10/05/2006 11:00PM

Opener finds room for past


The introduction of Polytrack was supposed to usher in a new chapter in Keeneland history Friday. It ultimately did, but not before a family with roots tracing to the track's 1930's origins was represented by the winner of the first race ever run over the new synthetic surface.

Lordly, the first-race winner, was bred and is owned by Louis Lee Haggin 3rd, whose family traces directly to the founders of Keeneland. Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Lordly returned $65.20 after gamely holding off Maizelle, the 2-5 favorite, to win the 1 1/16-mile maiden race by a neck.

Louis Lee Haggin 3rd, a longtime member of the Keeneland board of trustees, is the son of Louis Lee Haggin 2nd, whose father-in-law was Keeneland co-founder Hal Price Headley. The family has always been linked with Keeneland, and the victory tickled family members who were on hand Friday.

"Great, just great, winning the first Polytrack race at Keeneland," said Ben Haggin, the son of Louis Haggin 3rd.

Polytrack was the biggest newsmaker on a highly eventful afternoon, during which Keeneland also unveiled numerous other new features while also conducting two graded stakes. Overall, the day seemed to fulfill its unwritten mission of taking the track into a new era, but it was not without some snafus. Most notably, the historic first Polytrack race failed to be televised live on TVG because of a telecommunications mixup.

"TVG never got the television signal from us, and we don't know why," said Keeneland director of communications Jim Williams.

There was no further trouble with the transmission of the signal, including the running of the first Keeneland stakes on Polytrack, the Grade 2, $400,000 Alcibiades Stakes. Bel Air Beauty, a maiden with just one start, suddenly thrust herself into the picture for the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies by posting a huge upset under Fernando Jara. Owned by Bruce Lunsford and trained by Frank Brothers, Bel Air Beauty returned $96.80 after getting a good inside trip and wearing down Untouched Talent, the 5-2 favorite, to win by three-quarters of a length. It was another 2 1/2 lengths back to Her Majesty in third and another nose back to Cotton Blossom in fourth in a field of 14 2-year-old fillies.

Bel Air Beauty, by Smart Strike, finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.32.

"She's been very professional from day one," said Brothers. "We'd like to take her to the Breeders' Cup, but we'll have to wait and see."

A half-hour earlier, in one of the three turf races on the program, favored Revved Up ($7.20) posted a two-length victory in the Grade 3, $163,800 Sycamore Stakes at 1 1/2 miles. Always kept in the clear by Garrett Gomez, Revved Up bounded to the lead after turning for home and prevailed by two lengths over Rush Bay, the second choice in a field of 10.

Yet the Sycamore was a mere sideshow on a day when Polytrack was the star. With a few exceptions, Polytrack was greeted with nearly unanimous positive reaction for its safety and uniformity, just as it has been since Turfway became the first North American track to use it for racing purposes September 2005.

"I like it," jockey James Graham said after riding in the first two races Friday. "The horses seem to be getting over it okay. No problems. They might be going a little slower than they used to, but slow ain't so bad, is it?"

Veteran trainer Merrill Scherer, who sent out Tequila Party to a fourth-place finish in the second race, said he likes Polytrack because of the way it seems to keep horses sounder, but he added: "It's one-dimensional. You never get slop or mud or anything but the same old thing. That's good, I guess, but I kind of like the variety. This way, it's just, boom, here you go, same thing every day."

Likewise, longtime horseplayer Harry Savells of Louisville said he was skeptical about making serious wagers on Polytrack races.

"I hate it because anybody can beat anybody," said Savells, a 15-year Keeneland regular. "You can't gauge it. You can't tell if speed is going to be good or what. You never know what you're getting."

From the seven Polytrack races Friday, two favorites were winners, a normal percentage (28.4) for any surface, and winners came from virtually everywhere except the very front. Besides Bel Air Beauty, who rallied from seventh place, two winners came from as close as second, one came from fourth, two from sixth, and one from 10th.

Ontrack attendance on a cool but sunny day was 18,580.

Jockey Julien Leparoux, the national leader in wins, got off to a good start, riding three winners.