10/06/2010 1:33PM

Fall meet starts with a bang


LEXINGTON, Ky. – FallStars Weekend will hit its apex Saturday when five graded stakes are run on an 11-race card at Keeneland, including the richest race of the meet, the $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile in which Gio Ponti figures as a solid favorite.

FallStars Weekend consists of nine graded stakes, all of them potential preps toward the Nov. 5-6 Breeders’ Cup. Two will be run Friday and two Sunday.

Here is a quick rundown of the five Saturday stakes:

◗ Grade 1, $600,000 Shadwell Mile (race 10): Gio Ponti, with Ramon Dominguez to ride, was assigned post 4 in a field of six when making his first start since finishing second as the odds-on choice in the Aug. 21 Arlington Million. The opposition includes such top grass milers as Get Stormy, Courageous Cat, and Enriched.

◗ Grade 1, $400,000 Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (race 9): An extremely well-matched field of 11 2-year-olds will clash in this 1 1/16-mile Polytrack race, with Major Gain, winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity, among those likely to take sizable play.

◗ Grade 1, $400,000 Abu Dhabi First Lady (race 8): The multiple Grade 1 winner Proviso will be favored when she goes for her fourth straight victory in a cast of nine fillies and mares going a mile on turf. Wasted Tears, Dynaslew, and Gotta Have Her also are part of an exceptional field.

◗ Grade 2, $200,000 Thoroughbred Club of America (race 7): Informed Decision, winner of the BC Filly and Mare Sprint last year, will defend her championship in the six-furlong TCA when facing the likes of Champagne d’Oro, Dubai Majesty, and Sweet August Moon. Nine are entered.

◗ Grade 3, $100,000 Woodford (race 6): California Flag, winner of the BC Turf Sprint last year, heads an overflow field of 13 in this 5 1/2-furlong turf race.

The Saturday card also will include the first Arabian race in track history, the $50,000 President of the United Arab Emirates (race 3) at 1 1/4 miles on Polytrack.

McPeek gunning for a big meet

Until last fall, only one trainer had won as many as 17 races at a single Keeneland meet: D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Fame conditioner who sent out 22 winners at the 1989 fall meet and 17 at the 1995 fall meet.

Then, at the 2009 fall meet, Ken McPeek equaled the 17-win milestone, equating to one win per day. This week the 48-year-old trainer was hoping for just a semblance of that good fortune in defending his title this fall.

“Can we do what we did last fall?” he asked. “Boy, that’s asking a lot, and I really don’t want to put that much pressure on myself and my staff. But we’ve got a whole boatload of runners ready to go, a lot of bullets in the gun. All our forces have been consolidated back to Kentucky, and we’re ready for a big fall.”

McPeek has three horses entered for opening day, including Harlan’s Ruby in the featured Alcibiades Stakes, and two for Saturday.

Sellers riding full time at meet

Shane Sellers, an eight-time leading jockey at Keeneland, will be riding regularly here for the first time in more than six years. Sellers, 44, retired in fall 2004 and endured what he has called “personal and career issues” before deciding to return to the saddle in his native Louisiana last year.

After Fair Grounds ended in late March, Sellers moved East to ride at Delaware Park, then left there to begin riding at Arlington Park in Chicago on July 1.

Sellers rode in one race at the Keeneland spring meet, finishing eighth on Pick Six in the April 23 Elkhorn Stakes, but otherwise he has not ridden here since the 2004 spring meet.

Sellers joins another half-dozen or so jockeys in from Arlington for this meet, including leading jockey Michael Baze.

◗ The second day of the meet will mark the first of three straight Saturdays when the University of Kentucky football team will play at home at nearby Commonwealth Stadium. This Saturday is a night game, which tends to substantially increase ontrack attendance as fans convert their day into a “Bluegrass doubleheader” of daytime racing and nighttime football.

Game times for the next two Saturdays have yet to be announced, pending television scheduling.