Updated on 09/18/2011 1:13AM

Polytrack breaks through to big stage


For more than a year now, it has been rather easy for a racing fan who didn't feel like betting on Polytrack races to turn his back on them. While the simulcast signals from Turfway Park and Woodbine - the first two tracks to conduct racing over Polytrack - are sufficiently popular, they hardly compare with the widespread appeal of Keeneland.

As an icon of American racing, Keeneland fits in an elite stratosphere that also includes high-profile tracks such as Saratoga, Gulfstream, and Del Mar. As such, many fans will be betting on Polytrack races for the first time when Keeneland begins a new era Friday.

Indeed, Polytrack comes of age by crashing the upper echelon of American racetracks, and officials at Keeneland are fiercely proud that they are the ones making that breakthrough. With stall applications for the 17-day fall meet up some 50 percent, according to racing director Rogers Beasley, and with an obvious major increase in the number of horses training here compared to previous fall meets, track officials are hoping that Polytrack's initial popularity with horsemen will be matched by fan enthusiasm at the betting windows.

"We are very, very pleased with the response from all our trainers," said Beasley. "We've got outfits here with 8 to 10 horses that normally don't come in the spring, or at least only for stakes. I think it's a great credit to Polytrack that they're willing to come here and train and race over a new surface, especially with the Breeders' Cup right around the corner. There's an initial acceptance of what we've done, and that really has us excited."

Veteran trainer Tony Reinstedler has eight horses stabled at Keeneland, a marked contrast to previous years, when he'd just have "a few ship-in stalls" when based solely at Churchill. Tuesday morning, Reinstedler stood near the Keeneland apron marveling at the seismic change that has coincided with Polytrack's arrival.

"Let's face it: Polytrack is extremely popular," he said. "Don't get me wrong, it's not like it will completely eliminate catastrophic injuries, because when you're working with athletes like we are every day, there are going to be injuries to certain degrees, no matter what."

Along those lines, Reinstedler said Gorden King, the trainer of a small Churchill stable, recently told him something that resonated with him.

"Gorden said Polytrack is like football," he said. "Just because you're wearing pads, doesn't mean you won't get hurt.

"Time will tell about Polytrack," he said. "All I know is that everybody wants to train over it if you can."

Shadwell one of three graded races on card

Entries were drawn Wednesday for the 10-race Saturday card, which includes three graded races: the Grade 1, $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile; the Grade 1, $500,000 Breeders' Futurity; and the Grade 3, $250,000 Phoenix Breeders' Cup.

The Shadwell Mile, which has become the richest race of every fall meet, is an outstanding event that drew a field of nine and should justify its standing as a key prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Among the logical contenders in a very well-matched field are Silent Name (post 1), the Japanese-bred colt who won the Grade 2 Arcadia in April; Miesque's Approval (post 2), the resurgent 7-year-old who has won 4 of 5 starts this year under the guidance of trainer Marty Wolfson; Aussie Rules (post 3), the field's lone 3-year-old who will add Lasix and blinkers and make his first U.S. start; Remarkable News, winner of the Grade 2 Fourstardave at Saratoga two starts back; and Three Valleys (post 9), the beaten favorite last fall in the Shadwell Mile.

The rest of the field is Hendrix (post 5), Cosmonaut (post 6), Old Dodge (post 7), and British Blue (post 8).

The ominous presence of the colt many consider the leader of the 2-year-old division, Circular Quay, limited the field for the Breeders' Futurity to eight.

A flashy winner of all of his three starts, Circular Quay will be ridden by Garrett Gomez and start from the inside post in the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Futurity. Drawing post 2 was the probable second choice, Great Hunter, who will be ridden by Victor Espinoza. Great Hunter has posted three straight runner-up finishes, the latest in the Sept. 6 Del Mar Futurity.

The rest of the field, in order, is French Transition, Teuflesberg, Birdbirdistheword, Passport, Street Sense, and Bold Start.

The Phoenix BC at six furlongs might be the best betting race on the Saturday card. The Phoenix drew a field of 11, including such accomplished sprinters as Weigelia, Kelly's Landing, Silver Wagon, Spanish Chestnut, and Coach Jimi Lee.

The Phoenix is carded as the seventh race Saturday, followed by the Breeders' Futurity as the eighth and the Shadwell Mile as the ninth.

Stars aplenty expected for Spinster

The Grade 1 Spinster Stakes for fillies and mares Sunday is shaping up with a terrific field of at least eight starters, including the last two Kentucky Oaks winners, Summerly (2005) and Lemons Forever (2006), neither of whom will be favored. That role figures to go to either Happy Ticket, the Louisiana-bred millionaire in sharp form, or Spun Sugar, winner of the Grade 1 Go for Wand in her last start.

The other prospective starters are Promenade Girl, Sharp Lisa, Soul Search, and either of the Patrick Biancone duo of Asi Siempre or Wild Fit. A 1 1/8-mile race, the Spinster will conclude the FallStars Weekend. Entries for the Spinster were to be drawn Thursday.

* The Saturday crowd figures to be the biggest of the meet. In addition to the three graded races at Keeneland, the University of Kentucky will host a night football game at nearby Commonwealth Stadium against the University of South Carolina. That confluence of events invariably draws a crowd of more than 30,000 at Keeneland.