10/02/2002 12:00AM

Eyes turn skyward for Alcibiades forecast


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Like other people wary of what Mother Nature might bring to Keeneland this weekend, Arthur Hancock spent a fair portion of his Wednesday morning watching the Weather Channel on cable television.

Forecasters were calling for some of the fallout from Hurricane Lili to head this way, and Hancock, like most concerned owners and trainers, was quick in calculating how a muddy track would affect his chances for the weekend. Hancock, in partnership with Jim Stone, bred and owns Caucus, a highly promising filly who will run Friday in the $400,000 Walmac International Alcibiades Stakes.

"I know she's worked well in the mud before," Hancock said from his Stone Farm in Paris, Ky. "Other than that, I guess we're just taking a shot."

Caucus, based at Arlington Park with trainer Mike Stidham, has raced just twice, finishing second after a troubled start in her Aug. 1 debut, then winning a one-mile race nearly three weeks later. Since then, she has "trained right along," said Hancock, noting that Stidham bypassed the Arlington-Washington Lassie last weekend in favor of the Alcibiades, which is run at Hancock's lifelong stomping grounds.

"She's a big, nice-looking filly, but obviously she doesn't have that much experience," said Hancock, a former longtime director at Keeneland. "Mike thinks she deserves a chance at something like this, so we'll be there Friday to see what happens."

Hancock, whose family has been breeding top-class Thoroughbreds for decades and who raced Kentucky Derby winners Sunday Silence and Gato del Sol, noted that Caucus, by General Meeting, has a bottom-side pedigree that strongly suggests she will improve with distance. The 1 1/16-mile Alcibiades is the first race at two turns for four of its nine starters, including Caucus.

"Her dam, Alexandrovna, was unraced, but she's a big, good-looking mare whose page is filled with stamina," said Hancock. Caucus's granddam, La Lorgnette won the Queen's Plate in 1985 and is the dam of Hawk Wing, a current standout in Europe. The dam of La Lorgnette was The Temptress, who "is from a family of Argentine champions," he added. "So she's got the right to get better with more ground."

Surely, the Alcibiades favorite will be Stormy Atlantic, who enters off a victory in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies. Hancock said what his filly lacks in experience, she makes up for in potential.

"If you figure second or third choice, then I guess you have to be there," he said.

Sky Mesa star of Breeders' Futurity

After 2-year-old fillies take center stage Friday, their male counterparts will do the same a bit more than 24 hours later. The $400,000 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, which will be carded as the eighth race Saturday, is led by a budding star, Sky Mesa, who won the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga in just his second career start.

Sky Mesa, said trainer John T. Ward Jr., "is an extremely talented colt who's coming along just the way you'd like to see a young horse. He's willing to accept coaching and has the right kind of attitude."

Ward, who with his wife, Donna, was presented the annual "Ambassador of Racing Award" by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Media on Tuesday afternoon, said he is very excited about what may lay ahead for Sky Mesa, but "let's see what happens Saturday before we get too far ahead of ourselves," he said.

Besides Sky Mesa, who will be ridden by Edgar Prado, the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Futurity also is expected to attract Lone Star Sky, winner of the Bashford Manor and Cradle Stakes for trainer Tom Amoss. Other probables are Private Gold, Tito's Beau, and Truckle Feature.

Hot clash in Phoenix

The Saturday co-feature will be the 150th running of the $250,000 Phoenix Breeders' Cup Stakes, a six-furlong race that is expected to draw two of the top sprinters in the world, Orientate and Xtra Heat.

Orientate, owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis and trained by D. Wayne Lukas, has developed into the pro-tem leader of the sprint division, having won his last four starts in spectacular fashion. Xtra Heat, trained in Maryland by John Salzman Sr., has won 23 of 30 starts in her sensational career.

Predictably, with those two standouts going, the Phoenix will have a small field, with the only confirmed opposition being Makors Mark and Touch Tone.

Sunday no day of rest

As if opening weekend needed more firepower, the Sunday co-features are both Grade 1 races: the $500,000 Overbrook Spinster, and the $600,000 Shadwell Keeneland Turf Mile.

The prospective lineup for the Spinster is Atelier, Dancethruthedawn, Lakenheath, Printemps, Take Charge Lady, Victory Ride, and You.

For the Shadwell, racing officials are expecting Balto Star, Beat Hollow, Freefourinternet, Landseer, North East Bound, Quiet Resolve, Startac, and Touch of the Blues.

Several undercard stakes also will be run here this weekend. The $75,000 A.P. Indy, a 5 1/2-furlong turf race for fillies and mares, will be run Saturday, while two supporting stakes are set for Sunday: the $150,000 Sycamore, for older marathon turf runners, and the $75,000 Storm Cat, for 3-year-olds at a mile on turf.

Three-track pick three

The Breeders' Futurity is the leadoff race in the first National Thoroughbred Racing Association Fall Pick Three, which will be offered Saturday at tracks and wagering outlets throughout North America. The wager also includes the Champagne from Belmont Park, and the Norfolk from Santa Anita.

Takeout on the $1 minimum wager is 19 percent. All three races will be telecast on CNBC as part of the network's Bessemer Trust series of races for 2-year-olds. Scheduled post time for the Breeders' Futurity is 5:17 p.m. Eastern.

In recent years, Keeneland has taken part in other inventive multi-track wagers, most notably the Big Three Pick Three each spring. The NTRA also initiated a series of pick three wagers last summer in conjunction with racing telecasts on CBS.

On small screen big-time

Keeneland will be all over the tube this fall. Besides a syndicated replay show and daily action on Television Games Network, the track will also be the focus of national coverage on:

Friday: Alcibiades and Galaxy featured on TVG's extended, onsite coverage of opening day.

Saturday: Breeders' Futurity on CNBC.

Sunday: Spinster and Shadwell Mile on ESPN2.

Oct. 12: Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on ESPN.

Online contest has $3,000 top prize

Keeneland is sponsoring a meet-long online handicapping contest with a $3,000 first prize. There is no cost to enter, but players must be 18 and U.S. citizens.

The contest is based on win payoffs. Each player gets one selection per race, and if that horse wins, the $2 mutuel payoff is added to the player's score. The player with the highest tally at the end of the 17-day meet is the winner.

For more information, log on to www.keeneland.com.

* Friday will see the increased presence of roving mutuel clerks at Keeneland. The tellers will be equipped with hand-held devices and will be stationed or walk through many parts of the clubhouse and grandstand, including high-density areas. Roving clerks previously have been used in the Equestrian and clubhouse dining rooms.

* If not for the Breeders' Cup, Keeneland would be dark Friday, and Turfway Park would be closing its fall meet. But beginning last year, when officials needed an extra day on the front end of the meet to accommodate prep races for the Breeders' Cup, Keeneland petitioned the Kentucky Racing Commission for that additional day. Common sense prevailed, and Turfway, which is managed and partly owned by Keeneland, surrendered the day.