04/25/2011 12:47PM

Keeneland: Sierra Alpha looks strong in turf marathon

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Francis “Tres” Abbott grew up in Philadelphia before traveling to England to attend college, where his fascination with horse racing led to jobs with Aidan O’Brien and Sir Michael Stoute. Now 28 and freshly on his own as a trainer back home in the states, Abbott is quietly assembling a public stable with the intent of putting all that valuable education to good use.

Keeneland fans will have an opportunity to see what Abbott learned from such iconic horsemen when he saddles a British-bred colt named Sierra Alpha for the feature race Wednesday. At 1 1/2 miles on turf, the fourth of nine races carries a $58,000 purse and second-level allowance condition, and Abbott is hoping Sierra Alpha will run as well Wednesday as he did in Florida this winter.

Sierra Alpha finished first in back-to-back Gulfstream Park turf marathons, although he was disqualified for interference in the first of those.

“It was good to see him come right back and win after that letdown,” Abbott said.

Conditioning a horse to be effective at a distance “was actually a big part of my tutelage,” Abbott said early this week from his headquarters at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland. “You pick up a lot from trainers as good as them.”

Abbott also worked the winter of 2010 at Palm Meadows under Todd Pletcher before taking out his license last fall. He said he now has 10 of his own horses at Fair Hill, including five 2-year-olds.

Sierra Alpha, with Jose Lezcano to ride, is one of the top contenders in a field of seven older horses Wednesday. En Fuego, trained by Christophe Clement, and Center Divider, a former Clement trainee now being overseen by Chad Brown, are the other likely favorites, along with Bigshot, whose trainer, Ken McPeek, is closing in on a second straight leading-trainer title at Keeneland after taking the 2010 fall crown.

Mile-and-a-half turf races will be a recurring theme during the three-day stretch that closes the 15-day spring meet. The Thursday feature is the Grade 3, $150,000 Bewitch Stakes for fillies and mares, while Friday closes with its male counterpart, the Grade 3, $150,000 Elkhorn Stakes. First post daily is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

One other allowance (race 8) also is on tap for Wednesday.

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