10/05/2016 1:10PM

Keeneland meet opens with Breeders' Cup preps galore

Michael Burns
Woodbine Mile winner Tepin runs Saturday at Keeneland in the First Lady Stakes.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – It’ll be impossible to top what happened when the Breeders’ Cup was held here last fall for the first time, but there sure won’t be any shortage of excitement when Keeneland opens a 17-day fall meet Friday amid perfect weather.

The three-day FallStars Weekend will serve as a springboard for the 33rd Breeders’ Cup with the usual barrage of major stakes, including seven Win and You’re In events toward the Nov. 4-5 championships at Santa Anita.

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The action starts Friday with the Grade 1 Alcibiades and Grade 2 Phoenix, then hits full gear Saturday with three Grade 1 races among five graded stakes, led by the richest race of the meet, the $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile, and an appearance by the remarkable turf mare Tepin in the Grade 1 First Lady. Sunday’s card features the Grade 1 Spinster and the Grade 3 Bourbon.

The forecast calls for sunshine and no threat of rain throughout the weekend, with high temperatures reaching 82 on Friday before a slight cool-down the next two days. That means the locals will be out in force, reveling in the return of live action to this racing-crazed part of the world after more than five months away.

The Phoenix (race 8) and Alcibiades (race 9) are part of a $200,000-guaranteed pool for the late pick four (races 7-10) on the Friday opener. Whereas the Phoenix has a standout favorite in A. P. Indian, the Alcibiades is a veritable free-for-all.

Daddys Lil Darling, the 5-1 co-favorite on the track’s morning line, was assigned the outside post in a full gate of 14 2-year-old fillies.

“The post doesn’t make it easy, but she’s a quality filly,” said trainer Ken McPeek, a three-time winner of the Alcibiades. “She showed that winning the Pocahontas last out.”

Tepin has been among the greatest stories in racing this year while going unbeaten in six starts for owner Robert Masterson and trainer Mark Casse. The 5-year-old mare won four straight in the United States, then won the Group 1 Queen Anne at Royal Ascot in June and the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile against males in Canada last month.

“We’ve got her about as good as we can get her right now,” assistant trainer Norm Casse said last weekend at Churchill Downs.

Post time daily is 1:05 p.m. Eastern. TVG will have blanket coverage every day, with Todd T. Schrupp, Simon Bray, and Paul LoDuca on hand for opening weekend. NBC Sports will show at least three of the Saturday races and the two Sunday stakes on programs that run from 5-6 p.m. Eastern each day.

The Saturday card will conflict in part with the Vanderbilt-Kentucky college football game, which starts at 4 p.m. at nearby Commonwealth Stadium.

Keeneland racing secretary Ben Huffman said he expects per-day purses to average $675,200, among the highest in North America, as usual, and that big money once again has enticed the participation of many top horsemen and riders on the continent. Jose Ortiz, the 22-year-old phenom who topped the Saratoga standings this summer, is among the jockeys who will be on hand, joining Kentucky regulars Florent Geroux, Julien Leparoux, Corey Lanerie, and Robby Albarado.

Purses for the 17 fall-meet stakes will total nearly $5.3 million, with five of the six Grade 1 races being run over the opening three days. The Oct. 15 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, an invitational for 3-year-old turf fillies, is the final Grade 1.

This month marks the 80th anniversary of Keeneland being founded on Oct. 15, 1936. The fall meet runs through Oct. 29, with Mondays and Tuesdays dark.