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Five stakes lure lots of stars
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The opening FallStars Weekend at Keeneland will hit its peak Saturday when three Grade 1 races are among the five graded stakes run during what amounts to a key preview for the Nov. 6-7 Breeders' Cup.
Entries for the Saturday races were drawn Wednesday, and the top names on the card rank among the major players in the overall Breeders' Cup outlook, including Justenuffhumor, Forever Together, and Informed Decision.
Working backward, here are quick rundowns of those major events on the 10-race card Saturday, which starts at 1:05 p.m. Eastern:
* Grade 1, $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile (race 9): Justenuffhumor, with Alan Garcia riding from post 7, will put a six-race win streak on the line when he heads a field of nine in the richest race of the 17-day meet. The opposition includes Mr. Sidney (post 2), Battle of Hastings (post 5), and Court Vision (post 9).
* Grade 1, $500,000 Dixiana Breeders' Futurity (race 8): There doesn't appear to be a clear-cut favorite among 16 2-year-olds (only 14 can start), as Dixie Band, Backtalk, Noble's Promise, Make Music for Me, Aikenite, and Stately Victor should all take a fair amount of play.
* Grade 1, $400,000 First Lady (race 7): Forever Together, with Julien Leparoux riding, was assigned post 5 in a field of nine fillies and mares in this one-mile turf race. My Princess Jess (post 6) and Diamondrella (post 8) look like the top threats.
* Grade 2, $250,000 Thoroughbred Club of America (race 6): Informed Decision, with Leparoux to ride, will be heavily favored over Carlsbad (post 6) when she starts from the outside post in a field of eight fillies and mares in this six-furlong race.
* Grade 3, $125,000 Woodford (race 5): Mr. Nightlinger is the probable favorite over Due Date, Silver Timber, and Fort Prado in a field of nine in this 5 1/2-furlong turf race.
McPeek impressed by French tour
Ken McPeek will be gunning for his fourth Alcibiades victory on opening day, but even if Beautician comes through for the trainer, it might be difficult to surpass the thrills he got last weekend.
McPeek went on a three-day tour of French racing, including a day at Longchamp for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, won by the phenomenal Sea the Stars.
"The entire weekend was an absolutely incredible experience," said McPeek. "I got to see the Aga Khan's yard, and I saw Chantilly and Saint Cloud. Racing in France is very, very impressive. I've been to a lot of places overseas, but this was awesome. It was on my bucket list, and I was very happy I had a chance to scratch it off."
McPeek, 47, has won three of the last nine runnings of the Alcibiades with She's a Devil Due (2000), Take Charge Lady (2001), and Dream Empress (2008).
New faces sprinkled among regulars
The familiar assortment of world-class jockeys that rides here every fall is being joined by a few newcomers trying to make their presence felt.
Among the perennial top jockeys back again are Robby Albarado, Calvin Borel, Kent Desormeaux, Julien Leparoux, and Jamie Theriot. They are being joined by Chris Emigh, E.T. Baird, and Terry Thompson, all of whom have ridden sparingly here.
Among the other jockeys you can expect to see throughout the fall are Shaun Bridgmohan, Jesus Castanon, Jon Court, Leandro Goncalves, Jimmy Graham, Corey Lanerie, Miguel Mena, and Francisco Torres.
Spinster becomes wide open
The $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes, to be run Sunday, lost its top contender and likely favorite when trainer Marty Wolfson announced this week that Icon Project will skip the race and head straight to the Nov. 6 BC Ladies' Classic.
Without Icon Project, the 1 1/8-mile Spinster looks more balanced, with as many as 10 fillies and mares expected when entries were taken Thursday. Among the remaining prospects are Ginger Brew, Indescribable, Proviso, and Swift Temper.
The Grade 1 Spinster is one of two Sunday stakes that finish off the FallStars Weekend. The other is the Grade 3, $125,000 Bourbon Stakes for 2-year-olds on the turf.
Darley has juveniles ready to run
The maroon Darley Stable silks will be prominent throughout the meet, not only atop stakes runners, but also on 2-year-olds.
"We've been up at the old Greentree property at Saratoga getting our 2-year-olds ready for this meet," said Brian Ange, assistant to California-based Eoin Harty. "We should be running quite a few, and I'm thinking we should be very competitive."
Darley, an auxiliary of sorts for the Godolphin powerhouse of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, will be represented Friday by Past the Point in the Phoenix Stakes, and on Saturday by Justenuffhumor in the Shadwell Mile, Hockley in the Breeders' Futurity, and Tizaqueena in the First Lady.
Catalano brings in a full barn
In previous years at Keeneland, trainer Wayne Catalano has been a bit player, usually bringing six or eight horses from his primary base in Chicago. This fall, however, Catalano has a full barn of about 30 horses and intends to make his presence felt.
"I'm hoping every single one of them runs at least once," said Catalano, who easily topped the trainer standings at the recently ended Arlington Park meet. "We're here to run a bunch."
Byrne bumped by Secretariat crew
Filming of scenes for the upcoming Disney movie "Secretariat," which is scheduled for release next October, has been taking place this week at Churchill Downs in Louisville. Most of the scenes will focus on the grandstand, paddock, and racetrack, but also on Barn 42 on the backstretch, where many Derby winners have been stabled, including Secretariat.
Pat Byrne is one of the trainers who has been temporarily evicted from Barn 42.
"They say Secretariat was stabled in Stall 10, but there's been some debate about whether or not that's actually true," said Byrne.
* Jay Blanton has been hired to head the communications and marketing department at Keeneland, effective in early November. Blanton, 41, will replace Jim Williams, who announced this summer that he is retiring after 38 years with the track.
* Keeneland raised the general-admission price from $3 to $5 before the spring meet while allowing fans to buy a season pass for $13 (including a $3 processing fee). For the fall, the pass is $18 (with fee) but was available only through Thursday.