2014 Alcibiades and Phoenix Stakes Preview

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Image courtesy of Keeneland.

The crisp fall wind is in the air, and with that comes the beginning of the October meet at Keeneland.  After running races on the polytrack since 2006, this summer saw Keeneland remove the synthetic surface, and revert to dirt racing on its main track.  Friday's races mark the first on the new dirt track.  Again this year, the season kicks off with Fall Stars Weekend.  This year's Fall Stars features nine graded stakes races - two on Friday, five on Saturday, and two on Sunday -run over the course of three days, seven of which are also Win And You're In races for the Breeders' Cup.  The opening day of the Keeneland meet features two graded stakes, both of which are Breeders' Cup Win And You're In events.  The winner of the Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes (GIII) punches their ticket to the Breeders' Cup Sprint (GI).  The Darley Alcibiades Stakes (GI) provides the winner with a berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI).

The simulcast feed of these races (as well as the entire Keeneland card, every racing day) is available on Keeneland's website as well as the Horse Races NOW mobile app.  Audio coverage and analysis are also available on Horse Racing Radio Network from 4:3opm-5:30pm EDT; that audio is available on Sirius 92, XM 92, or the HRRN website.

Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Updated on October 1 to include morning lines.  Updated on October 3 to reflect the scratch of Pangburn from the Alcibiades.

Race 8: Phoenix Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 4:42pm EDT

The Phoenix Stakes was originally run at the Kentucky Association racetrack in 1830 -- making it the oldest (though not the longest continuously run) stakes race in North America.  The race is named after the Phoenix hotel; that building was torn down in 1981, though Phoenix Park now occupies the spot where the hotel once stood.  The race was last conducted at the Association track in 1930, and first run at Keeneland in 1937.  This year's edition marks the 162nd running of the Phoenix.  Previously part of the spring meet, it was moved to the October meet in 1989.  Notable winners of the Phoenix Stakes include 1891 Kentucky Derby winner Kingman (1891), three-time Met Mile winner Devil Diver (1942), sprint sire Forest Wildcat (1996), and two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan (2010).  This year's edition is a $200,000 race for the older set, and the winner receives a spot in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

As is unsurprising for a sprint, there is a lot of early speed in this race...though, as befits a graded stakes event, most of the speed has shown at least some ability to rate and run well.   Bern Identity had dropped off the face of the earth since attempting the earliest steps on the way to the 2013 Kentucky Derby.  The Bernstein colt resurfaced at Monmouth in the My Frenchman, a turf dash that was washed onto the slop at Monmouth.  He won that race going away, and has come back out for two more sprint stakes on the dirt since then.  He won the Tale of the Cat at Saratoga, and then fought through a duel to take the Dave's Friend at Laurel on September 6.  He has run well over dirt fast or wet, and has taken well to trainer Kelly Breen bringing him back as a focused sprinter.  He had shown aptitude at short distances at two, winning the Sanford (GII) in 2012, but has particularly thrived at age four, with no Derby Trail to force him into route races.  Jockey Paco Lopez, who rode him to his win at the Spa this summer, returns to ride him here.  Work All Week takes his first foray into graded company here, but he seems rather overdue for such a test.  This five-year-old gelding is a perfect eight for eight on the dirt, including a win in the mud two back at Prairie Meadows.  His only two losses at sprint distances have been over the all-weather, behind Sweet Luca in the last two editions of the Addison Cammack Handicap.  Last out, he had to tote 130 pounds to Sweet Luca's 119; this time, Work All Week carries a more manageable 122 on his back.  His speeds this year are strong, and his recent workouts are sharp.  The only possible drawback is the pace: though he is likely the speed of the speed, he will not likely get a completely uncontested lead.  As such, Bern Identity gets the slight nod, as he is a known quantity from a rated position.

