2015 Fall Stars Friday Preview: Alcibiades Stakes and Phoenix Stakes

Once again, the fall meet at Keeneland gets underway with Fall Stars weekend: a series of nine graded stakes races over the first three days of the meet that attract top horses in each division.  Fall Stars always has Breeders’ Cup implications, due to its timing, but this year those implications loom particularly large.  Not only are seven of the nine Fall Stars races Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In races, but all nine are local preps to the Breeders’ Cup four weeks later.

Both of Friday’s graded races have places in the Breeders’ Cup at stake.  The Alcibiades Stakes (GI), for two-year-old dirt route fillies, offers a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) to the winner.  The Phoenix Stakes (GIII) offers the victor a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Fall Stars continues through the weekend, and Picks and Ponderings will be there with previews of the five graded stakes on Saturday, as well as the two graded stakes on Sunday.  Picks and Ponderings also takes a brief jaunt to Belmont on Saturday to check in with the handicap division in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI).

Free live streams of these races, just as all races at Keeneland, run both on the Keeneland website as well as on the Horse Races Now mobile app.

All races in this preview are scheduled for Friday, October 2 at Keeneland.  Morning lines were not available at original publish time.  Edited September 30 to add morning lines.

Race 8: Phoenix Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 4:57pm 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 163nd running of the Phoenix.  Previously part of the spring meet, it was moved to the October meet in 1989.  The winner of most note locally is also the most recent winner.  Illinois-bred WORK ALL WEEK made his first graded stakes try in the 2014 Phoenix Stakes.  He won that, won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint next out, and can now decorate his stall with an Eclipse Award for Champion Sprinter.  By doing that, he became the first horse to win both the Phoenix and the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.  However, one other horse has won the Phoenix as well as a Breeders’ Cup race: Wise Dan, two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Mile (2012-2013), won the Phoenix in 2010.  WORK ALL WEEK, who returns to the Phoenix this year, will attempt to become the eighth two-time winner of this race, after Bet On Sunshine (1997, 2001), Editorialist (1962, 1963), Honey Jay (1972, 1973), Mount Marcy (1950, 1951), Sea O’Erin (1955, 1956), Sum of the Parts (2012, 2013), and Zuppardo’s Prince (1980, 1981).  Sea O’Erin, in addition to being a two-time winner of the Phoenix, won stakes races at four local tracks: Arlington, Hawthorne, Washington Park, and Lincoln Fields (now Balmoral Park).  He was at one time a stakes namesake at Arlington.  The purse for this year’s edition, once again sponsored by law firm Stoll Keenon Ogden, has been increased to $250,000 (from $200,000 last year); the winner once again receives a Win And You’re In spot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Though Wise Dan found immortality going a mile on the grass, he shows his polytrack sprinting prowess by winning the 2010 Phoenix Stakes.

This race drew a field of twelve, and breaking from that outermost gate will be the defending champion: WORK ALL WEEK.  That post should suit him beautifully.  He drew the far outside (albeit in a field of seven) in last year’s Phoenix, pressed the pace, and took over.  He drew an outside post against a field twice that size (post 13 of 14) in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and did the same thing.  He can muster better early pace than anyone in this field, though it would make the most sense to see him pressing the issue and then taking over, since most of this field does its best on the front end.  FAST ANNA, WACO, A. P. INDIAN, and RUNHAPPY stand to be most likely to be prominent early, but WORK ALL WEEK is fast enough to make all of these horses work for it and then come out on top.  It only helps his case that he has a win over the Keeneland course, and (given the rain in the forecast) a two-for-two mark over off tracks.

If the speed gets too zippy and contentious, ALSVID should be well set to pick up the pieces.  He comes into the Phoenix second off a layoff for trainer Chris Hartman, a 21% winner in that situation.  He moves back to his specialty after an allowance try at five furlongs over the Churchill Downs grass.  Though he missed by a neck in that start, he did finish with some run, and stands to be sharper this time around.  It was a sharp enough performance to suggest that he is the same horse he was this spring.  Though he is by no means a slop monster, he does have a win and a third in three starts over off going, suggesting the rain should not hold ALSVID down.  The class fits, the pace fits, and ALSVID has a shot to upset WORK ALL WEEK once again.

The elephant in the room is King’s Bishop winner RUNHAPPY.  Off that win last out, he is likely to take more money than he did at the Spa; the question is whether he will be worth considering in spite of that.  This space thinks so.  The bottom line is that RUNHAPPY is fast, very fast, and cutting back from seven furlongs to six.  The wet going could favour speed, and RUNHAPPY is the only one in the field who has the raw speed to rival WORK ALL WEEK on his game.  He also has a win over off going at Indiana.  An outside post would be better, but he has winnowed his way out from inside draws twice before.  One of those races was that viral maiden win of his last December at Turfway, when he was well off the pace in the earliest going, and then rolled past the field as if they were standing still.  Of course, this set is tougher than what RUNHAPPY faced in that maiden victory, but it does to show his ability to stay engaged even if he’s not on the early lead — a great quality for a speed horse to have.  All of this combines to suggest that RUNHAPPY is for real.


