Known as Fall Stars Weekend, the opening three days of the Keeneland fall meet is headed by a dynamite 11-race Saturday program featuring five graded stakes. The $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile, $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity and $400,00 First Lady are all of the Grade 1 variety and serve as “Win & You’re In” automatic qualifiers for the Breeders’ Cup along with the $250,000 Thoroughbred Club of America (G2).
The Breeders’ Futurity is also part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, awarding 17 combined points (10-4-2-1) toward a berth in the first leg of the 2019 Triple Crown to the top four finishers.
Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) winner Heart to Heart will attempt to sweep the two premier events for turf milers at Keeneland when he lines up for the Shadwell Turf Mile, which drew an overflow of 16 entrants including a pair of also-eligibles. The seven-year-old horses has missed by less than a length in the last two editions, finishing third in the 2016 Shadwell Turf Mile and second last year, and the Ontario-bred son of English Channel will attempt to join Wise Dan (2014) and Miss Temple City (2016) as the only horses to sweep the Maker’s 46 Mile and Shadwell Turf Mile in the same season.
A neck second in the May 29 Shoemaker Mile (G1) two back, Heart to Heart will need to improve upon a disappointing sixth in the August 11 Fourstardave (G1) at Saratoga in which he didn’t display his customary early speed. Julien Leparoux will guide the confirmed front-runner.
Voodoo Song defeated Heart to Heart in the Fourstar Dave and also brings plenty of speed to the festivities Saturday, recording back-to-back graded decisions in wire-to-wire fashion before faltering on the lead in the September 3 Bernard Baruch (G2) as the 3-5 favorite. Jose Lezcano rides the four-year-old New York-bred son of English Channel and it will be interesting to see what tactics the jockey employs with Heart to Heart drawn to Voodoo Song’s inside in the starting gate.
Almanaar, one of two runners for Chad Brown, merits respect following a rallying half-length second in the Arlington Million (G1). Javier Castellano takes over the reins on the six-year-old gelding. Analyze It will make his first start against elders in this spot after just missing in his last three outings, recording a neck second in the Pennine Ridge (G2) and a head second in the Belmont Derby (G1) to Catholic Boy; and a neck second most recently in the August 11 Secretariat (G1) at Arlington. John Velazquez picks up the mount and Analyze It likes to race up close to the pace.
Bound for Nowhere captured the 5 ½-furlong Shakertown (G2) at Keeneland by four lengths in the spring and makes his second attempt at a mile after winning the September 1 Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs. Other runners of interest include multiple Grade 1 hero Divisidero; Synchrony, a three-time graded winner this season who exits a facile tally in the September 1 Red Bank (G3) at Monmouth Park; and French import Qurbaan, an upset winner of the September 3 Bernard Baruch when making his U.S. debut for new trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Hopeful (G1) winner Mind Control is the top draw in the 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Futurity. The Greg Sacco-trained son of Stay Thirsty will meet 13 rivals in the full field and the front-running colt will have to overcome post 13 with Velazquez.
Sanford (G3) winner Sombeyay will try to improve upon a fourth in the Hopeful and Luis Saez rides for Todd Pletcher. Dream Maker, an impressive debut scorer at Churchill Downs, is also eligible to show more after returning from a three-month hiatus with a fifth in the Hopeful and Leparoux retains the mount for Mark Casse.
Bill Mott has entered Unionizer, who shipped to Monmouth Park to capture the September 1 Sapling after breaking his maiden at Saratoga, and last-out maiden winners Signalman and Standard Deviation rate as contenders.
Brown sent out the top three finishers in the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland last April and will be looking to do the same in the one-mile First Lady for turf distaffers. Just a Game (G1) heroine A Raving Beauty is scheduled to make her first attempt over the course and the gray mare will try to rebound from a fourth as the odds-on favorite in the August 25 Ballston Spa (G2) at Saratoga.
Ballston Spa winner Quidura will make her third start for Brown after being purchased for $3.6 million at the Keeneland November sale and has experience locally, finishing third in the 2017 Jenny Wiley for Graham Motion. Off Limits, third in this year’s Jenny Wiley and fifth most recently in the Ballston Spa, completes the Brown contingent.
A total of 10 runners have been entered including Insta Erma, winner of the September 8 Ladies Turf at Kentucky Downs; German Group 3 vixen Indian Blessing, second when making her U.S. bow in the Ballston Spa; and multiple Grade 3 queen Dona Bruja.
Ten fillies and mares will compete in the six-furlong Thoroughbred Club of America for a free berth to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1).
Miss Sunset is the likely favorite. A nose second in April’s Madison (G1) at Keeneland three starts back, the California-bred Into Mischief filly captured the 2017 Raven Run (G2) at Keeneland. The four-year-old returned from a freshening to easily win the September 3 C.E.R.F. at Del Mar as the odds-on choice and Mike Smith will retain the mount for Jeff Bonde.
A two-time stakes winner this season, Vertical Oak will seek her first graded tally since the 2017 Prioress (G2). The four-year-old daughter of Giant Oak appears to be rounding into top form for Steve Asmussen following a sharp win in the September 15 Open Mind at Churchill Downs and Ricardo Santana Jr. rides.
Multiple Grade 2 winner Curlin’s Approval netted a 101 BRIS Speed rating for a comfortable 2 ½-length decision in the August 12 Sugarloaf Key at Gulfstream Park and will draw some support with Tyler Gaffalione. Happy Like a Fool, who was last seen posting a 6 ½-length romp in the May 18 Miss Preakness (G3), will step up to face elders for Wesley Ward.
The $250,000 Woodford (G2) kicks off the stakes action with a field of 12 and Bucchero will make a title defense in the 5 ½-furlong turf sprint. His main rivals include Extravagant Kid, Holding Gold, Undrafted, Vici and Will Call.