10/08/2010 4:42PM

Castanon wastes no time collecting 2,000th win

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Jesus Castanon, 37, wins the 2,000th in Friday's first race at Keeneland.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – They had just run the first race of the Keeneland fall meet, and yet a calm-and-cool Jesus Castanon was acting like he had been in the winner’s circle a couple thousand times.

And he had. Castanon lent a ceremonial touch to the fall opener when he put a textbook ride on Secessionist in the first race, giving the 37-year-old jockey the 2,000th victory of his career.

“A great way to start, especially in the very first race,” said Castanon.

Indeed, they were off and running Friday at Keeneland, where spectacular weather was greeted with understandable enthusiasm by a typically youthful crowd. Sunny skies, a light breeze, and high temperatures approaching 80 were reason enough for fans to keep spinning the grandstand stiles as a 10-race program neared its midpoint. Brilliant weather was in the local forecast throughout the three-day opening weekend, during which nine FallStars Weekend races, all of them graded, would be run.

Racing was quite formful early on the Friday card, with favorites sweeping the first three races, all of them over the Polytrack synthetic that Keeneland first employed as its primary surface at the 2006 fall meet. Secessionist, part of the 10-horse string that trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel has sent here this fall, rallied from mid-pack to win by 1 1/2 lengths, returning $7.20.

The second race, a starter-allowance route, was won by Mysteriouslakelady ($6.40), who finally wore down the race-long leader, Mud Creek, for a 1 1/2-length triumph. And the third went to Caleb’s Posse ($4.20), a 2-year-old Posse filly who rallied from last in a field of six to prevail in a three-horse photo over Uncle Wayne and Tale of Lucknfame, giving Castanon career victory No. 2,001.

The chalk run ended soon enough, as Macho Camacho ($13.60) sped clear at once en route to a clear-cut score in the fourth under Leandro Goncalves, and Cherokee Triangle, with Julien Leparoux up, rallied to take the fifth at a $28.80 mutuel.

Just one Friday race, the seventh, was scheduled for the turf course, which was looking particularly green and lush – especially in contrast to the Keeneland infield, where the grass has been burned to a premature brown by the exceedingly dry conditions that have marked the summer and early fall in this Bluegrass region.

“We’ve watered the heck out of this course,” said Mike Young, the longtime track superintendent at Keeneland. “As dry as it’s been, I don’t know how much of a root system we’ve got left under there right now. The grass has just been growing straight up. If we get some nasty weather, I hope it doesn’t get too torn up.”

The 17-day fall meet runs through Oct. 30, after which action picks up at Churchill Downs, where the Breeders’ Cup will be held Nov. 5-6.

Clement downplays his chances of repeating

Christophe Clement was the leading trainer at the 2010 Keeneland spring meet with nine winners, but the New York-based Frenchman is doubtful he can repeat this fall. Clement planned to be quite active here opening weekend with stakes horses Gio Ponti and Funny Moon, as well as a number of allowance runners and maidens, “but I don’t think we’ll have the starts by the end of the meet to have much chance to be leading trainer again,” said Clement.

“I will just be shipping in and out when I find the right kind of spot,” said Clement. “We have Belmont Park going on, and that’s where many of our horses will be running.”

Hays has a shot with Blue Cherries Spin

Billy Hays, in tandem with his wife Donna and son Justin, has been a dominant owner for years at Turfway Park and in Ohio, but he has less impact when higher-priced horses return to this circuit at Keeneland and Churchill. Still, Hays has the occasional contender at the bigger tracks, such as Blue Cherries Spin, who runs Sunday in the fourth race.

“We love the action,” said Billy Hays, who owns a major car dealership in Louisville.

Into Friday, Hays runners already had won 208 races this year, second in North America behind only the Midwest Thoroughbreds syndicate (259).

◗ Dubious Miss, winner of the Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes here last spring, is scheduled to breeze Sunday at Churchill and make his return to action next Saturday, Oct. 16, in a classified turf allowance. Dubious Miss, a 6-year-old gelding with earnings of nearly $430,000, had an ankle chip removed several weeks after his front-running score in the Ben Ali.

◗ After the FallStars races go into the books following a frenetic opening weekend, the Keeneland stakes schedule will assume a more normal pace for the last three weeks of the meet. On tap for next week are the Jessamine for 2-year-old turf fillies on Thursday, the Franklin County for filly and mare turf sprinters on Friday, and the Grade 1, $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on Saturday.