Keeneland opens its highly anticipated fall meet Friday with a trio of graded stakes that each provide the winners with a spot in the gate for the Breeders' Cup World Championships to be held in Lexington the first weekend of November.
The highlight of the day will be the GI Darley Alcibiades S., a qualifier for the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Ken McPeek and Brad Cox have taken turns the last few years, each winning two of the last four, and McPeek has the morning-line favorite in last-out GIII Pocahontas S. winner Fun and Feisty (Midshipman).
McPeek also saddles longshot Stellar Lady (Shackleford), who broke her maiden on grass last out at Kentucky Downs Sept. 8. The aforementioned Cox also saddles a grass filly in unbeaten Chop Chop (City of Light), who enters off a win in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies S. Sept. 3.
DJ Stable's Wonder Wheel (Into Mischief) will likely challenge Fun and Feisty for favoritism. Opening her account with a pair of wins including a dominant score in Churchill's Debutante S. in July, the dark bay checked in second in Saratoga's GI Spinaway S. Sept. 4.
Chad Brown sends out one worth a look at a price in Alpha Delta Stables homebred Raging Sea (Curlin). She rallied to victory in her debut going seven panels at Saratoga Aug. 7. Both her running style and her pedigree suggest she will only improve with more distance.
Juvenile grass fillies get their chance to secure a spot in the Breeders' Cup starting gate one race earlier in the GII J.P. Morgan Chase Jessamine S. Chop Chop would have been favored in this event, but now that will likely go to Towhead (Malibu Moon), who came up a nose short of that foe in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies S.
Jonathan Thomas saddles a live on in Augustin Stable's Delight (Mendelssohn). The $400,000 OBSMAR buy earned her diploma at Delaware last out Aug. 27 after a pair of thirds in her first two tries.
G. Watts Humphrey's Bling (American Pharoah) took a huge step forward when switched from dirt to turf in her second start at Ellis Aug. 20, earning her diploma by 3 3/4 lengths.
Also worth a look at what is sure to be a juicy price for bettors is NY-bred Recognize (Bolt d'Oro). Her freshman sire now has two graded winners on turf and her Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott is known for his patience and ability to get horses to peak at the right time. The bay graduated by 5 1/4 lengths at third asking against fellow Empire-breds at Saratoga in Aug. 18 and checked in third after setting the pace in that venue's P.G. Johnson S. Sept. 1.
Rounding out Friday's Breeders' Cup qualifiers is the GII Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix S. for male sprinters. With champion Jackie's Warrior (Maclean's Music) and Cody's Wish (Curlin), who defeated the divisional leader in the GI Forego S., waiting for the first weekend in November, this event lacks star power. However, the horse who may be improving at just the right time is Sibelius (Not This Time), who enters off a pair of strong victories and triple-digit Beyers, including the Lite the Fuse S. at Pimlico Sept. 10, for which he warned a 106 Beyer Speed Figure.
Special Reserve (Midshipman) captured this event last year, but could only manage fourth in the Breeders' Cup. Off the board in his seasonal debut in the DeFrancis Memorial Dash July 16, he wired the Senator Robert C. Byrd Memorial S. in the slop at Mountaineer last out Aug. 6.