The weather, at least at this early point in the week, suggests there will be some rainstorms come Friday.  If the rain holds off, class jumper Mr. Baker stands a good chance of doing well here.  This will be his first attempt in graded stakes company, having run for a $16,000 tag as recently as February.  However, he won two stakes in Florida through the late spring and early summer, and has put up some speeds that are more than respectable for this field since being claimed into the barn of Kirk Ziadie.  However, he does not run quite as well on wetter tracks as he does on the fast dirt.  If the rain that is possible in the forecast comes to fruition, look instead to Rainbow Heir.  This New Jersey-bred. easily dispatched with open company in the Teddy Drone Stakes at Monmouth two back, and has won five of eight starts at this six-furlong distance.  He also put up a very nice workout at Keeneland on September 29, suggesting he will handle the new track well.  He has only run once on off dirt, but that attempt result in a smashing twelve-length victory against New Jersey bred company last out.  This is a tougher field than a state-bred stakes, but he has shown that he can handle off-going.  Rainbow Heir also keeps jockey Angel Serpa.  Serpa has ridden him in his last three starts, all of which have resulted in very clear wins at this six-furlong distance.

Selections:

#2 BERN IDENTITY (4/1)

#8 WORK ALL WEEK (7/2)

weather dependent:  #4 RAINBOW HEIR (3/1) (if it rains), #5 MR. BAKER (6/1) (in dry conditions)

With the rain coming to fruition and the track being sloppy, Rainbow Heir is the third selection.

Longshot: #7 ZEE BROS (20/1) is wheeling back very quickly here.  He went out in the Vosburgh (GI) on Saturday, but broke extremely poorly and had no chance to get the lead.  He is a need-to-lead type, and the blown break blew his chances at getting anywhere in the Vosburgh.  His jockey in that race, Joel Rosario, appeared to understand that and to not ride him too hard once he figured out his mount would not get up front.  Of course, that in itself would not give him a real shot at winning.  However, he is on the class drop here, and likely to be a big price.  If Work All Week does not get things his way on the front end, he is a likely suspect for getting that.  He also gets a strong jockey chance, to Juan Saez.  Saez has never ridden Zee Bros: but is 24% with front-end types, and has been three for his last seven (with a +$3.80 ROI) with trainer D. Wayne Lukas in the last two months.  With bettors likely to spurn Zee Bros on the short wheel-back (despite the fact that he hardly ran a step in the Vosburgh), the price should be right.

Race 9: Alcibiades Stakes (GI), two-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:13pm EDT

This race is named after Alcibiades, a racehorse and broodmare owned by Keeneland co-founder Hal Price Headley.  She won the Kentucky Oaks in 1930.  She also ran well in several Chicago-area races: she won the first running of the Arlington Oaks in 1930, and was third in the Arlington Matron and the Hawthorne Gold Cup that same year.  In the breeding shed she produced Menow (sire of Tom Fool), as well as the mares Sparta, Salaminia, and Lithe.  This year marks the 63rd running of the Alcibiades Stakes.  The race was contested at seven furlongs until 1980, and then stretched to its current 1 1/16 mile distance in 1981.  Stephanie's Kitten, who won the Flower Bowl (GI) at Belmont this past Saturday, won the Alcibiades in 2011.  Moccasin, who won this race in 1965, won the Phoenix Stakes against males two years later.  Other notable winners of the race include Doubledogdare (1955), Silverbulletday (1998), and Take Charge Lady (2001).  The winner of this year's Alcibiades wins the lion's share of a $400,000 purse, as well as a trip to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies through the Win And You're In program.  The Alcibiades is also a Road to the Kentucky Oaks race, with 10, 4, 2, and 1 Kentucky Oaks point(s) available to the top four finishers.

