04/12/2013 1:22PM

Keeneland: Pure Fun may use Lexington to secure Kentucky Oaks berth

Benoit & Associates
Pure Fun, winner of the Hollywood Starlet, may need the points she would gain running against males in the Coolmore Lexington to be assured of a spot in the Kentucky Oaks.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Keeneland racing officials are expecting yet another big field for one of their spring marquee races, the Coolmore Lexington Stakes, a Polytrack race that will help close the prep season for the May 4 Kentucky Derby by offering last-gasp “wild card” points toward eligibility.

Pure Fun, a Grade 1-winning filly seeking a spot in the Kentucky Oaks, is foremost among the possible starters for the Grade 3, $200,000 Lexington, a 1 1/16-mile race set for next Saturday, April 20.

The Lexington is worth 20 points to the winner, which may or may not prove relevant depending on who wins, given that the current threshold for making the 20-horse Derby field appears to be well above that figure.

As for Pure Fun, trainer Ken McPeek is interested in the points because they can be used by a filly toward the Oaks, whereas points earned in races restricted to fillies cannot be used toward the Derby. At this point, Pure Fun is on the bubble for making the May 3 Oaks, which is restricted to 14 fillies.

McPeek said he planned to send out Pure Fun for a breeze Saturday at Keeneland in company with Taken by the Storm, another Lexington candidate.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

“I’ll see how they work and how they eat up, then wait until maybe Wednesday” – entry day– “to decide what we’ll do,” said McPeek.

Pure Fun, winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet in December, and Taken by the Storm, most recently fourth in the March 23 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, are among 65 3-year-olds nominated to the Lexington. As of Friday, other known prospects for the race included Cerro, Examen, Hip Four Sixty Nine, Johnny Handsome, Pick of the Litter, Title Contender, and Where’s Dominic, with probably a few more likely.

The Lexington will be followed by the Grade 3, $175,000 Derby Trial on April 27, opening night of the Churchill Downs spring meet, as so-called wild card races in the new eligibility system. With all the major Derby preps already in the books, those races serve as opportunities for horses perhaps needing just a few more points to crack the lineup. The points breakdown for the top four finishes in those two races are 20-8-4-2.

War Dancer overcomes poor start

A remarkable instant replay of sorts occurred here Wednesday when War Dancer won in jaw-dropping fashion.

Just like a filly named Gathering four days before him, War Dancer won a first-level, two-turn turf allowance as the favorite – but only after spotting the entire field some six to eight lengths with a horrible break and then passing every opponent to prevail.

“That was pretty impressive,” said McPeek, who trains War Dancer for Magdalena Racing. “Actually, it was an amazing run. Obviously you get very frustrated when they leave there like that. He’d trained like a top horse, so for him to overcome it and win was just great.”

War Dancer, a 3-year-old colt by War Front, earned a 78 Beyer Speed Figure with the victory and will run next in the Grade 2 American Turf on the Oaks undercard at Churchill.

Canadians stopover en route home

The prevalence of Canadian stables at this spring meet is something new, and it’s due primarily to the relatively late opening of the Woodbine meet back home.

Trainers who normally would have most of their horses bedded down at the Toronto-area track instead have stopped over at Keeneland with contingents of various sizes after wintering in Florida and Louisiana.

Since 2006, the Woodbine meet has begun anywhere from March 31 to April 6, depending on where weekends fell, but the 2013 meet does not begin until this coming Saturday, April 20.

“I’m sure we’d have a lot more horses up at Woodbine already,” said Mark Casse, who instead has most of his best horses in Kentucky for the time being. Casse, who had three winners on the first five cards here, joins the likes of Woodbine regulars Roger Attfield, Malcolm Pierce, Mark Frostad, Mike Doyle, Brian Lynch, Gail Cox, and Rachel Halden to have run horses here so far.

Grandson continues family tradition

Normally the person with a hand on a horse’s flank in a winner’s circle photo is the trainer – and an adult at that. But after Ghost Chapel captured the last race on the April 5 opening-day card, who was the little 6-year-old boy in that honorary position?

“That’s my grandson Matthew,” said John Hancock, the veteran trainer whose daughter, Ashley Hillyard, trains Ghost Chapel at Ellis Park in western Kentucky. “Greatest picture you’ve ever seen.”

Hancock, 55, has been a backstretch figure at Ellis since he was 6, while Ashley, 27, followed in his footsteps. Matthew is Ashley’s son.

“Now he’s doing it, too,” said Hancock, who also won a race on opening weekend with Grey by You.