#12 WORK ALL WEEK (2/1)

#8 ALSVID (15/1)

#1 RUNHAPPY (9/5)

Longshot:  #3 BARBADOS (15/1) tried a turf mile at Canterbury last out, but gets back to his best game here: sprinting on the dirt.  He is a perfect two-for-two going six furlongs on the main.  Though he has run his gaudiest figures out at Gulfstream, he has proven already that he is not a Gulfstream Horse.  Last October, he broke his maiden — going six furlongs over the Keeneland slop.  He returns to Keeneland today for the first time since that maiden win, and the rain in the forecast should not hurt his case at all.  Furthermore, the pace scenario should also help.  With the field as speed-loaded as it is, the fact that BARBADOS always sits a couple of lengths off should keep him well able to run on late, picking off the horses who got used up in the pace battle.  BARBADOS looks well set at a square price.

Race 9: Alcibiades Stakes (GI), two-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:30pm EDT

This race takes its name from Alcibiades — not the Athenian statesman, but the 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 both 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 64th edition 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 has placed second in the last two editions of the Beverly D (GI) at Arlington, won the Alcibiades in 2011.  Moccasin, who won this race in 1965, won the Phoenix Stakes against males two years later.  Among winners of the Alcibiades, three have gone on to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies: Eliza (1992), Countess Diana (1997), Silverbulletday (1998).  The winner of this year’s Alcibiades, sponsored by Darley, 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.  In addition, the Alcibiades remains a Road to the Kentucky Oaks race, with 10, 4, 2, and 1 Kentucky Oaks points awarded to the top four finishers.

Stephanie’s Kitten makes her trademark late rally to win the 2011 Alcibiades, going away.

Among the eleven fillies in this year’s Alcibiades, two have won graded stakes so far: JUST WICKED and DOTHRAKI QUEEN.  JUST WICKED disappointed last out, but still stands to take enough money on connections and the promise of her wins at Saratoga to suggest she will be well underlaid.  Sure, if she finds her Adirondack (GII) form going two turns at Keeneland, she would be hard to beat.  Still, that’s a hard “if” to take at a short price, after such a flat first route outing.  DOTHRAKI QUEEN stakes a bit better claim to some consideration, given that she closed well into a pace that was hardly blazing when she won the Pocahontas, but there are enough more interesting horses at prices to think she will be underlaid, and look elsewhere.

LITTLE CHERIE appeals strongly here.  She stretches to a route for the first time, something that should suit her, being a daughter of Pleasantly Perfect out of a mare whose only other foal to race won at two turns.  Though she finished fourth in her only stakes try, that came with some trip trouble out at Mountaineer, a track that can be a bit love-it-or-hate-it anyway.  She took a step forward next out, in an allowance at Indiana Grand, stalking the pace and then well taking command down the stretch.  That ability to stalk relatively close to the pace should be helpful, since the odds look good that there will not be a ton of early pace unless some of these babies change their styles.  And, even if that happens (always a risk in a two-year-old race, particularly with so many runners stretching from sprints), LITTLE CHERIE has shown no impetus to get hooked in on the front.  The rain in the forecast could help her, too — she broke her maiden in April, over good dirt at Keeneland.

LOOKOUT SISTER is another with upside on the stretch out.  The Graham Motion trainee has raced three times so far, with two wins under her belt, both having come at five and a half panels at Delaware.  She showed some variation in pace between her two wins.  She rallied from midpack in her maiden win, but pressed a contentious pace last out in restricted stakes company.  She toyed with the field there, using only as much energy as she needed and then drawing off late.  The stretch to the route should help LOOKOUT SISTER, as she is by Giant’s Causeway out of a Mt. Livermore mare, and she switches to rider John Velazquez: a 26% winner at route distances.  All signs point to improvement for her.  In the third slot, it was tight between Pocahontas winner DOTHRAKI QUEEN and Pocahontas second DREAM DANCE.  Both have some upside here: they both gained ground late into a less-than-snappy pace in the Pocahontas, and have their first route race under their girth thanks to that start.  Both also are by 16% mud studs: DREAM DANCE is by Afleet Alex; DOTHRAKI QUEEN is out of Pure Prize.  The off-track propensity on the bottom is slightly better for DREAM DANCE, though.  DREAM DANCE also has room to improve after running into trouble down the stretch in the Pocahontas.  In that race, even after being bumped badly enough for Bold Quality to be disqualified, she kept trying to make a run.  She could improve here, for a longer price than DOTHRAKI QUEEN will be, with a cleaner trip.




#7 DREAM DANCE (12/1)

Longshot:  Dale Romans has a pair in here.  Though MA CAN DO IT has a certain level of appeal on the “Romans B” factor alone, she is a maiden who has not shown a ton in the way of early speed.  Neither factor helps her here.  The Romans A, #3 PUT DA BLAME ON ME (15/1), should still go off at plenty good odds, and has several threads of upside.  Though she finished a disappointing seventh last out in the Pocahontas, she has enough upside to make her worth a look here.  That got a route race under her belt, and Dale Romans wins a quarter of the time (with a positive ROI) with second-time route runners.  Her stalking style should keep the pace in her sights, and not leave her too much to do in the late stages.  Though she will probably have to take a step forward, in terms of speed figures, to win this, the step she needs to contend with the set is not unreasonable to ask.  Finally, with the rain in the forecast through the week (including on race day), the fact that both sire Blame and damsire Roman Ruler produce 17% winners over off-going should help her case.


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