News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.
KEENELAND FALL MEETING GETS UNDERWAY TOMORROW
Grade III winners Wonderlandbynight and Wickedly Perfect headline a field of eight 2-year-old fillies for the 59th running of the Grade I, $400,000 Darley Alcibiades at 1 1/16 miles on the main track Friday as Keeneland opens its 17-day fall meeting in Lexington. Ky. The Darley Alcibiades is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race, with the winner receiving a berth in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on November 5 at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Michael Reavis, Wonderlandbynight is coming off wins in the Grade III Arlington-Washington Lassie at Arlington Park and the Ontario Debutante at Woodbine. E.T. Baird, who has been aboard Wonderlandbynight in all four of her starts, has the call and will break from position four.
Wickedly Perfect, trained by Doug O’Neill, won her first two starts, including the Grade III Sorrento at Del Mar, before running second as the favorite in the Del Mar’s Grade I Darley Debutante in her most recent start. Rafael Bejarano, who won the 2004 Alcibiades on Runway Model and the 2007 renewal on Country Star, has the call and they will break from position six.
Also on the Friday opening day card at Keeneland is the Grade III, $175,000 Phoenix Stakes, a six-furlong main track sprint that serves as a “Win and You’re In” race for the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Sprint on November 6 at Churchill Downs.
Warrior’s Reward, winner of the Grade I Carter Handicap at Aqueduct this spring will concede from 2-8 pounds to 10 rivals in the 158th running of the Phoenix. Warrior’s Reward enters the Phoenix off a fourth-place finish in the Grade I Forego at Saratoga on September 4. Julien Leparoux, who was aboard for the victory in the Carter, has the call on Warrior’s Reward, who will carry 124 pounds and break from post position five.
Both the Darley Alciabiades and the Phoenix Stakes will air live from 4:30-5:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN2. Host Joe Tessitore, analysts Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey, reporters Jeannine Edwards and Jay Privman, and handicapper Hank Goldberg will be on-site for ESPN at Keeneland.
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge stakes action – and the live TV coverage continue at Keeneland Saturday on Sunday. A live ESPN Classic telecast on Saturday from 4:30-6:00 p.m. (ET) will feature a trio of Grade I events: the Abu Dhabi First Lady Stakes for female grass milers, the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity for top 2-year-old colts, and the Shadwell Turf Mile pitting some of the nation’s best male grass milers.
On Sunday, it’s back to ESPN2 for live coverage from 5:00-6:00 p.m. (ET) of the Grade I Juddmonte Spinster Stakes for fillies and mares on the main track, and the Grade III Bourbon Stakes for 2-year-old grass runners.
TWO-YEAR-OLDS IN THE SPOTLIGHT SATURDAY AT BELMONT
Although Mike Repole is currently the leading owner in New York in 2010, he’ll be the first to tell you there is something missing on his resume: In 26 tries, he has yet to win a graded stakes race.
Saturday, he’s hoping that will change when his Uncle Mo steps onto Belmont Park’s main track for the 140th running of the Grade I, $300,000 Champagne Stakes. The one-mile race at the Elmont, N.Y. oval is not only one of the most prestigious races for 2-year-olds in the nation, but will give the winner an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on November 6 as part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.
Uncle Mo – sports slang for momentum – burst onto the scene on August 28 at Saratoga Race Course when, sent off as the 4-5 favorite in his first start for trainer Todd Pletcher, he galloped to a 14 ¼-length victory that earned him a 102 Beyer Speed Figure, tying him with Three Chimneys Hopeful winner Boys At Tosconova for the highest among 2-year-olds this year.
The performance was enough to make him the heavy 1-4 favorite among the seven juveniles entered in the Champagne as he stretches out from six furlongs in his second start.
“I definitely think he can handle the stretch out, and Todd tells me he thinks he can handle the stretch out,” said Repole, who paid $220,000 at the 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale for the son of Indian Charlie out of the Arch mare Playa Maya. “His gallop out is as impressive as his works … just to watch him run alongside another horse and then gallop out a furlong or two afterwards and go up by 10 or 15 lengths is pretty exciting.”
John Velazquez is back aboard Uncle Mo, who drew post position 3.
Also featured on the Saturday Belmont card is another Breeders’ Cup Challenge event, the Grade I, $300,000 Frizette Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Todd Pletcher, who won last year’s Grade I Frizette with Devil May Care, may not have a dominant favorite in the Frizette like he does with Uncle Mo in the Champagne. Instead, he will try to blitz the Frizette competition with numbers, saddling four of the one-mile race’s nine starters. will have four capable starters on Saturday in this year’s edition.
Pletcher’s diverse quartet is led by R Heat Lightning, who rallied from eighth to win the seven-furlong, Spinaway at Saratoga on September 5 last time out. John Velazquez will have the mount.
“She’ll probably be placed in midpack,” said Pletcher, who also won the race in 2005 with Adieu. “She has enough tactical speed that she can be close, but she can also come from off the pace.”
Also exiting the Spinaway is Valiant Passion, who finished third, defeated 6 ½ lengths, as the 2-1 favorite. Prior to the race, the daughter of Lion Heart had been acquired privately by Team Valor and was transferred to Pletcher off a 9 ¼-length score for previous trainer Ralph Nicks at Saratoga on August 12.
“We lost a little bit of training between her maiden race and the Spinaway as we were able to get just one breeze into her,” said Pletcher. “I think she has tactical speed and should be in a good position, and we expect an improved effort.”
Valiant Passion, installed at 8-1 on the morning line, drew the outside in the field of nine and will be ridden by Jose Lezcano.
Maple Forest and Tap for Luck round out the Pletcher foursome.
The biggest threat to the all-out Pletcher assault may come from California shipper A Z Warrior, second in the Sorrento at Del Mar on August 6 and fifth in the Darley Debutante at that venue on September 4 for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Alan Garcia has picked up the mount aboard the Zayat Stables representative, who will be trying conventional dirt for the first time when she leaves from post five as the 4-1 morning-line second choice.