2014 Fall Stars Sunday: the Bourbon and the Spinster


Image courtesy of Keeneland.

Keeneland's Fall Stars weekend stars with two graded stakes races on Friday, and reaches its crescendo with five graded stakes (including the Shadwell Turf Mile (GI)) on Saturday.  The opening weekend of the meet draws to a close on Sunday afternoon with two more graded stakes races.  The two-year-old turf runners get their day in the Dixiana Bourbon Stakes (GIII), and then then the older fillies and mares get the chance to go a route on the new dirt course in the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (GI).  Both of these races have Breeders' Cup berths on the line.

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 5:00pm-6:00pm EDT; that audio is available on Sirius 92, XM 92, or the HRRN website. Television coverage of these stakes is slated to air from 5:00pm-6:00pm EDT on NBC Sports.

Selections in the Bourbon Stakes are made turf-only.  Morning line odds were not available at original publish time.  Updated October 5 to add morning line odds, and to reflect the scratch of Conquest Tsunami from the Bourbon.

Race 8: Bourbon Stakes (GIII), two-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 5:08pm EDT

This year marks the 24th running of the Bourbon Stakes, named after a Kentucky county famous for both its Thoroughbred horse farms as well as its namesake libation.  Originally called the Hopemont Stakes, the race has always been carded for a mile and a sixteenth on the grass, though it has twice been washed off the turf.  Last year's, one of the editions that was washed off to polytrack, was won by long shot Poker Player: a Wayne Catalano trainee who debuted at Arlington before breaking his maiden at Kentucky Downs last fall.  The most accomplished winner of the Bourbon Stakes to date has been three-time Eclipse Award winner (and 2009 Arlington Million winner) Gio Ponti, who won the race in 2007.  At stake for this field of nine two-year-olds on Sunday afternoon is a Win And You're In berth to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, as well as the lion's share of a $250,000 purse.

In light of the scratch of Conquest Tsunami, there is not quite as much early speed left in the race. Less Than Perfect remains on the front end, with Lawn Ranger and Thirtysilverpieces likely nearby.  Less Than Perfect looks like the speed of the speed, though the surface is enough question to make him look less than exciting here.  In light of that, a slightly off-pace type looks quite attractive: enter, second-time starter Can't Happen Here.  This Desert Party colt has only raced once, but was able to overcome a slow start and some late bumping to win by a length and a quarter.  He finished ahead of Vision Perfect: who proceeded to win next out, and followed that maiden win up with a second-place finish in the Pilgrim Stakes (GIII) behind Imperia last Sunday.  Can't Happen Here's maiden win was at a mile and a sixteenth, the same distance as the Bourbon.  He runs for the barn of Chad Brown, a solid 29% with runners off of 46-90 day layoffs, and 26% with shippers.  This colt has been working frequently and well over the last month, and showed in his maiden win that he could come in from off the pace.  With the frontrunners in this race, it could set up very well for Can't Happen Here.  Danny Boy, from the Dale Romans barn, is another who has shown some skill coming in from off the pace.  He broke his maiden at first asking, moving in through the far turn to win by three lengths over Lawn Ranger.  Last out he tried dirt, finishing fourth in the Iroquois (GIII) at Churchill Downs.  He was beaten 3 1/2 lengths by Lucky Player, and the other horses who finished in front of him (Bold Conquest and Hashtag Bourbon) are both serious contenders in Saturday's Breeders' Futurity (GI) on dirt.  He wasn't exactly a slouch on dirt, but the return to grass should help Danny Boy.  Pacewise, he should have something to attack late, and eight and a half panels should be no problem for a son of Harlan's Holiday out of an Unbridled's Song mare.  Finally, Lawn Ranger comes in from a maiden win at Kentucky Downs.  That was his second asking, and a clear improvement over his debut second-place behind Danny Boy.  He has posted a bullet work at Churchill since.  Jockey Chris Landeros has the call again; Landeros and trainer Kenny McPeek have been 6 for their last 27, with a slightly positive (+$0.27) ROI, and 16 of those 27 finishes in the money.  He probably won't outgun Less Than Perfect out of the gate, but he took a few furlongs to get to the lead in his maiden win -- that early leader faltering on turf could be his gain before anyone's.  If he takes another step up from his maiden win, it could be hi-yo silver, away to the winner's circle.



