10/01/2007 11:00PM

Keeneland opens with dash to Cup

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Opening weekend of Keeneland's 17-day meet will be capped by Sunday's running of the Spinster Stakes.
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Like racehorses, race meets typically begin reasonably calmly, with the thought being that at least a little something should be saved for the end.

But the fall at Keeneland - at least the stakes program - is more like a Quarter Horse race, owing to how the calendar falls in relation to the Breeders' Cup. Starting Friday, nine stakes - including several major preps toward the Oct. 26-27 Breeders' Cup - will be run during the three-day weekend that opens the 17-day fall meet.

Five of the nine stakes on "FallStars Weekend," as Keeneland bills its fall opening, will be run Saturday, but the one carrying perhaps the greatest import toward the Breeders' Cup will wait until Sunday, when the $500,000 Spinster Stakes is run. Lady Joanne, Asi Siempre, and Panty Raid are among a large field expected for the Grade 1 Spinster.

Lady Joanne, winner of the Grade 1 Alabama in her last start, breezed five furlongs Monday at Churchill in 1:01.60.

"We are very happy with her," said Ian Wilkes, assistant to trainer Carl Nafzger. "She'll need a good race in the Spinster, and it looks like she'll get it. Then we'll go from there with her."

Unlike in the years when Keeneland employed a conventional dirt track - a new Polytrack surface was installed in time for the 2006 fall meet - the track and barn area were a whirlwind of activity Tuesday morning as the meet approached. Asi Siempre, who won the Spinster last fall before finishing second (and being disqualified to fourth) in the BC Distaff, was among the slew of Patrick Biancone-trained horses to train over the Keeneland Polytrack.

Biancone, who remains under investigation after cobra venom was found in his Keeneland barn during a June raid by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, has been the leading trainer at Keeneland at both meets run with Polytrack as the main surface. This year, he has 40 horses stabled here, and it would be of little surprise if he were to add the 2007 fall to his 2006 fall and 2007 spring titles.

"Our numbers are a little down from the other meets because they have Polytrack in California now," said Biancone. "But we will run a lot."

Besides Asi Siempre, Biancone is loaded for opening weekend. The Frenchman also has Irish Smoke in the opening-day feature, the Grade 1 Alcibiades Stakes, and he will be represented Saturday by such major contenders as Cosmonaut in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile, Slew's Tiznow in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity, Lady of Venice in the Grade 2 First Lady, and Baroness Thatcher in the Grade 3 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes.

The Alcibiades was drawn Tuesday, and its field of 13 2-year-old fillies should be a perfect capper to an opening-day card that is forecast to be be run under sunny skies and a summer-like temperature near 90. Irish Smoke, a runaway winner of the Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga last month, figures as the favorite in the 1 1/16-mile race. She drew post 4 and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.

The opening-day co-feature is the Grade 3, $150,000 Sycamore BC Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile turf race that drew 10 older horses. The Alcibiades is carded as the ninth race and the Sycamore as the eighth.

The $600,000 Shadwell, the richest stakes of the entire meet, has shaped up with a deep race, albeit one without a standout. Besides Cosmonaut, the other prospects include Art Master, Astronomer Royal, Istan, Shakis, and T.D. Vance.

Big fields are projected for both the $500,000 Breeders' Futurity and $400,000 First Lady. For the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Futurity, likely contenders include Adriano, Fidelio, Old Man Buck, Ready Set, Tend, The Roundhouse, and Wicked Style. The First Lady, a one-mile turf race, figures to produce at least a starter or two for the BC Filly and Mare Turf with this partial list of prospects: Ermine, Precious Kitten, Quite a Bride, and Vacare.

The Grade 3, $250,000 Phoenix at six furlongs also is carded for Saturday.

Four of the five Saturday stakes carry the "Win and You're In" provision that Breeders' Cup is using this year, meaning the winner of each race will earn a berth in each race's corresponding Breeders' Cup event. All five stakes will be packaged in a pick six with a guaranteed pool of $150,000. The pick six is one of three special wagering packages for opening weekend, along with a $200,000 guaranteed pick four on Friday and a national BC Challenge All-Stakes pick four on Sunday, which includes three stakes from the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet and the Spinster at Keeneland.

Keeneland's racing secretary, Ben Huffman, said the per-day purse average is projected at $640,000. The meet runs through Oct. 27, when a live seven-race card will be staged so as not to intrude on the Breeders' Cup card at Monmouth Park.

After opening weekend, five graded stakes remain this fall at Keeneland, with the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on Oct. 13 the top highlight.