2016 Fall Stars: Friday

The fall meet at Keeneland opens this Friday, and the cards are full of classy racing and final tune-ups for the Breeders’ Cup.  Picks and Ponderings will feature selections for the graded stakes races at Keeneland here for Friday, and in separate pieces for Saturday and Sunday.

Friday’s opening day card at Keeneland features a pair of graded stakes races, both of which offer Win and You’re In berths to next month’s Breeders’ Cup.  The Phoenix Stakes, upgraded to a Grade II this year, has marked itself a key prep for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in recent years.  The Alcibiades Stakes (GI) offers its winner a trip to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, as well as a head start on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard.

Free live streams of Friday’s graded stakes races, just as with all races at Keeneland, run both on the Keeneland website as well as on the Horse Races Now mobile app.  Horse Racing Radio Network will also present a live radio broadcast of the Phoenix and the Alcibiades on its website; that broadcast has been scheduled to run from 4:30pm-5:30pm EDT.

Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Updated Wednesday, October 5, 2016 to add morning lines.

Race 8: Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes (GII), three-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 4:57pm EDT

This year’s edition marks the 164th running of the Phoenix.  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.  Previously part of the spring meet, it was moved to the October meet in 1989.  The purse for this year’s edition remains $250,000, the same as last year, and maintains its Win And You’re In status for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.  One thing has changed, however: the race now carries a shiny, new Grade II designation.

Two years ago, the Phoenix was the race in which racing fans nationwide were made to take note of Illinois-bred WORK ALL WEEK.  The 2014 Phoenix Stakes was his graded stakes debut — he won it, won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) next out, and was named the year’s champion sprinter.  By doing that, he became the first horse to win both the Phoenix and the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.  Last year, Runhappy became the second horse to sweep that double.  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.  In addition to Work All Week, Sea O’Erin (1955, 1956) also has local note.  He 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.

Illinois-bred Work All Week makes his graded stakes debut a winning one in the 2014 Phoenix Stakes.

This race goes through A. P. INDIAN.  He is the fastest horse in the race.  He has the versatility to set the early fractions or sit just off them — an important capability with one-way speed CINCO CHARLIE as well as LIMOUSINE LIBERAL in this field.  He keeps Joe Bravo in the irons; Bravo has been aboard A. P. INDIAN for each of his last four starts, all wins.  The one knock on him is that this race was a Plan B: he was originally pointing to the Vosburgh (GI) at Belmont last weekend, but muddy conditions led his connections to scratch him from there, wait a week, and hope for dry dirt at Keeneland.  A. P. INDIAN will get that here, and he hit the board in his only try over fast dirt in Lexington.  Without a compelling option elsewhere, this does not look like the time to oppose A. P. INDIAN.

AMI’S FLATTER tries six furlongs for the first time in his career.  He has not been the most consistent horse this year, but has shown himself to be a solid seven-furlong runner.  Toss the last; it was his only career try over turf, and here he returns not only back to dirt, but to a dirt course over which he won his only start so far, the Commonwealth Stakes (GIII) earlier this year.  AMI’S FLATTER should be able to sit off the speed, and if he can show the same sort of rally going six furlongs that he has shown at seven, he should be contending late.  ALSVID is not a strong win candidate, but his consistency makes him a solid key underneath.  He has hit the board in his last ten starts, including a third-place finish behind Lord Nelson in the Bing Crosby (GI) last out at Del Mar.  Though he has not raced since that July race, trainer Chris Hartman’s charges tend to come back strong off layoffs, and ALSVID has himself shown that ability.  He has been off the board in both career tries on the Keeneland dirt, but both of those came against top-notch company at the end of a long season.  This time around, he has been freshened up a bit, and he should be ready to make better account of himself.


#1 A. P. INDIAN (4/5)

#3 AMI’S FLATTER (9/2)

#4 ALSVID (6/1)

Longshot:  #2 W. B. SMUDGE (12/1) gets a class test here, but his best puts this hard-knocking seven-year-old right in with his foes here.  He can show speed, but can also stalk the pace; expect the latter, with the likes of CINCO CHARLIE and LIMOUSINE LIBERAL in the field.  He has been on the shelf since winning the Senator Robert Byrd Memorial Stakes at Mountaineer on August 6, but like ALSVID he is a consistent runner who has shown the ability to pop right back into form first start off a lay.  If W. B. SMUDGE returns in sharp form, he can snag a spot on the podium at long odds.

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

This year marks the 65th 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.  This race takes its name not from 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.

Stephanie’s Kitten, twice second in the Beverly D (GI) at Arlington and the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare turf last year, 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), and Silverbulletday (1998).

Stephanie’s Kitten, a Grade I mare from ages two through six, wins the 2011 Alcibiades Stakes.

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.  Fourteen fillies entered.  Most are lightly raced: only COLD HEARTED PEARL has started more than three times, and only DADDYS LIL DARLING and DIADURA are stakes winners.

One horse in this field has shown impressive maturity in both of her starts, and this space is going right back to her here: DIADURA.   Both times she has come out to the track, she has encountered trouble, and she had the grit to carve out the trip she needed anyway and just win.  DIADURA also has experience in a large field, shooting through a tiny hole in a field of eleven fillies to win the Arlington-Washington Lassie last time out.  Though this will not likely be a complete pace collapse like the Lassie was, there is still enough of a chance that the likes of SULLY’S DREAM, DANCING RAGS, and COLD HEARTED PEARL will try to make some fireworks with CAROLINE TEST up front.  Both a route and dirt are questions with DIADURA, of course, since both of her previous starts came sprinting over polytrack.  But, two turns should be fine, since both of her half-siblings who have raced won at two turns.  DIADURA has every right to handle dirt as well: she is by Hard Spun out of a stakes winner at two turns on dirt, and comes into the Alcibiades off a five-furlong bullet drill at Keeneland.

BENNER ISLAND also comes to the Alcibiades from the Arlington-Washington Lassie.  She finished second, well behind DIADURA.  But, she has known dirt form, with a debut victory at Indiana Grand.  that came with rider Robby Albarado aboard; Albarado returns here.  BENNER ISLAND also showed, between her maiden win and her second in the Lassie, that she can take a bit closer up to the pace or drop farther back.  This versatility will help her.  It also helps BENNER ISLAND’s case that both of her races came in fields of eleven, giving her a good chance to handle this field of fourteen well.  Finally, she has a good chance to take the stretch out to two turns well, being out of a mare who was a stakes winner at a mile and a sixteenth on the dirt.

CAROLINE TEST also draws interest.  Though there are a few others in the race who have shown speed, none has shown quite as sharp early speed as CAROLINE TEST has.  Should the race become a game of chicken, or the track play well to speed on race day, she get a tactical advantage.  Though she loses rider Florent Geroux to DREAM DANCING, the switch to Jose Ortiz is a positive sign as Ortiz rides speed horses well.  It will be CAROLINE TEST’s first try going two turns, but she is by First Defence out of a mare who won at a mile.  She has a right to handle it.


#11 DIADURA (5/1)

#10 BENNER ISLAND (10/1)


Longshot:  #13 FOR HONOR (15/1) has only raced once, but it was a daylight maiden win going seven panels at Saratoga.  Tracking a few lengths off the early pace, she made a move into the stretch, and edged clear to win by daylight.  She keeps rider Ricardo Santana in the irons.  The company gets tougher here, as FOR HONOR faces winners and more experienced horses.  But, the running style should suit: she can bide her time and pass horses.  If FOR HONOR takes a step forward from that maiden win, she figures here at long odds.


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