10/03/2007 11:00PM

Stars come out at Keeneland

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
The 2-year-old filly Irish Smoke, training at Keeneland on Wednesday, is expected to go favored in Friday?s Grade 1 Alcibiades.
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The drought ends here. A long Kentucky summer with very little rain coincided with a dearth of equine starpower, but the latter of those shortages will come to an abrupt halt Friday when Keeneland opens its 17-day fall meet with a weekend featuring many of the best Thoroughbreds in training in North America.

The action begins with a 10-race Friday card, hits its peak Saturday with five graded stakes, then motors along Sunday with the Spinster Stakes, the signature race of every fall meet at Keeneland. The Friday races are highlighted by the Grade 1 Alcibiades Stakes, which, like so many of the stakes on opening weekend, figures to carry major implications toward the 24th Breeders' Cup championships on Oct. 26-27 at Monmouth Park. The top Alcibiades runners are likely to move along to the BC Juvenile Fillies.

The $500,000 Alcibiades appears to be highly competitive, but Irish Smoke, a filly that trainer Patrick Biancone unleashed at Saratoga, surely will be the favorite when she breaks from post 4 under jockey Julien Leparoux. After earning a 95 Beyer Speed Figure in an Aug. 2 maiden victory, Irish Smoke rallied from sixth to win the Grade 1 Spinaway in going-away fashion on closing weekend at the Spa.

Besides those eye-catching victories, Irish Smoke has at least two other major factors in her favor. The Smoke Glacken filly has a running style that strongly suggests she will appreciate stretching out around two turns in the 1 1/16-mile Alcibiades, and she has trained primarily over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland since April, even returning to Lexington between Saratoga triumphs.

"Why should she not run well on the Polytrack after training so well on it?" said Biancone, who has been the leading trainer at both meets since Keeneland installed Polytrack in time for the 2006 fall meet. "That's something I don't have a care about. She is 2 for 2. The main thing is I want the two turns so we can run in the Breeders' Cup."

Among the top challengers to Irish Smoke is Dreaming of Liz (post 2), a 2 1/2-length winner of the Arlington-Washington Lassie nearly four weeks ago. Dreaming of Liz is owned by Frank Calabrese and trained by Wayne Catalano, the powerhouse Chicago duo that campaigned the champion 2-year-old filly of 2006, Dreaming of Anna.

Other promising fillies in the Alcibiades, which occupies the customary ninth-race feature slot on a card that starts at 1:15 p.m. Eastern, include Initiation (post 1), Grace Anatomy (post 9), Country Star (post 10), and the Spinaway runner-up A to the Croft (post 12).

One other graded stakes, the Grade 3 Sycamore Breeders' Cup, also is carded for Friday. Ten turf marathoners, including $650,000 earner Dreadnaught, should make for an interesting prelude to the Alcibiades as the eighth race of the day.

A peek ahead to Saturday reveals an even deeper card. Four of the five Saturday stakes are part of the "Win and You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge. The stakes are carded as races 5 through 9 and are being packaged in a pick six with a guaranteed pool of $150,000.

The Saturday pick six is one of three special wagering packages for opening weekend, along with a $200,000 guaranteed pick four on Friday (races 7-10), and a national BC Challenge all-stakes pick four that includes major races from Santa Anita on Sunday.

Entries were drawn Wednesday for the Saturday blockbuster, and this is what resulted: Ten filly-mare sprinters in the $300,000 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes, 11 sprinters in the $250,000 Phoenix, nine filly-mare turfers in the $400,000 First Lady, 12 2-year-olds in the $500,000 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, and nine turf veterans in the richest race of the meet, the $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile.

Familiar names are scattered about the Saturday program, although the two grass races, both set for one mile, arguably drew the most accomplished horses. Precious Kitten, Lady of Venice, and Vacare will clash in the First Lady, while Shakis, Cosmonaut, and T.D. Vance are among the Shadwell starters.

The weather forecast for the weekend calls for mostly sunny and unseasonably warm conditions through Sunday, with the Friday high pegged at 87.