By J.N. Campbell
The fall isn't really, The Fall, until Keeneland arrives. Well, get your steaming pot of burgoo ready, because it's here.
Scheduled for Friday, Oct. 6, the meet's opening day at the Old Keene Farm is upon us and the 10-race card includes a trio of graded stakes which all have Breeders' Cup 'Win and You're In' implications.
Leading off is the GII Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix S. for 3-year-olds and up going six furlongs on the Main Track. Suitors for the GI Breeders' Cup Qatar Racing Sprint include MSW Bango (Congrats) who nabbed the top morning-line at 5-2 with multiple leading rider Tyler Gaffalione in the irons. The 6-year-old is going to have to prove that he can run in graded company and away from his favorite spot at Churchill Downs. Just a few weeks ago, the Greg Foley trainee tied the record for most wins under the Twin Spires.
Opposing him are a number of experienced runners with their share of stakes credentials. Multiple leading trainer Wesley Ward sends MGSP Nakatomi (Firing Line) back to a course that he loves (4-3-0-0). With Irad Ortiz aboard, the tactical 4-year-old chestnut gelding will be a tough customer down the lane. One other entrant of note is the victor from the G1 Golden Shaheen S. on Dubai World Cup Night, Sibelius (Not This Time). The 5-year-old was last seen running seventh in the GI Bing Crosby S. at Del Mar in late July and the Jeremiah O'Dwyer trainee is looking to get back on track here.
“The Phoenix was the plan after the Bing Crosby because we wanted to bring him home and freshen him up and give him plenty of time between starts after all the traveling he has been doing,” O'Dwyer said. “He would have to win the Phoenix pretty impressively for me to consider sending him to the Breeders' Cup, even though that is somewhere we'd love to get to run,” O'Dwyer said.
Shifting over to the Haggin Turf Course, the GII Jessamine S. offers a path to the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Grass routers include Time to Dazzle (Not This Time), who broke her maiden by three lengths at first asking for Mark Casse at Woodbine in mid-September. The gray filly will face to her inside along the rail, Smooth Waves (English Channel), who won at Kentucky Downs by 9 1/4 lengths in what was her fourth maiden try Sept. 10 for trainer Mike Maker. Also not to be missed is Appellate (Constitution), who missed by a head on debut July 23 at Saratoga when she ran second to Wednesday's GII Miss Grillo S. heroine Hard to Justify (Justify). The Todd Pletcher trainee was unlucky upstate once again Sept. 3.
Finally, the Friday feature is the GI Darley Alcibiades S., which pits some top 2-year-olds females against one another as they route for an opportunity to ship to the GI Breeders' Cup NetJets Juvenile Fillies.
Leading the way on many a handicapper's list is the undefeated Brightwork (Outwork) from John Ortiz's shedrow. The WSS Racing-owned filly has rattled off three stakes wins in a row after breaking her maiden first out, which includes the GIII Adirondack S. and GI Spinaway S. this summer at Saratoga. Her tactical ability makes her very dangerous.
Standing in her way is the impressive 8 3/4-length winner of the GIII Pocahontas S. Sept. 16 at Churchill Downs, V V's Dream (Mitole). Named a 'TDN Rising Star' after she debuted a winner back in May, the Ken McPeek trainee will look to avenge her only loss when she was beaten half a length by Brightwork in the Debutante S. at Ellis Park July 2.
“I don't think she will have any trouble going 1 1/16 miles for the first time,” McPeek said about her chances in the Darley Alcibiades. “She seems to be a push-button filly, and I think the added distance will suit her even more.”