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Fall in the bluegrass generally marks a time of return to certain “normalcies” after a summer break from the norm. In most years it marks the return to school for students, a return to the gridiron for football players, a return to the pitch for soccer players, a return to the trails for cross country runners, a return to Kroger Field for Kentucky fans, the return of oxygen to the air, the return to “local standard time,” and the return of racing to Keeneland.
While we will still enjoy most of these autumn arrivals they will all look and feel a bit different in this most abnormal year. Football stadiums are mostly empty — as are the parking lots that surround them. Attendance at nearly all sporting events is extremely limited. In what should have been a tremendously exciting fall meet, access to the hallowed grounds of Keeneland will be severely restricted too. Track officials announced in mid-September — in what was a clear mandate from the governor — that both the fall meet and the Breeders’ Cup would be held without fans.
Despite that huge financial blow to both Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup, racing returns to central Kentucky this weekend for the second time in three months, following a five-day meet held in July that served primarily as an opportunity to reschedule traditional spring meet stakes races. Opening weekend serves up a plethora of Breeders’ Cup prep races, with nine “Win and You’re In” stakes scheduled from Friday through Sunday. Friday’s card features the Grade 2 Phoenix, an automatic qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on November 7th, and the Grade 1 Alcibiades, which gives the winner a spot in the starting gate for the Juvenile Fillies on November 6th. Let’s have a look at those, along with the other two races comprising the late pick 4 with a guaranteed pool of $200,000.
RACE 7 — $71,000 Allowance
Eight fillies make up this first level allowance going nine furlongs on the Keeneland lawn. Luck Money took a major step forward on the Beyer scale when rounding out the trifecta behind the stakes winning duo of Micheline and Harvey’s Lil Goil in the Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs. A repeat of that performance would likely place her in the winner’s circle this time around. I Hear You seems to have the most upside of the group. Trained by the capable Mike Stidham, the daughter of Street Sense just missed at this same distance in her first try against winners in Louisville last month. Any further improvement in just her fourth lifetime start should have her vying for victory against this group.
RACE 8 — Grade 2 Phoenix
A course and distance prep for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 5 weeks time, this opening day co-feature drew a solid field of 12. Midnight Sands is very interesting making his second start for Brendan Walsh after competing primarily in the UAE the last two years. The son of Speightstown held on for 3rd going an extra furlong in a saucy optional claiming contest on the Derby day card, and he blitzed a half mile in :46 and 1 over that same surface in preparation for this a week ago. Bettors should respect the confident move from Walsh against a decent group that doesn’t include any world beaters. Absolutely Aiden, No Parole, Copper Town and Edgemont Road will insure an honest pace for late runners Diamond Oops, Lexitonian, and Echo Town.
RACE 9 — Grade 1 Alcibiades
A field of 7 juvenile fillies shares top billing on the opening day card – with most of them trying two turns for the first time. Simply Ravishing handled this distance with aplomb in her debut, albeit on the Saratoga turf, and then followed up her maiden victory with a six length conquest of stakes foes in an off-the-turf edition of the P. G. Johnson. Impressive as it was, that effort came against only 3 rivals due to the unexpected surface switch, so the New York-bred daughter of Laoban still has plenty to prove. That said, her tactical speed and prior success around a second bend should provide her backers with confidence that might be lacking in other contenders.
The highly regarded Thoughtfully enters as the only graded stakes winner in the field, having made scant work of 4 others in a 5 length trouncing of the Adirondack. Untested in two open length victories, the Steve Asmussen trainee is bred to relish added ground and has a style that generally lends itself to success over route distances. Travel Column won quite professionally on debut for Brad Cox on the Oaks undercard. Her pedigree also suggests this distance shouldn’t be an issue, and Cox knows exactly how to handle a precocious filly aiming for top level credentials.
Crazy Beautiful had a rough trip in the Pocahontas at Churchill and still managed the runner-up spot. Her experience in larger, stakes quality fields should help her here. Gramercy is an interesting option for those searching for more value. She showed an impressive turn of foot to make up 10 lengths and win going away over the synthetic track at Arlington. She has to answer more questions here than most, including why she’s been in Chicago as opposed to being placed with the upper crust of the Godolphin team in a higher profile locale, but there’s no reason not to give her a fair shot based on that debut.
RACE 10 – a $70,000 maiden special weight for two-year olds
As the very rare winner (of a non-wagering event) in a maiden race, Royal Prince will likely end up the public’s choice in the finale. In addition to having crossed the wire first against 9 others at Kentucky Downs, he’s now beaten the re-opposing Shaldag on two occasions. Conquest Rainycity also merits respect hailing from a top notch turf barn on the heels of a nip and tuck runner-up effort at Kentucky Downs. Narmer will certainly take his share of money based on connections and pedigree. He’s been training very well for this debut, but at Monmouth as opposed to Belmont or Saratoga with most of Chad Brown’s A-team, which gives some reason for pause.
The Pick 4 Play
7th – I Hear You and Luck Money
8th – Diamond Oops, Echo Town, Lexitonian, Edgemont Road, and Midnight Sands
9th – Thoughtfully, Travel Column, Crazy Beautiful, Gramercy, and Simply Ravishing
10th – Royal Prince and Conquest Rainycity
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