The Breeders' Cup pre-entries may be out, but don't get too far ahead of yourself: Keeneland is still going on, after all, and Picks and Ponderings is hitting the road to Lexington.
The Keeneland fall meet draws to a close on Saturday, and that card features the final graded stakes race of the meet: the Fayette Stakes. We preview that race here, and NN will have live coverage and notes for the race on our Twitter account (@picksponderings) Saturday afternoon.
As with many of Keeneland's races, the Fayette takes its name from the local geography. Keeneland is in Lexington: the county seat of Fayette County, Kentucky. Inaugurated in 1959 as a nine-furlong race on the main track, the Fayette shortened up to a mile and a sixteenth in 1962, then stretched back out to nine furlongs in 1979. It has been run on dirt for most of its history, though the Fayette was run on grass in 1985, and on Polytrack during Keeneland's synthetic track run (2006-2013).
The highest-profile Fayette Stakes winner in recent times made most of his reputation neither on dirt nor at nine panels: two-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner Wise Dan won the Fayette in 2011. Wise Dan's dam, the Illinois-bred mare Lisa Danielle, produced two Fayette winners: Wise Dan's older brother Successful Dan annexed this race in 2010 for owner Morton Fink and trainer Charlie LoPresti as well.
Lisa Danielle was not the only Illinois-bred connection to the Fayette. Longtime Chicago circuit trainer Harvey Vanier won the 1979 edition of the Fayette with Illinois-bred Architect, a three-year-old who had won the Hawthorne Derby in his previous start. Trainer Louis Goldfine also won the Fayette with an Illinois-bred: Harham's Sizzler won in 1986, at age seven.
Wise Dan wins the 2011 Fayette Stakes, four lengths clear of Illinois-bred Ioya Bigtime.
Morning lines were unavailable at original publish time.
Keeneland - Saturday, October 29
Race 9: Hagyard Fayette Stakes (GII), three-year-olds and up, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 5:30pm EDT
This year's Fayette Stakes field, eight horses vying for a $200,000 purse, does not contain an Illinois-bred entry. But, it features a face familiar to anyone who followed the Arlington meet: KASAQUI, winner of this year's Arlington Handicap (GIII), and second in the Arlington Million (GI). After a fifth-place finish behind Miss Temple City in the Shadwell Turf Mile (GI), he steps back in class and returns to dirt for the first time since his days running in Argentina. KASAQUI's running style should suit the race well, with a few in this field bringing front-end gas. If KASAQUI can translate his excellent recent form back to the dirt, he could win this, and could open up a host of options for trainer Ignacio Correas IV going forward.
Even given KASAQUI's class, which is as good as anyone's here, there is one horse this space likes even more: DIVINING ROD.
DIVINING ROD could not look more well-meant here. He comes to this start third off the lay, and his connections (owner Lael Stables and trainer Arnaud Delacour) have brought him back deliberately. He cleared his N2X at Parx in his first start back, then cleared N3X last out. Now Delacour -- a 29% winner third off the lay -- brings DIVINING ROD back into graded stakes company. Everything about him fits here: his stalking style, his speeds, and the fact that his only previous start over the Keeneland dirt resulted in a win in the Lexington Stakes (GIII) last year. Though this will be DIVINING ROD's first try going nine furlongs, he has good form going eight and a half, and got a share underneath American Pharoah last year in the one and three-sixteenths mile Preakness. Finally, rider Florent Geroux gets the call. Though Geroux has never ridden DIVINING ROD before, he has a 17% win rate on the Keeneland meet, and has been consistently strong in graded stakes this year.
IRON FIST comes into the Fayette third off a long lay, like DIVINING ROD. His allowance try at Saratoga was a dud, but he showed the requisite improvement from first off the lay to second off. In that second start back, he finished second in the Ack Ack (GIII) behind Tom's Ready. Quite importantly, that start had him rallying from off the pace, moreso than any of his more forward efforts that ranked among his best last year. That ability should serve IRON FIST well given the presence of speedy sorts like MR. Z and NOBLE BIRD. IRON FIST also has some form at nine furlongs, with a second-place finish in the Pennsylvania Derby (GII) last year, as well as a third behind Dortmund in the Native Diver (GIII) last November. In short? Another step forward from last out makes IRON FIST a contender here.
A note about the aforementioned NOBLE BIRD. Yes, at his best, he makes a lot of sense here. But, he stands to be a short price, and is not the most consistent horse. Particularly with MR. Z so likely to be a gadfly up front, this space advocates standing against NOBLE BIRD at a short price.
#8 DIVINING ROD
#7 IRON FIST
Longshot: #5 CHOCOPOLOGIE gets a class test here. The Louisiana-bred comes in from a win in the Governor's Cup at Remington last out. This field is tougher, but that proved that CHOCOPOLOGIE can be competitive speed-wise with what he faces today, and showed he could get the nine-furlong distance well. On pace, CHOCOPOLOGIE can easily sit off the pace. And, he has been consistent through his short career. Though the four-tear-old has only seen the starter ten times, he has five wins and five more in-the-money finishes to show for it, including a second-place effort in his only graded try (last year's Grade II Super Derby). CHOCOPOLOGIE's dependability, combined with the fact that he can stay the trip, makes him attractive at a price.