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OCTOBER 9, 2009

by Frank Cotolo

Keeneland's 2009 fall meet starts Wednesday and will continue through October 31. As always, the October session features a strong stakes schedule and tough overnight competition among top horses and horsemen. The meet opens with a giant "FallStars Weekend" with $3.2 million offered in nine stakes events (see below for list and some picks).

A lot can happen in a brief meet and handicappers best keep good notes (we will do our best to assist your personal observations with this weekly notebook) and be ready for low- and high-percentage overlays, since Keeneland has been known to produce some powerful playing action in overnights as well as high-profile events. Also, this meet is the last Kentucky-track stop before the Breeders' Cup on November 6 and 7 at Santa Anita. It could prove a launching ground for some winners.

FallStars Weekend preview

The opening-weekend stakes could make Breeders' Cup participants out of horses that win or at least perform well enough to suit their connections, but we'll focus on the opportunity for some good wagering possibilities. See the text at the bottom for details on the stakes.

On opening day, the Phoenix (G3) features CAPT. CANDYMAN CAN (Candy Ride [Arg]), who exits a win (via disqualification) in the King's Bishop S. (G1). He'll be tough if he can duplicate that effort, but it came on dirt and the three-year-old has never started at Keeneland. He was unplaced in his lone previous attempt on a synthetic track at Arlington. Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) runner-up FATAL BULLET (Red Bullet) could compete for favoritism and is a top-quality front runner on synthetic tracks. We give E Z DREAMER (In Excess [Ire]) an upset shot in this sprint.

The Alcibiades (G1) has a dozen going, with SHE BE WILD (Offlee Wild) looking like the possible choice. She is trained by Wayne Catalano, the top money-winning trainer at the recently closed Arlington meet, and is three for three in her career, all of them coming on the Polytrack in Chircago. BEAUTICIAN (Dehere) is trained by Ken McPeek, who has three Alcibiades wins to his credit, and will also attract a lot of money off some classy outings at Saratoga. AMEN HALLELUJAH (Montbrook) could continue to show more off a couple of nice wins and will make her first start for Richard Dutrow, a powerful betting angle. She's bound to go off at decent odds.

Saturday's stakes begin with the Woodford (G3). Top Keeneland jock Julien Leparoux will handle the probable favorite, SILVER TIMBER (Prime Timber). It is hard to look past that one, but MR. NIGHTLINGER (Indian Charlie) will certainly bring solid credentials into the turf sprint.

INFORMED DECISION (Monarchos), again with Leparoux, will take some beating in the Thoroughbred Club of America S. (G2). She seems undaunted by track surfaces and simply loves to run and win. The other competitor of merit, CARLSBAD (Rocky Bar), is a talented sprinter who will offer more value.

The First Lady (G1) on the turf is a you-pick-it if I ever saw one. A strong case could be made for many in this field, and FOREVER TOGETHER (Belong to Me) will take the lion's share of the wagering as the defending champion. We've always liked DIAMONDRELLA's (GB) (Rock of Gibraltar [Ire]) pedigree, and the Angel Penna Jr. runner has been a win machine. We're leaning toward her a little.

Next is the Breeders' Futurity (G1) with a creditable group of juveniles. We think PISCITELLI (Victory Gallop) can overcome the 10 post, and he should be quite a price. an upset The money distributed throughout the contentious 14-horse field, with Catalano's unbeaten DIXIE BAND (Dixie Union) figuring to receive plenty of support along with BACKTALK (Smarty Jones), MAKE MUSIC FOR ME (Bernstein) and AIKENITE (Yes It's True), so we are going to take our shot with Piscitelli.

A six-race win streak by JUSTENUFFHUMOR (Distorted Humor), winner of the Bernard Baruch H. (G2) and Fourstardave H. (G2) in his last two, is on the line in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1). Not that a loss is due, but BATTLE OF HASTINGS (GB) (Royal Applause) could be the one to spoil the streak. The classy three-year-old is two-for-three at a mile, and he'll probably offer a solid price in the wagering.


Some of the keys to the future of successful wagering at Keeneland can come from the most recent meet here in April. The human factors in April will be important in October, and our notebook will once again keep a close look on the percentage side of trainers' productivity.

In April, the top six trainers on our list were not the top money-earners; they were the top win-percentage conditioners. Here is that history in our exclusive list:

Trainer   Starts   Win%
Jonathan Sheppard   9   56
Wesley Ward   19   32
Shug McGaughey   23   26
Rusty Arnold   24   25
Ian Wilkes   20   25
Todd Pletcher   25   20

Sheppard was king of the turf conditioners, having five starters and winning 60 percent of the time. On the Polytrack, he had only four starters but won with two and that is 50 percent no matter how you slice the numbers. Ward went 33 percent with winners on the main track.

Although I rarely put much of the handicapping weight on jockeys, so to speak, you could make note that Leparoux's win rate in April was 26 percent. Though there is nothing extraordinary about the number, keep in mind that his average win price was $11.20. Robby Albarado won at a lesser clip but had an average win price of $18.

Horses for courses

Horses that won during the April meet enjoyed the 1 1/16-mile Polytrack and the 7 1/2-furlong turf course. Can they be as successful if they return? They certainly can and if their trainers are on the hot list above, it could make for an edge in your handicapping. Either way, the following horses won at Keeneland in April 2009, and we'll be following them if they re-appear at Keeneland:

DOBRA (Smoke Glacken) finished a good third at 7-1 before coming back and winning at a $6.20 mutuel, when the price would have been good at 3-2.

LADY SHAKESPEARE (Theatrical [Ire]) likes the Keeneland turf and could return for a three-and-up stakes to remind everyone about it.

MASTER PLAN (Malibu Moon) also found the local green suitable for winning, paying $12.80 in a 1 1/2-mile journey.

RUN FOR SHELTER (Changeintheweather) lost to a 13-1 shot as the 5-2 choice and came back next race to pay $9.40.

VACATION (Dynaformer) failed as a low-priced favorite due to a misstep that took him out of the race and then returned to win and pay $9.20.

FallStars Weekend stakes menu

The racing action kicks off with a 1ST-race post at 2:15 p.m. (EDT) on Friday, and the first of five Grade 1 affairs on the weekend's menu will feature frosh fillies in the $500,000 Alcibiades. Twelve youngsters will navigate the 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack in hopes of securing a trip to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).

The $250,000 Phoenix (G3) for three-year-olds and up will also be offered, and the the six-furlong prep for the Breeders' Cup Sprint is part of the guaranteed $200,000 Pick 4 pool.

On Saturday, three Grade 1s will be offered. First, there's the $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile, a turf jaunt for three-year-olds and up that could have a serious impact upon the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1). Fillies and mares will hit the grass for the one-mile, $400,000 First Lady, which could have an impact upon the Filly & Mare Turf (G1) for the second consecutive year. The triptych of top graded events is completed with the running of the $500,000 Breeders Futurity, and a full field of 14 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) prospects will go 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack.

Oak Tree doesn't offer a graded prep for the Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), so the Thoroughbred Club of America on Saturday's card deserves serious attention. The Woodford, at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf, is a logical preparatory for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. There is an all-stakes Pick 4 with a guaranteed pool of $250,000 on Saturday.

On Sunday, the $500,000 Spinster (G1) is the main event, and the 1 1/8-mile event has had a serious impact upon previous runnings of the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (G1). The sub-feature is the $125,000 Bourbon (G3) for freshmen Juvenile Turf hopefuls at 1 1/16 miles.

Good luck during the opening weekend!


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