04/24/2013 11:45AM

Keeneland: Al Khali can become newest millionaire in Grade 2 Elkhorn

Barbara D. Livingston
Al Khali, with $991,043 in career earnings, can become a millionaire by finishing third or better in Friday's Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Another Keeneland race meet is ending, seemingly as soon as it began. Three flurried weeks of racing will come to a bittersweet halt Friday with a 10-race card highlighted by the Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes, a turf marathon that will add a historical footnote to a meet sure to be remembered for the victorious return of a champion and a thrilling renewal of the Blue Grass Stakes.

It would be virtually impossible for the 11 Elkhorn starters to overshadow the thrills that Wise Dan, the 2012 Horse of the Year, gave his many fans here two weeks ago in capturing the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile, or to replicate the wild Blue Grass finish that catapulted Java’s War, Palace Malice, and Charming Kitten into the Kentucky Derby.

But they’ll try.

Al Khali is one of a handful of logical favorites in the $150,000 Elkhorn, which is run around three turns at 1 1/2 miles. Finishing third or better would make Al Khali racing’s newest millionaire, although he will have to overcome the far-outside post and run considerably better than when he was fifth in a 1 1/8-mile allowance prep during the meet’s opening weekend.

Trainer Bill Mott has called on Garrett Gomez to ride Al Khali, a 7-year-old Kentucky-bred ridgling who, it seems worth noting, had a half-mile tuneup here Sunday to prepare for a return to his marathon specialty.

Several others bring a similarly appealing look to the Elkhorn, including Reflecting, Ioya Bigtime, and Forte Dei Marmi.

Reflecting (post 5, Robby Albarado) is trained by Shug McGaughey, who has enjoyed a terrific spring in his native Kentucky. Reflecting has really come to hand over the last half-year or so, winning 3 of 4 starts, ending with a dominant allowance score over the Keeneland turf April 11.

Ioya Bigtime (post 8, Jeffrey Sanchez), a major pace threat, “has been there at Keeneland doing great all month,” trainer Chris Block said Wednesday from Chicago. “Jeffrey seems to have a knack of getting the horse to settle, which is what we’ll need in this spot. He’s a hard horse to ride, but when he runs his race, he can be tough to get past.”

Forte Dei Marmi (post 10, Julien Leparoux), trained by Roger Attfield, was seventh and last in the same April 6 allowance in which Al Khali was fifth. He too stands to benefit from that outing in a big way, and given his back class, it would not be surprising to see him return to form on this stretch-out.

Three Hall of Fame trainers with starters in this renewal have multiple wins in the Elkhorn: Mott won back-to-back runnings with African Dancer (1997-98); Attfield has won a remarkable four of the last seven editions with Pellegrino (2006), Spice Route (2009), and Musketier (2010-11); and McGaughey won his third Elkhorn last year with the Phipps Stable standout Point of Entry, following Lure (1994) and Dancing Forever (2008).

This is the 28th running of the Elkhorn, which is named for an 86-mile-long stream in central Kentucky. The race goes as the ninth of 10, with first post set for 1:05 p.m. Eastern and the feature for 5:13.

Live action on the Kentucky circuit moves Saturday night to Churchill Downs in Louisville.