10/02/2006 11:00PM

Fall brings a new era

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - If the field that Keeneland drew for its Friday feature, the Alcibiades Stakes, is a fair gauge, then Polytrack will be a huge hit. Fourteen 2-year-old fillies, including Spinaway winner Appealing Zophie, will clash in the Grade 2 Alcibiades, which helps to lead off a terrific three-day opening weekend.

Keeneland will embark on a new era Friday. The old 1 1/16-mile dirt track was replaced over the summer with Polytrack, the synthetic racing surface, while numerous other renovations, including a state-of-the-art infield tote board, also are in place for a 17-day meet that runs through Oct. 28.

The $400,000 Alcibiades also drew Cotton Blossom and X Star, the two-three finishers behind Appealing Zophie in the Grade 1 Spinaway; Untouched Talent and She's Included, the two-three finishers in the Del Mar Debutante; and Lisa M, the upset winner of the Arlington-Washington Lassie.

The Alcibiades, like most of the stakes that will be run on what Keeneland calls "FallStars Weekend," shapes up as a critical test for the Breeders' Cup, which will be run Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs, less than 90 minutes away in Louisville.

Also on the 10-race Friday program is the Grade 3, $150,000 Sycamore Stakes, which drew an outstanding field of 11 older turf marathoners, including Rush Bay, Always First, Ramazutti, Revved Up, and Louve Royale.

Purses for the 10-race opener total $915,000, or roughly 50 percent more than the $600,000-plus the track will average during the meet. Keeneland is the perennial leader in North America in daily purse average.

The 14-horse maximum that is being permitted in the Alcibiades reflects the greater width on the main racing surface since the renovation. Keeneland previously limited its fields to 12 on the dirt track.

Keeneland has moved its draw schedule to a minimum of 72 hours before race days.

Six graded stakes over weekend

The Alcibiades and Sycamore are the first of six graded stakes set for opening weekend. Here are the prospective fields for those other races:

* The Grade 1, $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile (Saturday): Aussie Rules, Becrux, British Blue, Cosmonaut, Hendrix, Miesque's Approval, Old Dodge, Remarkable News, Silent Name, and Three Valleys.

* The Grade 1, $500,000 Breeders' Futurity (Saturday): Birdbirdistheword, Bold Start, Circular Quay, French Transition, Great Hunter, Passport, Shipmate, Street Sense, Teuflesberg.

* The Grade 3, $250,000 Phoenix Breeders' Cup (Saturday): Areyoutalkintome, Caller One, Coach Jimi Lee, Elusive Jazz, Judiths Wild Rush, Kelly's Landing, Level Playingfield, Silver Wagon, Spanish Chestnut, and Vicarage.

* The Grade 1, $500,000 Spinster (Sunday): Happy Ticket, Lemons Forever, Promenade Girl, Sharp Lisa, Soul Search, Spun Sugar, and Summerly.

Backstretch the busiest in years

In stark contrast to the run-ups to previous fall meets at Keeneland, the track played host to a flurry of activity on Tuesday. Keeneland's director of racing, Rogers Beasley, said stall applications "were up 40 to 50 percent" over previous years. "We're using more stalls than we have in 15 years, maybe longer," said Beasley.

Beasley said the popularity of Polytrack is an obvious contributor to the higher demand, while the fact the Breeders' Cup will be run at Churchill also is a factor.

As an illustration of how busy the track was Tuesday, trainer Scott Blasi said he planned to work 23 horses over the surface in anticipation of upcoming races. Veteran clockers at Keeneland also say they have seen considerably more workout activity in recent days than in prior seasons.

Castro, DeCarlo join rider colony

Jockey Eddie Castro plans to ride the entire meet at Keeneland, said his agent, Mike Gonzalez. Castro, the 2003 Eclipse champion apprentice, is in the midst of another highly productive year, having won 142 races and more than $6.2 million in purses. His latest full meet resulted in 68 wins at Monmouth Park.

Another accomplished jockey who is joining the Keeneland colony for the first time is Chris DeCarlo, who figures to ride primarily for trainers Todd Pletcher and John Kimmel. DeCarlo is a 21-year veteran with nearly 800 wins and more than $23.6 million in mount earnings.

May Gator is retired from racing

May Gator has run her last race, said Richard Klein, who owns the 7-year-old mare with his parents, Bert and Elaine.

May Gator, who ended her career with a fourth-place finish in a Turfway allowance Friday night, won 10 of 60 races and $570,298, almost all of it after the Kleins and trainer Steve Flint claimed her for $30,000 in July 2002.

Her career highlights were wins in the Waya at Saratoga in 2003 and the Dade Turf Classic at Ellis Park in 2004.

* Trainer Tony Reinstedler said Gouldings Green, who was withheld from the Kentucky Cup Classic last weekend, is being pointed to the Grade 3, $150,000 Durham Cup on Oct. 14 at Woodbine.