10/11/2010 2:25PM

Keeneland meet gets heady start

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Gio Ponti, Ramon Dominguez up, wins the Shadwell Turf Mile.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The whirlwind that has become a staple of opening weekend of the Keeneland fall meet once again has everybody trying to catch their breath following a rapid-fire succession of important racing events.

“Man, what a weekend,” Keeneland’s president, Nick Nicholson, said after the Sunday card. “It’s been tough keeping up with everything that’s gone on.”

Nine graded races were run during the three-day FallStars weekend, with perhaps the most brilliant performances coming from Gio Ponti in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile and Proviso in the Grade 1 Abu Dhabi First Lady.

Trainer Christophe Clement said Monday morning that a decision “will be made in the next week or so” on which Breeders’ Cup race – the Mile on turf or the Classic on dirt – will be next for Gio Ponti, who departed Keeneland for his New York base on Monday.

“He showed again Saturday what a great horse he is,” said Clement.

Meanwhile, retirement is not necessarily imminent for Acoma, the 23-1 winner of the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster on Sunday, trainer David Carroll said the following morning. Acoma is owned By Helen Alexander and her mother, Helen Groves.

“The owners are trying to decide whether or not to run in the Breeders’ Cup [Ladies’ Classic],” said Carroll. “Whatever they want to do, I’m fine with.”

Impressive win for Ward filly

The way the gray filly Dancinginherdreams streaked to victory in the sixth race Sunday under the gold-and-blue silks of John Oxley surely had to remind some folks of Monarchos, the gray who won the 2001 Kentucky Derby for Oxley and trainer John T. Ward Jr. with an overpowering stretch run.

Dancinginherdreams, a 2-year-old by Tapit, rallied from 11th to win by five lengths, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 76 after being bet down from a 10-1 morning line to 3-2 favoritism.

“She justified the confidence of all the people who’d watched her train all summer at Churchill Downs,” Ward said Monday.

Incredibly, the win was the first of 2010 for Ward, whose career statistics peaked in 2001, when his stable earned more than $3.5 million. Ward has had just 13 starts this year.

“We’re remaking the organization,” said Ward. “We’ve got three other really nice 2-year-old fillies, although I don’t know if any are as good as this one.”

Lopresti hitting heights

How good is Charlie Lopresti going these days? Not only did Lopresti win the first Grade 1 race of his 17-year training career this summer with Here Comes Ben in the Forego this summer at Saratoga, but he started the fall meet at Keeneland, his home track, by winning the Grade 3 Phoenix on Friday with Wise Dan, a rugged allowance race on Saturday with Successful Dan, and one other race from just four starts on opening weekend.

Lopresti has just 16 horses in his stable, but it looks as if two of them are Breeders’ Cup-bound: Here Comes Ben to the Dirt Mile, and Wise Dan to the Sprint.

Bad day for Arnold

Things went from bad to nightmarish for Rusty Arnold within a 30-minute span Sunday. First the veteran trainer sent out It’s Tea Time to be a no-threat fourth as the 5-2 second choice in the Spinster, and then he watched helplessly as Kopitar was euthanized after breaking down badly in the last race of the day.

Arnold said Kopitar, a 4-year-old gelding, shattered both right front sesamoids and suffered a condylar fracture.

“It’s a shame, because he’d been having such a good last few months,” said Arnold.

Liberty Bull OK

It appeared Liberty Bull might have suffered a similar fate when he was suddenly pulled up by Jimmy Graham on the backstretch of the second race Sunday, but the gelding returned with no major injuries, much to the relief of trainer Tom Amoss.

“The jock was just being cautious because he thought something was wrong,” said Amoss.

Nine expected for QE II

The last Grade 1 of the meet comes this Saturday with the 27th running of the $400,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. Keeneland racing officials are expecting the connections of nine 3-year-old fillies to accept invitations to the 1 1/8-mile turf race, with Evening Jewel and Check the Label likely to be favored.

The other invitees are Dade Babe, Fugitive Angel, Harmonious, La Cloche, Perfect Shirl, Snow Top Mountain, and Zagora. Entries for the QE II will be drawn Wednesday.

◗ An overflow of 2-year-old turf fillies is entered in the Thursday feature, the $150,000 Jessamine. Silent Joy, Lauren Byrd, and Kathmanblu are among the top threats in the eighth of nine races. Fourteen are entered, but only as many as 12 can run.

◗ Souper Spectacular, a half-brother to the great Zenyatta, emerged a winner here Sunday when taking the fifth race, a first-level turf allowance. The 3-year-old colt is by Giant’s Causeway out of Vertigineux, the dam of 6-year-old Zenyatta.

◗ Seventeen-year-old apprentice Marcellino Pedroza won with just the second mount of his career when he rode Nina Fever to a 7 3/4-length triumph in the third race Sunday.