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Updated on 09/17/2011 11:28PM
Many jockeying for Day's position
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The changing of the guard is pretty much complete now. With the track's all-time leading jockey, Pat Day, having retired two months ago, the jockey colony at Keeneland looks dramatically different than it did just a few years ago.
Rafael Bejarano, the 23-year-old Peruvian who was the leading rider at the 2004 fall and 2005 spring meets at Keeneland, is widely considered the heir to Day's throne, but that's only part of the major overhaul. Purse levels, and the overall aura of Keeneland, have proven so enticing that the jockeys' room is virtually bursting with great riders.
Hall of Fame jockeys Gary Stevens and Mike Smith will once again ride here on a daily basis. Robby Albarado, who figures to attract enough business to possibly challenge Bejarano for the riding crown at the 17-day meet that begins Friday, is back. Mark Guidry and Shaun Bridgmohan, who dominated the recently ended Arlington Park meet, are here to ride every day.
And now David Flores has thrown his helmet into the ring. Flores, long regarded as one of the most talented jockeys on the Southern California circuit, will be represented by agent Brad Pegram throughout the Keeneland and Churchill Downs meets.
"He's committed to stay through Churchill," said Pegram. "He's really excited about it. He talked a long time to Gary and Mike about coming to Kentucky, and one day at Del Mar he finally came up to me and said, 'I'm in.' There's no reason he wanted to leave California. I mean, Keeneland - that speaks for itself."
Flores is scheduled to begin riding here Sunday after riding Singletary the previous day in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita.
Flores is not the only newcomer. John Jacinto, the leading rider at the current Louisiana Downs meet, also has transferred his tack here. They join such accomplished jockeys as Brice Blanc, Eddie Martin Jr., Corey Lanerie, James Graham, Calvin Borel, Terry Thompson, and Jesus Castanon. Also, from time to time, the likes of Jerry Bailey, Edgar Prado, Ramon Dominguez, and Javier Castellano will be in town for the big-money races.
During the many years that Day dominated Keeneland, it was rare indeed when someone jumped up and beat him for a riding title. From 1982 to 2003, Day won 18 of 22 fall riding titles. Only Shane Sellers, who won 3 of the other 4, was able to get the best of him with any regularity.
Keeneland fans were enthralled for years by Day's amazing feats, and they will get their chance to honor him on Oct. 13, when the track hosts "A Day to Remember" on his 52nd birthday. Nonetheless, some fans long have been ready for something a little less one-sided from the jockey colony, and this new look is what they have gotten.
She Says It Best's people thinking big
She Says It Best bounced back from the Ellis Debutante and Bassinet Stakes in such good shape that trainer Vickie Foley was tempted to run the filly in the Sept. 17 Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park.
"But you can't run in all of them," said Foley.
Instead, Foley and the Louisville-based syndicate with whom she co-owns She Says It Best zeroed in on the $400,000 Darley Alcibiades on Friday, which will mark the first two-turn race for She Says It Best and all but one of her 10 rivals.
"I feel like she'll handle the two turns, although you never know until you try," said Foley. "She's got a lot of stamina. If she makes a good showing Friday, we'll definitely be thinking very strongly about the Breeders' Cup for her."
She Says It Best, by Stormy Atlantic, underwent minor throat surgery shortly after winning an allowance race at Ellis Park in late July. She has been terrific in her two subsequent races, winning the Ellis Debutante and finishing a close second in the Bassinet at River Downs.
Big names in big weekend races
The Friday stakes are a mere start to competitive stakes fields on opening weekend. Here are partial lists of names for the remaining features:
(Saturday): Charley Tango, Greater Fool, High Cotton, Kid Lemonade, Laity, Reaffirmed, and Stream Cat.
Shadwell Turf Mile (Saturday): Ad Valorem, Alinghi, Cool Conductor, Gulch Approval, Host, Remind, Seeking Answers, Three Valleys, and Vanderlin.
Phoenix Breeders' Cup (Saturday): Bwana Charlie, Elusive Jazz, Fifteen Rounds, Going Wild, and Level Playingfield.
Juddmonte Spinster (Sunday): Bending Strings, Halory Leigh, Indy Groove, Isola Piu Bella, Pampered Princess, and Tamweel.
WinStar Galaxy (Sunday): Intercontinental, Katdogawn, River Belle, Shaconage, Ticker Tape, and Wend.
Woodford (Sunday): Atticus Kristy, Battle Won, Del Mar Show, and Scat Sam Man.
Afleet Alex or not, Straight Line is in
Bring on Afleet Alex, says Harvey Vanier.
Well, not really. But regardless of whether Afleet Alex, arguably racing's brightest star, makes his long-awaited return to action next Friday against fellow 3-year-olds in the $200,000 Perryville Stakes, Vanier will be there with Straight Line.
"I knew they were thinking about bringing Afleet Alex, but it doesn't make much difference to me," said Vanier, 81, who has been racing at Keeneland for more than 40 years. "That's the race that fits our horse."
Afleet Alex's trainer, Tim Ritchey, said earlier this week that the Perryville, which is run at the Beard Course distance of seven furlongs and 184 feet, is one of "four or five" options for a Breeders' Cup prep for Afleet Alex.
Remembering Kim Loves Bucky
Trainer John Glenney would like nothing more than to have Kim Loves Bucky in the Sycamore Stakes on Friday, but the 8-year-old gelding is enjoying retirement on Glenney's nearby farm, having concluded his career with a tendon injury last year. Kim Loves Bucky was a fixture in three-turn grass marathons at Keeneland, running three times each in the Sycamore and its spring counterpart, the Elkhorn, which he won twice.
Kim Loves Bucky, bred and owned by Glenney and his wife, Kim, raced in nine Keeneland grass races at 1 1/2 miles or longer. The gelding nearly hit the half-million dollar mark in a 32-race career, earning $499,695.
"There won't be another one like him, at least not for us," said Glenney.