10/05/2006 11:00PM

Spinster leads to the Cup

Email
Horsephotos
Happy Ticket and rider Robert Meyer take to the Keeneland track Friday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Breeders' Cup will be run about 85 miles from Keeneland, but for nine fillies and mares running here Sunday, a starting berth in the BC Distaff is only 1 1/8 miles away.

That's the distance of the $500,000 Spinster Stakes, the traditional fall showcase that has attracted such strong Distaff contenders as , Spun Sugar, Summerly, and Lemons Forever.

Happy Ticket and Spun Sugar both sport the best form and figure as the logical favorites in the Grade 1 Spinster. They staged one of the most exciting races in the filly-mare division all year when they battled to the wire in April in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park, with Spun Sugar eking out a neck victory.

Andrew Leggio Jr., the trainer of Happy Ticket, is optimistic his stable star can reverse that result. Happy Ticket has raced twice since then, winning the Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs in June before finishing second in the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar in August. Garrett Gomez, the national leader in earnings this year, has the mount for the first time aboard Happy Ticket, who drew post 1.

"My mare's done very well since we shipped her up almost two weeks ago, and the 1-hole, I'm happy about that," said Leggio. "We've got tactical speed, and that should let us do what we need to do. If we need to go to the lead, we can do that, and if we need to come from behind, we can do that."

Happy Ticket, an earner of $1,236,838 for breeder-owner Stewart Madison, will become the winningest Louisiana-bred in history by finishing third or better Sunday. She is $33,215 shy of the mark held by Scott's Scoundrel.

Like Happy Ticket, Spun Sugar owns genuine versatility, which might well portend another frantic finish. As one of several major Distaff prospects trained by Todd Pletcher, the 4-year-old Spun Sugar will be gunning for her third Grade 1 victory this year, having added the Go for Wand on July 30 at Saratoga to her Apple Blossom score.

Besides the Happy Ticket-Spun Sugar rematch, the 51st Spinster can boast another interesting subplot by hosting a rare matchup of Kentucky Oaks champions. Summerly, the 2005 winner, and Lemons Forever, the 2006 winner, both will be trying to earn their way back to the scene of their greatest moments at Churchill in Louisville, where the Breeders' Cup is set for Nov. 4. The last time Oaks winners faced each other was in the 1999 BC Distaff at Gulfstream Park, where Keeper Hill finished fourth and Silverbulletday was sixth.

The balance of the Spinster field is Island Escape, Promenade Girl, Asi Siempre, Sharp Lisa, and Soul Search. Of those, maybe Asi Siempre has the best upset chance when she makes her first start off grass.

The Spinster, which has been won 17 times by a filly or mare who was named a divisional champion the same year, is carded as the eighth of nine races on a program that starts at 1:15 p.m. Eastern. Like all Keeneland stakes formerly run on dirt, this will be the first Spinster run on Polytrack.

T.D. Vance cutting back

About an hour before the Spinster, a full field of older turf sprinters will clash in the secondary feature, the $100,000 Woodford at 5 1/2 furlongs (race 6).

Easily the most intriguing starter is T.D. Vance, who comes off 10 straight turf races at a mile or longer. "He's a horse with a tremendous amount of speed, and I guess turning him back is something I've always wanted to try," said trainer Graham Motion.

T.D. Vance already knows success over Keeneland's turf, having won the one-mile Bryan Station Stakes last fall. In that race, as in most others, "he's always been the kind of horse you had to try to nurse him along" on or near the lead, said Motion. "This race Sunday seemed like a good opportunity to see what he can do when you just let him go."

By coincidence, T.D. Vance's full brother Loconia also will race on the Sunday card. The 3-year-old colt is part of another full field in the ninth and last race, a $52,000 allowance at 1 1/16 miles on turf.