04/27/2006 12:00AM

'Wanderin' all the way in Ben Ali

Pat Lang
Wanderin Boy wins the Ben Ali Stakes by 5 1/4-lengths at Keeneland on Thursday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The king is dead. Long live the king.

Alumni Hall was the king of Keeneland, and the Ben Ali Stakes, having won 4 of 5 at this track, including last year's Ben Ali. But on Thursday, the torch was passed to Wanderin Boy, who remained unbeaten at Keeneland by defeating Alumni Hall and four others in the 76th running of the Grade 3, $150,000 Ben Ali.

On a gorgeous, sunny afternoon in front of 11,084, Wanderin Boy led every step of the way en route to a 5 1/4-length victory over Alumni Hall. Noble Causeway was third, another 3 1/4 lengths back. Cosmonaut was fourth and was followed, in order, by Palladio and It's No Joke, who broke through the gate before the start.

Wanderin Boy ($3.80), the favorite, completed 1 1/8 miles over a fast main track in 1:49.18.

Racing over a track that flattered early speed, Wanderin Boy was hustled to the lead by jockey Javier Castellano, who immediately got Wanderin Boy over to the advantageous rail. Wanderin Boy clicked off quarter-mile fractions of 23.80 seconds, 47.60, 1:11.51, and 1:35.90 to the one-mile mark.

"He's got the speed, but he can run all the way," Castellano said after the race. "It was a small field, not too many horses, and he was the only speed in the race. I wanted to take advantage. Speed is holding well today. The rail is good. As soon as I got to the rail, the race was over.

"That was easy. That kind of horse makes me look good."

The victory was the fifth in nine lifetime starts for Wanderin Boy, who has won each of his three starts at Keeneland. Wanderin Boy, 5, did not begin his career until October 2004, and he has twice been sidelined by cannon bone fractures.

A son of Seeking the Gold, Wanderin Boy was bred and is owned by Arthur Hancock III. His biggest previous victory came in the Mineshaft Handicap in February 2005. He was off from March 2005 until January because of a fracture.

Trainer Nick Zito said Wanderin Boy might make his next start in the Pimlico Special on May 19.

Zito won two races on Thursday's card to give him a two-win lead over Todd Pletcher heading into Friday's closing-day program.

* Peig Sayers, the 1-2 favorite in Thursday's fifth race, fell over backward and landed on her back and head in the paddock just after being saddled. Still, she was allowed to run in the 1 1/16-mile race for maiden 3-year-old fillies. Peig Sayers finished last in the seven-horse field, beaten by 52 3/4 lengths.