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As usual, McPeek's a big threat
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Once again, trainer Ken McPeek is a central figure in the Darley Alcibiades. McPeek won the Grade 2 Darley Alcibiades for fillies in 2000 with She's a Devil Due and in 2001 with Take Charge Lady, then saddled the favorite for the 2002 running, Midnight Cry, only to watch her labor home seventh.
So as Keeneland's 17-day fall meet opens Friday, it is hardly a surprise that McPeek is squarely in the Alcibiades mix. This time, he has two starters, and he believes either is capable of giving him his third win in the last four runnings. Both fillies, Galloping Gal and Deb's Charm, won maiden races at Saratoga in August and will be making their stakes debuts in the $400,000 Alcibiades.
Galloping Gal, who won an entry-level allowance at turf-only Kentucky Downs four weeks after winning her career debut on the grass at Saratoga, "should have absolutely no problem with the dirt," said McPeek. "The only reason she ran on grass was because I was looking for distance for her, and those were the races that fit. She trains great on the dirt."
Galloping Gal, owned by Bill Carl, will be equipped with blinkers Friday after going 2 for 2 without them. "I think she needs more focus," said McPeek. "I don't know if she'll show more speed or not, but I think she'll be a better horse with them on."
Deb's Charm, owned by Robert Francello, was the beaten favorite when making her first start on closing day of the Churchill Downs spring meet, then returned and easily won an Aug. 9 maiden race at Saratoga.
"She has a world of talent," said McPeek. "She's had a few hiccups in her campaign, but she's been doing great the last few weeks. I look for both horses to run real well."
For McPeek, who was born in Arkansas but grew up in Lexington, few things would be sweeter than to continue his prominence in the Alcibiades, which he calls a "great race to win."
"The timing of it is perfect, and it's a great prep for the Breeders' Cup, too," he said. "If either of my fillies run big, we'll give the Breeders' Cup a hard look."
Ethan Man completes long way back
Terry Finley is hoping the long wait will pay off Friday for Ethan Man. Finley, president of West Point Thoroughbreds, said the 20 or so syndicate members who own Ethan Man "really stuck in there" during a frustrating 16 months when the horse was sidelined by a series of injuries.
"A lot of times, these horses don't make it back to the races after what this horse has gone through," said Finley.
Not only has Ethan Man made it back from a chipped ankle, a strained suspensory ligament, and surgery to remove a fractured splint bone - and by the way, he also was gelded during the down time - but the 4-year-old is a legitimate contender to make the Breeders' Cup Sprint by running well Friday in the Phoenix Breeders' Cup. Ethan Man, winner of the 2002 Swale Stakes, was simply professional in winning his Aug. 27 comeback in an Arlington Park allowance.
"It had been a long road," said Finley. "It was great to get that one under him."
Trainer Pat Byrne called the Phoenix "a tough race," but said Ethan Man has been sharp in recent weeks. "He breezed a minute and change over a deep racetrack earlier this week," Byrne said Wednesday. "I think he's doing very well."
West Point, which began in 1991, is arguably one of the top three racing syndicates in North America, along with Team Valor and Dogwood Stable. Finley, whose office is in Mt. Laurel, N.J., said West Point has 53 horses owned in partnerships by nearly 300 clients.
Bejarano and Blanc now in deep water
Trainers seeking an accomplished jockey at Keeneland this weekend won't have to look far.
Perennial favorites such as Pat Day, Robby Albarado, and Shane Sellers will be riding here virtually every day of the meet. Cornelio Velasquez and Mark Guidry are back from New York. And jockeys such as Pat Valenzuela, John Velazquez, Edgar Prado, Kent Desormeaux, David Flores, Corey Nakatani, and Richard Migliore are scheduled to ride at least one day on opening weekend.
That wouldn't seem to leave much for the rest, but at least two jockeys enter the meet with momentum: Rafael Bejarano and Brice Blanc.
Bejarano, 21, won the latest riding titles at Ellis Park and Turfway Park and has made a strong impression on established trainers such as John T. Ward Jr.
"He's got a great sense of awareness and pace," said Ward. "He seems to know where everybody is and where they're going. He's a lot like Pat Day, Jerry Bailey, and Gary Stevens. I really believe he has great things ahead of him."
Blanc, who moved from California to Kentucky nearly a year ago, was the leading rider at the recent Kentucky Downs meet and won turf stakes last weekend at Pimlico for trainer Christophe Clement and Woodbine for Michael Dickinson. A native of France, Blanc long has been noted as being particularly adept in grass races.
Probables for weekend stakes
As of Wednesday afternoon, the fields for the four Breeders' Cup preps to be run here Saturday and Sunday were shaping up this way:
Shadwell Turf Mile (Saturday): Della Francesca, Honor in War, Inesperado, Perfect Soul, Soaring Free, Stage Call, Touch of the Blues, and Trademark.
Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (Saturday): Danieltown, Desert Patrol, Distressed Debt, Eurosilver, Limehouse, Mass Media, The Cliff's Edge, Tiger Hunt, Value Plus, Victory Light, and War Image.
Overbrook Spinster (Sunday): Desert Gold, Miss Linda, Printemps, Take Charge Lady, and You.
WinStar Galaxy (Sunday): Apasionata Sonata, Approach, Bien Nicole, Madeira Mist, New Economy, Volga, and Wonder Again.
* A first prize of $3,000 and two berths in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Contest are at stake this meet in the Keeneland Online Handicapping Challenge. For more information, log on to www.keeneland.com.
* Two local radio shows focusing on Keeneland will be broadcast throughout the meet. "Live on the Backstretch," a 15-minute show hosted by Pete Kules, airs each day at 9:50 a.m. on WLXG (1300-AM). On Saturdays, the show begins at 8 a.m. A new one-hour show, "Today in Thoroughbred Racing," hosted by Jude Feld, a former Southern California trainer, will air each Saturday at 10 a.m. on WXRA (1580-AM).