10/25/2009 11:00PM

'Hockey' tests his perfect record


LEXINGTON, Ky. - With all but one last stakes race in the books, the temptation is to say Keeneland will be playing out the string to end the fall meet.

But it's all relative. Not many other North American racetracks can offer the brand of racing that Keeneland will manage to eke out during its final four-day stretch, Wednesday through Saturday, when the 17-day meet winds down with the Grade 2 Fayette Stakes on closing day.

Field size has averaged right about 10 horses per race, well above the industry standard, and that's pretty much the deal with a nine-race Wednesday card, for which 99 horses are on the program. Three allowances (races 3, 7, and 8) lend the requisite touch of class, with the earliest and richest of those races offering conditions so unrestricted that even Rachel Alexandra would be eligible.

Indeed, other than it being for 3-year-olds only, there are no conditions governing the third race, a 5 1/2-furlong turf race with a $56,000 purse. The outside horse in the field of seven, Hockeythehayman, is unbeaten in three starts, all for co-breeder/owner and trainer Wesley Ward, and looks like one of the logical choices. But several opponents appear capable of dealing him a first defeat.

Perfect Officer, winner of an Aug. 20 overnight turf-sprint stakes at Saratoga three starts back, could prove especially tough with Robby Albarado riding, while Turfiste, Country Day, and Lookn Mighty Fast will all bring their own merits to the gate, too.

As for Hockeythehayman, Ward said Monday from Florida that the Songandaprayer gelding is named for the other co-breeder/owner, John Haagsma, a Southern California hay broker whose nickname is Hockey. Asked whether he thinks the gelding can remain unbeaten indefinitely, Ward laughed and said: "I'm not sure he's all that. He's a talented horse but he has some distance limitations. But I do think he likes the grass the best, and we're sending him all the way from California because he's probably better at the 5 1/2 than 6 1/2 down the hill at Santa Anita."

The two later Wednesday allowances are both first-level races, with 2-year-old fillies going a mile on turf in race 7 and older females going seven furlongs on the Polytrack in race 8.

* Wednesday is the last day for the weekly handicapping contest co-sponsored by Keeneland and Daily Racing Form.