10/08/2006 11:00PM

Irene's Mon in sharp form for feature


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The stakes-a-day policy that Keeneland adopted years ago for its spring meet does not apply in the fall. With the first weekend of the fall meet front-loaded with a slew of important Breeders' Cup prep races, it would have been unreasonable for fans to demand at least one stakes race on all 17 fall programs, and in fact there are four days without one.

The first of those stakes-free cards comes Wednesday, which is the bad news. The good news is that all but the featured eighth race drew full fields, and that's the kind of quality-for-quantity swapout that many horseplayers are all too happy to accept.

The feature is a $56,000 allowance that carries a third-level restriction with an $80,000 claiming option. Trainer Eddie Kenneally, who enjoyed a terrific opening weekend when he sent out Kelly's Landing to upset the Phoenix Breeders' Cup on Saturday, appears to have the horse to beat in Irene's Mon, despite the fact the 3-year-old colt was assigned the far outside post in a field of nine entered in the 1 1/16-mile race over Polytrack.

"Drawing the outside in a race like this isn't nearly as bad as it used to be at Keeneland," said Kenneally. "Now you can just kind of ease off it, then make one run. You don't have to rush a horse early."

After going winless in eight races to open his career, Irene's Mon has won three of his last five starts and enters Wednesday's engagement in peak form, according to Kenneally.

"He really is at the top of his game right now," he said.

Besides Irene's Mon, who will be ridden by Julien Leparoux, the other top contender in the Wednesday feature is Defer, a royally bred Phipps Stable colt who went through his second allowance condition three starts back on the Saratoga turf. Trained by Shug McGaughey, Defer has finished in the money in 9 of 11 starts while showing the versatility to suggest he will make a successful transition to Polytrack.

The Thursday card at Keeneland also lacks a stakes race, after which the weekend brings the $200,000 Perryville on Friday and a trio of graded stakes on Saturday: the Grade 1, $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, the Grade 2, $400,000 First Lady, and the Grade 3, $300,000 Thoroughbred Club of America. The Sunday feature is the $150,000 Bryan Station for 3-year-olds.

The other two fall dates without a stakes are Oct. 18 and 25.