kentucky Derby and is gearing up for what his connections believe will be an outstanding 4-year-old campaign, and Parade Leader, who in his last start captured the Grade 2, $500,000 New Orleans Handicap by 5 1/4 lengths.

Under other circumstances, Invisible Ink and Parade Leader might well have bypassed the Ben Ali in favor of richer races with higher grades.

But John Fort, managing partner of Invisible Ink's owner, Peachtree Stable, said the Ben Ali represents an opportunity to "show off" Invisible Ink as a future stallion prospect to the many top breeders who regularly attend Keeneland.

And Will Farish, who co-owns Parade Leader with E.J. Hudson, is just one graded stakes win away from earning one of Keeneland's most prestigious awards, a gold pitcher.

Gold pitchers are symbolic of attaining certain levels of success in graded stakes at Keeneland. Gold pitchers have been earned by only two owners in track history, Claiborne Farm and Bwamazon Farm.

The intentions of Fort and Farish may be well-founded, just as solid public backing for Invisible Ink and Parade Leader may be well-deserved. However, the race shape of the 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali seemingly favors Duckhorn, who draws in as easily the lone speed.

"I love it," said Pat Byrne, trainer of Duckhorn. "The horse seems to do his best running on the lead, so he ought to love it. Hopefully [Jorge] Chavez will be able to get him out there and not look back."

Duckhorn, a 5-year-old who has earned nearly $620,000, will be equipped with blinkers Sunday for the first time since he was 2.

"He got to looking around and going sideways in his last race," said Byrne, referring to a second-place finish behind Ground Storm in the Stymie at Aqueduct last month.

The other two horses entered in the Ben Ali are Connected and San Pedro. Like Invisible Ink and Parade Leader, both tend to race well off the early pace.

Connected is unbeaten in three tries at Keeneland. Trained by David Carroll, he won the Warfields and Fayette Stakes here last fall.

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