Keeneland’s Fall Meet is Here And Loaded With Breeders’ Cup Preps
First weekend stacked with stakes races, a Sunday rematch, Breeders’ Cup talent, and some early Kentucky Derby points
By Augusta Hosmer
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Fall is finally in the air (for how long? Who knows?), the leaves are turning golden, the Road to the Kentucky Derby 2020 has begun and race fans have started donning purple for the upcoming Breeders’ Cup. Best of all, Keeneland has opened for its annual fall season.
Opening weekend – Fall Stars Weekend — boasts a total of nine graded stakes races, including the Woodford Stakes (GII), First Lady Stakes (GIT), Shadwell Turf Mile (GIT) and the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (GI), which promises ten points to the winner on the Road to the Kentucky Derby 2020. Additionally, Keeneland’s fall opening also is overflowing with Breeders’ Cup opportunities with a whopping nine “Win & You’re In” Challenge races.
Woodford Also Carries Breeders’ Cup Hopes
The Woodford Stakes, presented by Keeneland Select, will be the first graded stakes run on Saturday and has drawn several entries of note. The morning-line favorite, Imprimis, has won over the turf at Keeneland before in the Shakertown Stakes (GIIT) back in the Spring and trainer Joe Orseno’s goal for the colt is the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (GIT), though the race isn’t a Breeders’ Cup Challenge event. Imprimis proved he had the grit to win despite stumbling at the start of the Shakertown and rallying to post the victory over defending champion Bound For Nowhere. Orseno has not had a Breeder’s Cup starter since 2002 but has saddled two Breeders’ Cup winners and has high hopes for the bay son of Broken Vow.
Also running is Extravagant Kid, who was third in the Woodford last year and has won two of his last three starts; and Leinster, who won the Troy Stakes (GIIIT) at Saratoga in August and whose connections indicate they are also pointing toward the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
Fast Fillies And Mares On Display in Thoroughbred Club Of America
The first “Win & You’re In” event on Saturday is the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes, a challenge race for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI). It is immediately followed by the First Lady Stakes (GIT), the winner earning a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (GIT) and then the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, which secures a spot in the gate for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). The featured Shadwell Turf Mile rounds out the stakes action on the day.
Particularly of interest in the six-furlong Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes is multiple graded stakes-placed Chalon, who finished second in the race last year and then was second in the Breeders’ Cup. Chalon has not run any worse than second in any of her races over the past two years, and this consistency has made her morning line favorite.
One would be remiss not to mention multiple graded stakes-winning filly Mia Mischief, however, who won the Humana Distaff Stakes (GI) at Churchill back in May and also broke her maiden at Keeneland. California-bred shipper Spiced Perfection is also of interest with two grade one victories in the past year. She placed fourth against Mia Mischief in the Humana Distaff and is back for a rematch.
First Lady Field Full Of Talent
There is a lot of talent in the 1 1/8-mile First Lady as well, as everyone anticipates the return of 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (GIT) champion Rushing Fall. She packs a punch with a remarkable seven graded stakes wins, including four at
Keeneland, and looks ready to make it five. She may face some competition from the likes of former claimer Vasilika, however, who can match her record with eight graded stakes wins and equally strong Beyer figures.
However, this will be Vasilika’s first time out of California since February of 2018 and her first time at Keeneland so it will be interesting to see how she responds to the change. Another threat may come from the British horse Uni, who defeated Vasilika in the 2018 Matriarch Stakes (G1T) at Del Mar and has won four grade one races as well. It’s certainly shaping up to be an exciting race.
Juveniles Offered Breeders’ Cup Berth, Derby Points
Team Valor International and WinStar Farm’s Gouverneur Morris, a nine-length winner of his debut at Saratoga on September 2, drew the far outside and the honor of the 5-2 morning line favorite in the 10-runner Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, which will be run for the 106th time this year.
The 1 1/16-mile main track race is a “Win and You’re In” event for the $2 million TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) and also offers points toward next year’s Kentucky Derby on a 10-4-2-1 basis to the top-four finishers.
Gouverneur Morris is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has saddled two previous winners of this race, and will be ridden by Javier Castellano. The $600,000 son of Constitution will and break from the far outside, which means he’ll no doubt be hustled out of the gate in order to gain a forward position for the early going. His only win came over the slop and the main Keeneland track is expected to be fast and dry on Saturday.
Anderson Stables’ By Your Side captured his first two starts, including a three-length score in the Sanford Sakes (GII) at Saratoga. The Eddie Kenneally trainee was most recently fifth in the slop in the Hopeful (GI) and returns to a dry surface here. Corey Lanarie rides.
The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Ajaweed faces winners for the first time after breaking his maiden by 4 1/3 lengths in his debut nearly a month ago; and Tap It To Win makes his stakes debut after a maiden romp at Saratoga six weeks ago.
International Field Of Veterans Line Up For Shadwell Turf Mile
Next Shares and Suedois, the last two winners of the Shadwell Turf Mile, are back this year, each looking to return to form and secure their spot on Racing’s Championship Day. Suedois, who has a record of 10-2-1-2 at this one-mile distance shipped into Keeneland from England on Sunday and carries one win in eight starts this year. The 8-year-old David O’Meara-trained son of Le Havre will be ridden by regular jockey Jamie Spencer.
Iavarone, McClanahan, Baltas, Taylor, Dunn and Robertshaw’s Next Shares drew the rail to defend his title in this race, which he used as a springboard to a 13th-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup. The gelded son of Archarcharch, who also won last year’s Old Friends Stakes at Kentucky Downs, has won just one race from five starts in 2019 in the San Gabriel Stakes (GIIT) at Santa Anita back in January. Corey Lanerie will ride the Richard Baltas trainee, who was seventh in the Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs last out.
The lightly raced and undefeated Valid Point, who won the Secretariat Stakes (GIT) at Arlington Park last out, is the lukewarm 5-1 favorite for his fourth career start. Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown trains the son of Scat Daddy for e Five Racing and Michael Ryan and will again be ridden by jockey Javier Castellano.
Irish champion trainer Aidan O’Brien sends Secretariat runner-up Van Beethoven back stateside in an attempt to turn the tables on Valid Point. He is another son of Scat Daddy who has shown potential but has been unable to return to the winner’s circle in 16 months. Wayne Lordon will be aboard for Coolmore.
Sunday’s Spinster Short On Numbers, Long On Talent
Perhaps the most anticipated, talent-packed race of the weekend is the $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (G1) on Sunday, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race for the Longines Distaff (GIT). Of the field of five fillies and mares entered, four are grade one winners and all have the potential to pull out a win. Most eyes are on the two superstars — Elate and Dunbar Road — and racegoers are hoping for an epic battle. Dunbar Road brings to the table four wins and a second in her five-start career, including a win in the Alabama Stakes (GI) in mid-August, and earnings of nearly $600,000.
Elate returns to Keeneland looking for vengeance and with a record to back her up. Though she was pulled up in her first race at Keeneland back in 2017, she has since set her division on fire with five graded stakes wins including the Fleur de Lis (GII), for which she already earned herself a spot in the Breeders’ Cup, and earnings of over $2 million. Not to be ignored, however, is Argentine-bred Blue Prize, who ran third in the Spinster in 2018 before winning it last year. She is coming off a win in the listed Summer Colony Stakes at Saratoga after three placings in graded stakes in 2019. This small, stacked field is a racing fan’s dream and nearly everyone at Keeneland has echoed the same sentiment: we can’t wait for Sunday.
What a weekend!