Updated on 09/18/2011 1:12AM

X Star's connections like Keeneland surface as prepping ground


When Keeneland announced that it would revamp its main track with a Polytrack surface, there was some speculation that the change could potentially lessen the quality of the stakes races there, particularly those that serve as preps to the Breeders’ Cup or the Kentucky Derby. The thinking went that horsemen might prefer to run their top horses on conventional dirt tracks right before some of the most important races of their careers.

So much for that concern. Friday’s opening-day Grade 2 Alcibiades, a key prep for the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, drew a record-sized field of 14, including some of the top-ranked 2-year-olds fillies in the country, such as Untouched Talent, Appealing Zophie, She’s Included, and X Star.

Larry Jones, who trains X Star, said he and the filly’s owner, James Osborne of B. A. Man Inc., decided to run X Star in the Alcibiades partially because of the opportunity to run over the synthetic Polytrack surface.

He said that although his horses did not win much over Polytrack in Turfway’s fall 2005 meet, when the surface had just been introduced, he found that they came back to run peak races on dirt in their next starts. He called it the “Polytrack-to-dirt” angle, comparing it to the turf-to-dirt switch that some horsemen and handicappers believe sets a horse up to run well.

Although racing over Polytrack may benefit the Breeders’ Cup prospects of the lightly raced X Star, who ran third behind Appealing Zophie in the Grade 1 Spinaway Sept. 3 after winning her maiden at Delaware Park July 15, racing over a new Keeneland surface would appear to lessen her chances in the Alcibiades.

X Star drew post 1 for the Alcibiades, which in the old days at Keeneland, a track that had a clear bias toward inside speed, would have almost translated into a head start.

“I’m a half-year or a year too late,” Jones quipped.

Beyond X Star, there are at least a half-dozen other fillies who could rate as Breeders’ Cup contenders with strong showings in the 1 1/16-mile race. Appealing Zophie and Cotton Blossom – who finished in front of X Star when they were first and second, respectively, in the Grade 1 Spinaway – are players, as are Untouched Talent and She’s Included, the second- and third-place finishers from the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante.

The Alcibiades is the only graded stakes race for 2-year-old fillies this week following three stakes from last week. In the most prominent of those races, Cash Included won the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes by 4 3/4 lengths over Point Ashley. Both fillies are being aimed for the Breeders’ Cup, where they will be among the favorites.

Also last week, Coy Coyote won the Grade 3 Mazarine Breeders’ Cup at Woodbine and Cohiba Miss took the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies. Cohiba Miss is likely to run in the Breeders’ Cup if she trains well in the coming weeks, trainer Bernie Flint said.