Coming into this race, most of this field is really only proven on the front end.  That is not to say that no one can rate -- given that this is the stage of the season when the cream starts to rise to the top, there is a chance that at least some of these fillies' front-end success occurred because they were just faster and classier than the fields they had encountered up to this point.  Still, given the fact that Fashion Alert, Taylor S, Naval Command, Innovative Idea, Top Decile, and Take Charge Brandi have done their best work to date on the front end (or fighting toughly for it!), the odds are that there will be some quick fractions.  That, combined with the fact that much of the field is stretching to a route for the first time, builds up well for a filly who can come in from off the pace.  Enter the only maiden in the field, Gap Year.  She had only raced once, but had a mess of trouble in that outing at Saratoga.  The mud was not likely the problem, as she has mud prowess on both sire (Bernardini) and dam (Dubai Escapade, by Awesome Again) sides.  However, she broke several lengths slow, and was caught six wide approaching the stretch.  Despite all of that, she still closed to finished third beaten just a neck all told -- and another eight lengths in front of her closest competitor.  The two horses who finished in front of her were the only two in the field who had raced before.  She has been working sharply since, and trainer Kieran McLaughlin wins at 23% with first-time route runners.  Given her breeding, a mile and a sixteenth should be right in her wheelhouse.  She has shown she can come from off, she has shown she can rally back when things go adversely, and she stands a great chance to break her maiden here.  Top Decile has only raced once before, but that debut effort was sharp.  She fought head and head with Ring Knocker early in a six and a half furlong maiden special at the Spa, and separated herself coming down the stretch.  She gets jockey Rosie Napravnik back from that effort.  She is routing for the first time, but trainer Al Stall wins at 21% with first-time route runners.  He also tends to send horses ready to race after short layoffs, a good thing since Top Decile has been on the shelf since her maiden win a month and a half ago.  Though she does not have the best pedigree for a route, two turns is not completely out of the question to think a daughter of Congrats can get two turns, and it seems worth trusting Stall's judgment that this talented filly can get eight and a half panels.  Finally, consider Peace and War.  This is her first race on these shores, and her first race on dirt.  Across the pond she raced three times, once on polytrack and twice on the grass.  She has a win and a second among them, and showed the ability to run well from off the pace.  Her breeding suggests trying dirt to be a worthy endeavour: dam More Oats Please is by Smart Strike, and More Oats Please won on dirt as well as turf.  His sire, War Front, is best known for turf but has also sired stakes winners on the dirt.  The distance should also not pose a problem given that pedigree.  She does add Lasix for the first time here.  Finally, Peace and War retains the services of jockey Julien Leparoux, who has won ten riding titles at Keeneland and has 40 stakes victories at Keeneland to his name.

One horse to take a stand against here is Fashion Alert.  She was hardly tested in her maiden win, and second out took the Schuylerville over Take Charge Brandi.  Since then, Take Charge Brandi has not done much to validate Fashion Alert's form.  She has been on the shelf since that race in July.  Even though she has been working well since then, and Todd Pletcher tends to be no slouch with horses coming in from layoffs...this is still her first route race, and who knows if she has developed?  Might she succeed here, and even win?  Sure.  Still, the price will likely be too short to take the risk.

Selections:

#13 GAP YEAR (8/1)

#9 TOP DECILE (9/2)

#11 PEACE AND WAR (15/1)

Pangburn was originally the second selection, but she scratched the morning of the race.

Longshot:  #4 CALAMITY KATE (8/1) is taking a step up in class here.  Last out she broke her maiden at third asking, in a mile race at Belmont.  She didn't come from far off the pace, but was happy to relax as long as it took the earliest speed to send and fade.  She will likely be near the front, but does not need it.  The race was a marked improvement over her two previous sprinting efforts, and routing may well be where she belongs between that and the fact that she is out of a Tiznow mare.  She has put up a very sharp work at Monmouth since that maiden win, and brings jockey Paco Lopez with her from that maiden win.  Lopez and trainer Kelly Breen have have won 5 of their last 18 starts with a +$1.72 ROI, but been in the money in 11 of those starts.  Breen also means business with his shippers: he wins at 20% of the time, and hits the board 50% of the time.

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