10/24/2013 2:44PM

Keeneland: Lea, Willcox Inn square off in Fayette

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Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Lea, who has three wins on turf, including Churchill's Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf last year, will make his first start on Polytrack in Saturday's Fayette Stakes at Keeneland.

Being out of the Galileo mare Greenery, Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider chose to name their 2009 foal out of her Lea, a word meaning a tract of open grassland. The name has proven fitting, as their homebred 4-year-old colt by First Samurai won the Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf last year.

Saturday in the $200,000, Grade 2 Fayette Stakes on closing day at Keeneland, Lea’s connections hope his grassy pedigree, name, and fine grass form translate to something else – success on Polytrack, the synthetic surface over which the 1 1/8-mile Fayette will be run.

Lea (pronounced Lee) fits the profile of a horse that should like synthetic, having not only won on grass, but also having shown the versatility to win an off-the-turf race in the slop at Churchill Downs. He has also breezed regularly at Keeneland, gaining familiarity with the surface.

“He’s always trained well on it,” trainer Al Stall said. “So I’m going to assume he’s going to like it.”

He needs to like it to win the Fayette, a race that drew eight others, led by millionaire Willcox Inn, an accomplished synthetic performer; Pacific Classic third-place finisher You Know I Know; and Finnegans Wake, a Grade 1-placed turf horse trying Polytrack for the first time, just like Lea.

Stall is no stranger to success in Polytrack graded stakes at Keeneland, most recently winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity with J. B.’s Thunder in the fall of 2010, and earlier the 2009 Fayette with Blame, the eventual 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner at Churchill Downs.

Lea is not of that quality, but is a good horse. After winning his first race of 2013 in an optional claimer, he ran second in the Firecracker at Churchill and third in the Fourstardave at Saratoga – both times competing against reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan over wet turf.

In his most recent start, he ran fourth in the slop in the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga at a seven-furlong distance, shorter than what he prefers. Brian Hernandez Jr. rides.

Favored at 5-2 on the morning line is Willcox Inn, a horse who defeated eventual Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom when the duo were 2-year-olds racing at Arlington on Polytrack in the fall of 2010.

Since that auspicious beginning, he has won four stakes races, three on turf and one on Polytrack. He makes his second start of the Keeneland fall meet, having rallied for third behind Silver Max and Wise Dan in the Shadwell Turf Mile Oct. 5.

Because of heavy rain, the Shadwell was transferred from turf to Polytrack and contested at 1 1/16 miles due to Keeneland’s main-track configuration.