10/02/2008 11:00PM

Forever Together, Dream Empress win big


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Opening day of the Keeneland fall meet was as eventful as it was beautiful. On a postcard-perfect Friday afternoon, come-from-behind victories by Forever Together and Dream Empress in back-to-back Grade 1 stakes were preceded by a frightening spill that fortunately resulted in no apparent serious injuries to jockeys or their mounts.

Dream Empress got a terrific ride from Robby Albarado in winning the $500,000 Darley Alcibiades Stakes a half-hour after Forever Together, ridden by Julien Leparoux, reeled in favored Precious Kitten to capture the $400,000 First Lady. John Velazquez was supposed to ride in both races but didn't, having been transported to a local hospital for evaluation after appearing to be knocked unconscious for a few minutes when he was thrown from his mount during the stretch run of the seventh of 10 races.

Keeneland track physican Dr. Barry Schumer soon reported Velazquez to be "arousable" and "moving his extremities" before the jockey left the grounds. Duly relieved when informed via in-house television monitors, the ontrack crowd of 15,388 was able to focus on the results of the First Lady, which Forever Together won with the same kind of sensational stretch run that carried her to victory in the Grade 1 Diana Handicap at Saratoga two starts back.

"She has a very good kick," said Leparoux, who rode Forever Together for breeder-owner Augustin Stable and trainer Jonathan Sheppard. "Today she proved she is one of the best fillies in the country."

Forever Together, a 4-year-old gray by Belong to Me, returned $7 as second choice after finishing a mile in 1:35 over firm turf. Precious Kitten, who set the pace, finished 1 1/2 lengths back and another two lengths before Rutherienne in a field of seven fillies and mares.

In the Alcibiades, Dream Empress ($6.80) also was a winning second choice when she gave trainer Ken McPeek his third victory in the race. Dream Empress, a Bernstein filly owned by Livin the Dream Racing LLC, secured a spot in the Oct. 24 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies by virtue of the Win and You're In program.

Be Smart, who dueled favored Mani Bhavan into defeat, held well for second, 4 1/4 lengths behind the winner and another 3 1/4 lengths before Devotee in the field of seven.

Dream Empress, coming off a maiden win in a Saratoga turf route, finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.82 over Polytrack.

"She's all class," said McPeek, who won the Alcibiades in 2000 with She's a Devil Due and in 2001 with Take Charge Lady. "We were hoping for maybe third or fourth because we didn't know if she'd handle the Poly, although she'd worked well over it. Hopefully this filly can become a high point for all of us."

Mani Bhavan, the 8-5 choice under Alan Garcia, faded badly to finish last by 23 lengths. It was her first defeat in four career starts.

Meet's first race produced a spill

The 17-day meet began with a scare and laughs within minutes of each other. As the field for the first race made its way out of the seven-furlong chute, Woodway suddenly ducked in, crashing through the temporary inner rail and throwing jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.

Hernandez was not seriously injured and returned for the next race, while Woodway, a 3-year-old colt trained by Jeff Thornbury, suffered severe lacerations but apparently no major bone or tissue damage.

In the winner's circle, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas happily greeted Lord and T. ($8.20), who edged clear to win under Jamie Theriot.

"Can't win 'em all if you don't win the first!" Keeneland president Nick Nicholson yelled to Lukas.

Joked Lukas, who has won or tied for 15 Keeneland training titles: "Stop the meet! I want to be leading trainer again!"

* With 11 highly promising 2-year-old maidens by sires such as A.P. Indy, Unbridled's Song, and Seeking the Gold, the fifth race set up as a highly competitive race, with the favorite for much of the betting hovering in the 4-1 range. It turned out anything but competitive: Turfiste ($17.80), by Military, led every step and won by 1 1/2 lengths under Rene Douglas.