10/03/2012 2:22PM

Keeneland: Nine Breeders' Cup preps during first three days of fall meet

Michael Burns
Wise Dan, the early favorite for the Breeders' Cup Mile, will run in the richest race of Keeneland's fall meet, the Shadwell Turf Mile, on Saturday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Saratoga or Del Mar? That’s a win-win argument for summer. But what about Keeneland in the spring or Keeneland in the fall?

Can’t lose there, either.

Six months after the budding greenery of April drew them out from a long winter, now comes the rustic beauty of October to get racing fans pumped up. This rite of Kentucky autumn is tied inextricably to top-shelf racing, as once again the rich FallStars Weekend will put an immediate sense of urgency into a 17-day meet.

Nine graded races, five of them Grade 1’s, will help kick off the three-day FallStars at this front-loaded meet, with all of them designed as prep races for the Nov. 2-3 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. The first two, the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades and Grade 3 Phoenix, will be run on the 10-race Friday opener, followed by five on Saturday and two more Sunday.

[KEENELAND: Get opening-day PPs, watch Friday's full card live]

Coinciding with all this ontrack activity is the noteworthy fact that this meet marks the first as president and chief executive officer at Keeneland for Bill Thomason Jr., who on Sept. 1 replaced the retired Nick Nicholson in those roles. At a media conference this week in the Keeneland Library, Thomason frequently used the words “celebration” and “innovation” when touting the many virtues of Keeneland and its dedicated staff of employees.

“This first weekend will celebrate racing,” said Thomason, 57, a former longtime employee and finance specialist at nearby Mill Ridge Farm before moving into Keeneland administration in June 2010. Subsequent weeks will celebrate community and the athletes involved in the sport, he added.

But enough of the talk, and more of the action. The Alcibiades drew an oversubscribed field with no clear-cut favorite, making it the kind of horseplayers’ delight that has come to define Keeneland stakes action in recent seasons. As many as 14 2-year-old fillies will contest the Alcibiades (race 9), and the main thing to know about handicapping the race is that there are 5-1 co-favorites on the morning line.

The 160th Phoenix (race 8), billed as the oldest stakes still in existence in America, also got an outstanding field, with Aikenite, Doctor Chit, Sum of the Parts, and Lonesome Street being the main contenders in a field of 10 sprinters.

The Saturday racing figures to be the best of the entire meet when bringing forth at least two early favorites for their respective Breeders’ Cup races: Wise Dan, pointing to the BC Mile, will be favored in the richest race of the meet, the Grade 1, $750,000 Shadwell Turf Mile, while Groupie Doll, the leader in the filly-mare sprint division, will contest the Grade 2, $200,000 Thoroughbred Club of America.

Trainer Charlie Lopresti did not commit Wise Dan to the Shadwell until Tuesday morning, at which time his longtime home track scored a coup with a scheduled appearance by arguably the most exciting older horse on the continent. Conversely, the six-furlong TCA has been on the radar of Buff Bradley, the trainer of Groupie Doll, for months.

“She loves that track at Keeneland, and the six furlongs should set us up perfectly for the Breeders’ Cup,” said Bradley, referring to the seven-furlong Filly and Mare Sprint on the Santa Anita dirt.

Naturally, a per-day purse average of $580,000 has brought out many of North America’s finest horsemen, with the jockeys’ room abounding with major talent and the ranks of trainers including the likes of Todd Pletcher, Bill Mott, Graham Motion, Wesley Ward, Ken McPeek, Dale Romans, Roger Attfield, Shug McGaughey, and many others.

[BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Full prep schedule, results, video replays]

Extensive on-site television coverage will be provided throughout the meet by longtime Keeneland partner TVG, with Todd T. Schrupp, Paul LoDuca, and Donna Brothers among those providing commentary. TVG will sponsor a $200,000 guaranteed late pick four (races 7-10) pool every Friday through the meet, including opening day.

Keeneland will offer the usual extensive menu of wagers, including trifectas and a number of multi-race wagers with a 50-cent minimum. The track also has lowered the minimum wager for win-place-show to $1 for this meet.

Many fan-friendly extracurriculars also are offered Saturdays at Keeneland, including a sunrise breakfast (7 a.m.), paddock demonstrations (8:45), handicapping seminars (11:30), and jockey question-and-answer sessions (12:05 p.m.). The first featured jockey this Saturday is Julien Leparoux, who has led or tied atop the Keeneland standings at eight of the last 13 meets.

For ontrack fans, unfortunately, the racing will be hotter than the weather. While the forecast for Friday calls for a high of 73, the high temperatures for Saturday and Sunday will only reach the low 50s, with rain likely for both days.

The meet runs through Oct. 27 on a Wednesday-through-Sunday schedule.