#4 DANNY BOY (3/1)

#2 LAWN RANGER (6/1)

Longshot:  #5 THIRTYSILVERPIECES (10/1) will have to show some improvement to beat this field, but he has faced salty enough company along the way to suggest that he has the talent to do so.  First out, he finished a well-beaten sixth at the Spa: but, everyone was well-beaten that day, as the race was Competitive Edge’s coming-out party.  Third in that race was Bayerd, who won next out and then annexed at stakes at Remington last Sunday.  He broke his maiden second out, also in the dirt at the Spa.  Last out he tried turf for the first time, making every call a winning one in a turf mile allowance at Kentucky Downs.  In that race, he held off promising Wayne Catalano trainee Stormy Wayllen to win by a nose.  Since then he has worked twice, including a chance to try his hooves on the Keeneland grass.  Pacewise, with all the speed in here, an ability to rate will help -- and he did just that in his maiden win.  His figures have been improving with each race, and one more reasonable step up will have him right with this field.

Race 9: Spinster Stakes (GI), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 5:45pm EDT

Sunday marks the 59th running of the Spinster Stakes, a nine-furlong, weight-for-age test of filly and mare routers.  It has always been run on the main track; this year it returns to dirt for the first time since 2005.  Though no Eclipse award winners won the Spinster in their title year during the Polytrack era, twenty horses in the history of this race have won it on their way to a championship.  These include horses such as inaugural winner Doubledogdare, two-time winner (and two-time Breeders' Cup Distaff winner) Bayakoa, and 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Azeri.  This race offers a $500,000 purse, and also rewards its winner with a Win And You're In berth to the Breeders' Cup Distaff.  This race is the final Win And You're In for the Distaff.

Last year's winner, Emollient, was trained by Bill Mott for race sponsor Juddmonte Farms.  That same owner-trainer combination is back this year with the clear class of the field, Close Hatches.  This four-year-old First Defence filly is one of the best horses in training in North America.  She is a perfect four-for-four this year, all in graded company.  She has done her best work on or near the lead, and is the only one in this field who excels on the front end.  She has two wins at this nine-furlong distance.  She gets regular rider Joel Rosario, and has been working sharply since her blowout win in the Personal Ensign (GI) last out.  She will be a prohibitive favourite here, and with very good reason.  If she were likely to get any challenge on the front end, it would be an interesting proposition to try to beat her.  However, with the plum pace scenario she is going to get?  Even at a very short price, she remains the top selection.  Don't Tell Sophia won the Locust Grove at Churchill Downs last out, racing for the first time since finishing third behind Close Hatches in the Azeri (GII) back in March.  In that race, she beat Molly Morgan by 2 1/4 lengths in a sweeping last-to-first run.  She usually comes from the back of the pack, but does not always have to do so.  She won the Bayakoa last year from just a couple of lengths off the early pace, proving she does not need to come from the clouds.  That will come in handy here, if she is going to want any chance to catch Close Hatches late.  Finally, there is the globetrotting Shuruq.  This filly is four years old, but trying dirt for the first time.  She is also running on Lasix for the first time.  She has been all class on turf and all-weather.  This year she had been focusing on mile races, and even beat star South African miler Variety Club in the open-company Burj Nahaar (GIII) at Meydan in March.  Though she has run strictly in miles this year, she has succeeded at longer.  Last year, she won the 1 3/16 mile U.A.E. Oaks (GIII) at Meydan by a decisive four lengths, though she did have more pace to attack in that race than she likely will here.  She won less than a month ago in Turkey, but has been at Keeneland long enough to fire a bullet five-furlong work over the track.  That suggests Shuruq has some chance to handle the dirt well come race day.




#4 SHURUQ (5/1)

Longshot:  There is not a whole lot of long shot potential in this race, and the best one can do past those top three is see who could possibly add some value to exotics.  Ria Antonia is putting the blinkers back on, but did not show much early speed in her two previous starts with them.  Despite trainer Tom Amoss's strong record with putting blinkers back on, this filly is probably too slow to do much here.  Molly Morgan is tempting, and would be a clear choice if she were still showing the form she did back in May and June.  However, her last three outings have been quite uninspiring.  In light of that, consider #3 GOT LUCKY (15/1) for the undersides of those exotics.  She is a three-year-old trying older, but she did win a three-and-up allowance at this distance two starts back.  She finished fifth in the Alabama (GI) last out, and cuts back a furlong from that distance.  Jockey Rosie Napravnik has the call; she tends to be strong at Keeneland.  That outing in the Alabama was on August 16, about a month and a half ago, but she has worked four times since and trainer Todd Pletcher hits at 24% off of similar length lays.  Something would have to go very strangely for her to take out Close Hatches, especially since Get Lucky does her best from midpack or closing spots.  However, a good day from her could be enough to garner a minor award.


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