10/09/2005 11:00PM

Opening weekend marked by slow final times


LEXINGTON, Ky. - In most recent years, the postmortems about how races were run on opening weekend of the Keeneland fall meet have centered on a track bias that invariably favored speed and/or inside horses.

But on the three programs that opened the 2005 fall meet, the main track seemed to play quite fairly for all concerned - inside or outside, speed or closer. It was virtually impossible, however, not to notice one major trend: The track yielded some of the slowest times in Keeneland history, leading many fans to wonder what led to such dramatic change.

"I haven't done anything different," said Keeneland's longtime track superintendent, Mike Young. "They're still going [six furlongs] in 1:12. That's fast enough, I think."

The extraordinary slowness of the main track was evidenced by the times of several graded stakes. The Alcibiades (1:49.07) and Breeders' Futurity (1:48.77) were easily the slowest since the distance of each was lengthened to 1 1/16 miles in 1981. The six-furlong Phoenix (1:11.60) was the slowest since 1956. And the 1 1/8-mile Spinster (1:53.91) was the slowest in its 50-year history - by more than two full seconds.

Young said Monday that "not one person has complained to me" about the track being so slow. In general, horsemen are more apt to complain about a track being too fast, because that tends to increase the risk of injury. "I have had some people praise it for being better than it's ever been," said Young. "I haven't noticed that much difference myself. To me, there's not a big difference compared to the last year or two."

Whatever the case, controversies about the dirt surface may soon be a thing of the past. The Keeneland board of directors was scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss installing Polytrack, a synthetic racing surface. Track officials have said that, if approved, Polytrack could be in place as early as next fall.

Asi Siempre likely for E.P. Taylor

Asi Siempre, the gray 3-year-old filly who won the last race Friday at 1-5, likely will run back in the Oct. 23 E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine, said trainer Patrick Biancone.

Although Asi Siempre, a Kentucky-bred by El Prado, won Friday's second-level turf allowance by just 1 1/4 lengths, she did so while under an absolute stranglehold from jockey Gary Stevens.

"She's not nominated to the Breeders' Cup, but she should be tough in the E.P. Taylor," said Biancone. "This race was just what we wanted."

In her lone prior start in North America, Asi Siempre finished second to Luas Line in the Grade 1 Garden City at Belmont. Luas Line is the probable favorite in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup here this weekend.

The purse for the 1 1/4-mile E.P. Taylor is $1 million.

Rainbow Pond okay after surgery

Rainbow Pond, the 2-year-old filly who suffered a life-threatening leg injury Friday when she broke down in her right front pastern going into the first turn of the Alcibiades Stakes, has been given an encouraging long-term prognosis after undergoing surgery at the nearby Rood and Riddle equine clinic, said trainer Rusty Arnold.

"It sure didn't look good at first," said Arnold. "Fortunately, the veterinarians said the surgery went very well, and it looks like she's going to make it."

Rainbow Pond, a Lemon Drop Kid filly bred and owned by Louise and G. Watts Humphrey, had never won a race in four starts but was so highly regarded that she was the 5-1 third choice in the Alcibiades.

Martin back in winner's circle

For veteran jockey Eddie Martin Jr., the time off now seems worth it.

Martin, 42, fractured a shoulder in a spill on Sept. 5, closing day of the Ellis Park meet, and had been back for only about a week when he won the Alcibiades in a front-running performance by She Says It Best. It was Martin's first victory since his return.

Elzey, jockey agent, is hospitalized

Veteran jockey agent Steve Elzey has been in a Louisville hospital since Thursday with an undisclosed heart ailment. A friend said Elzey probably will not have to undergo surgery and his long-term prognosis is good.

Elzey has been the agent for many top jockeys on the Kentucky circuit for the last decade or so, including Rafael Bejarano and Willie Martinez. He currently works for apprentice Dane Kobiskie, leading rider at the recently ended Turfway Park meet, and Orlando Mojica.

Bird Charm done for year

Bird Charm, a 2-year-old half-brother to standouts Birdstone and Bird Town, is through for the year after having his shins pin-fired, according to trainer Reynaldo Abreu.

Bird Charm, by Silver Charm out of Dear Birdie, has won 1 of 3 starts, taking a Sept. 24 maiden race at Suffolk Downs after two failed tries at Saratoga. Like his far more accomplished siblings, he is owned by Marylou Whitney.

Two riding greats to make appearances

Racing fans will have a rare chance this week to get up close and personal with two of the greatest jockeys in racing history.

On Wednesday, Laffit Pincay Jr. will be in from California to sign his DVD, "All About Winning," a 90-minute documentary produced and directed by Academy Award winner Jim Wilson. The DVD sells for $19.95.

On Thursday, Keeneland will honor Pat Day with "A Day to Remember," with festivities including question-and-answer and autograph sessions, a poster giveaway, a video tribute, and a winner's circle ceremony. Day turns 52 on Thursday.

Churchill's Saturday contest canceled

Churchill Downs has canceled the handicapping contest that had been scheduled for this coming Saturday. To make up for the lost berth in the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship from that contest, the top two finishers (instead of just the winner) in the meet-long handicapping contest at the fall meet will now get in the finals in Las Vegas in January.