09/30/2011 12:42PM

Keeneland set for stakes-packed opening weekend

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The 17-day fall meet at Keene­land Race Course will get away to its usual action-packed start Friday when the first two of nine Breeders’ Cup preps begin FallStars Weekend, the three-day run that always defines a front-loaded meet.

All nine of the opening-weekend stakes are graded and designed as final preps while four weeks out from the Breeders’ Cup, which is set for Nov. 4-5 at Churchill Downs. Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., will begin Friday with the Grade 1, $400,000 Darley Alcibiades for 2-year-old fillies and the Grade 3, $175,000 Phoenix for sprinters, with both races staged over a Polytrack surface that was first used at the 2006 fall meet.

Among the top names likely to go in the 1 1/16-mile Alcibiades are Flashy Lassie and Tue Endie Wei, while the six-furlong Phoenix, which drew a number of interesting nominations, could get Comedero and Flashpoint among the hopefuls for the BC Sprint, according to Keeneland’s stakes coordinator, Alison DeLuca.

Trainer Garry Simms scratched Flashy Lassie from the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies last weekend at Turfway Park after the filly drew a far outside post. Flashy Lassie won the Debutante Stakes at Churchill in June.

There are five stakes set for Saturday, including three Grade 1’s: the $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile, the $400,000 Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity, and the $350,000 First Lady. The weekend concludes Sunday with two more stakes, led by the Grade 1, $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster for fillies and mares.

The Shadwell is shaping up as a particularly tough race, with the defending champion, Gio Ponti, among the prospects, along with Court Vision, Get Stormy, Wise Dan, and an Aidan O’Brien-trained 3-year-old, Zoffany.

As always, the Keeneland jockey colony will be among the deepest in North America, with California standout Joel Rosario among those scheduled to ride here throughout the meet.

Founded in 1936, Keeneland is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a variety of activities. The meet will run on a five-day schedule (Wednesday-Sunday), with closing day set for Oct. 29.

Keeneland’s racing secretary, Ben Huffman, said he expects per-day purse levels to come in at about $585,000, which is among the highest in North America, as usual.

Churchill tornado a TV subject

HRTV is airing a two-part series on its “Inside Information” program on the June 22 tornado that ravaged the Churchill stable area. The first part airs for one hour Sunday starting at 9 p.m. Eastern, and the second will come five weeks later, on Sunday, Nov. 6.

The first part will focus on the hours leading up to the tornado, which heavily damaged seven barns but led to no injuries to humans or horses. Among the Louisville residents appearing on the broadcast are HRTV commentators Gary Stevens, Caton Bredar, and Jill Byrne.

The second part will primarily concern the aftermath of the tornado and the bonding that transpired among those most affected.

Turfway meet ending

The 16-day fall meet comes to a quiet close Sunday at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., with a nine-race afternoon card. Four dark days then follow on this circuit before Keeneland opens Friday.

After Thursday-night action, and with three cards to go, apprentice Roberto Morales led all riders with 24 winners, six more than Victor Lebron, while Mike Maker surely will win another training title, having won with 10 of his first 23 runners in moving to an unassailable lead.

◗ Jeremy Plonk and Joe Kristufek, the founders of the popular “Night School” online handicapping seminars, will be at Keeneland for the second Saturday of the meet, Oct. 15, to conduct an interactive onsite seminar before the races. More information is available at horseplayernow.com.