Photo: Mary Cage
Nestled in the heart of horse country, Keeneland is the perfect setting for world-class horse racing. Covered in bluegrass, dotted with trees, embellished in stone, and filled with fashionable, enthusiastic fans, the Lexington, Ky. track is somehow simultaneously idyllic and dynamic – making for the perfect racing experience. This previous weekend, Keeneland kicked off its 17-day fall meet with a star-studded lineup over the first three days that has deemed the season opener "Fall Stars Weekend."
Beautiful fall weather attracted large crowds each day, allowing the track to set a new Fall Stars attendance record of 66,437. Over the span of three days, Keeneland hosted nine graded stakes – including five grade ones and a total of seven Breeders' Cup Win & You're In races.
Although these stakes races were the highlight of the weekend, race days at Keeneland provided for an abundance of other great races, unique sights and sounds, and an overall quality experience.
The #1 horse heading to post for the first race of the 2016 Keeneland fall meet
The large crowd packing in around Keeneland's scenic paddock
|The Keeneland scene, featuring Emerald Downs track announcer Matt Dinerman (once featured in Racing's Future)|
A field of horses turning for home on the Fall Stars Saturday undercard
With high-quality horses stabled, training, and competing at the Lexington track, Keeneland is the place to catch a glimpse of some of racing's future and current superstars – including Catch a Glimpse herself.
Catch a Glimpse breezing a half-mile in 49 flat on Keeneland's turf course in preparation for this upcoming Saturday's Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. I)
2015 Canadian Horse of the Year Catch a Glimpse leaving the track after her breeze
Other talented turf runners prepping for the QEII Challenge included Harmonize and Mokat, who breezed on the turf the same morning as Catch a Glimpse before a good number of onlookers.
Grade one winner Harmonize posting a five-furlong work in 1:02.60
California-based Mokat breezing four furlongs in 49.60
The stakes action began as soon as opening day, with the Friday card featuring the Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes (gr. II) for sprinters and the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I) for two-year-old fillies.
The Phoenix offered one of the most thrilling races of the weekend. A.P. Indian, undefeated on the year and entering off consecutive grade one victories in New York, was the heavy favorite but was headed by Limousine Liberal – who set a track record at Keeneland in the spring – in late stretch. The two were stride-for-stride down the lane and crossed the wire together, with A.P. Indian winning the official photo finish by a small head. With this result, A.P. Indian gained his second Win & You're In victory of the year for the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
A.P. Indian looking like a winner in the paddock
A.P. Indian (outside) and Limousine Liberal stride-for-stride in late stretch
A.P. Indian walking into the winner's enclosure with jockey Joe Bravo aboard
The first grade one of the meet, the Alcibiades, was met with a storybook ending. Maryland-bred Dancing Rags, carrying the same silks of Phyllis Wyeth's Chadds Ford Stable that her sire Union Rags did, was ridden to victory by young jockey Angel Cruz – who gained his first grade one victory. The win secured the team a spot in the starting gate for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).
|Dancing Rags heading to post for the Alcibiades|
|Angel Cruz celebrating aboard Dancing Rags as they win the Alcibiades|
Saturday was the most stakes-packed day of all, featuring five graded stakes. The first of those races was the Woodford Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select (gr. III) going five and one-half furlongs on the turf. To the delight of many, world traveler and 2015 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. I) winner Mongolian Saturday crossed the wire in front.
|Angel Cruz smiling gratefully after winning the Alcibiades aboard Dancing Rags|
|Mongolian Saturday outrunning Hogy to win the Woodford |
|Mongolian Saturday returning a winner|
Female sprinters took the stage next in the first Win & You're In of the day, the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. II), in which the winner would earn a berth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I). Four-year-old Irish Jasper accomplished that feat, defeating heavy favorite Stonetastic by 1 ¾ lengths.
|Irish Jasper looking like a winner prior to the race|
|Irish Jasper winning the Thoroughbred Club of America with Julien Leparoux aboard|
|A victorious Irish Jasper returning to the winner's enclosure|
Although not the richest race on the card, the following race – the First Lady Stakes (gr. I) for fillies and mares going one mile on the turf – was perhaps the most anticipated race of the weekend, featuring defending champion and top female turf runner Tepin. However, the First Lady resulted in the most shocking finish of the weekend: pace setter Photo Call ran away from the field to terminate Tepin's eight-race winning streak at odds of 29-1.
|Tepin in the paddock|
|Tepin warming up for the First Lady|
|Photo Call upsetting the First Lady|
|Photo Call after winning the First Lady|
The Casse barn received immediate redemption after Tepin's loss in the subsequent race, the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity Stakes (gr. I) for two-year-olds. It was also redemption for their charge Classic Empire, who had earned the nickname "racing's bad boy" for veering and losing his rider last out in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I). He was on his best behavior on Saturday, taking the Breeders' Futurity by an easy three lengths to earn a spot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I).
|Classic Empire drawing away to win the Breeders' Futurity|
|Julien Leparoux rides Classic Empire into the Breeders' Futurity winner's circle|
The feature race of the day, the Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (gr. I), offered a $1,000,000 purse and a place in the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. I) starting gate. In a sequence of events similar to a weekend during Keeneland's spring meet, Miss Temple City avoided Tepin to run against the males and defeated them yet again.
|Miss Temple looking ready to run prior to the Shadwell Turf Mile|
|Miss Temple City warming up for the Shadwell Turf Mile|
|Miss Temple City holding off the late-charging Ironicus to win the Shadwell Turf Mile|
|Miss Temple City gleaming as she enters the winner's enclosure|
Sunday featured a pair of Win & You're In events: the Dixiana Bourbon Stakes (gr. III) for two-year-olds to qualify for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I) and the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I) for fillies and mares to qualify for the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I).
The Casse barn unleashed another talented two-year-old in the Bourbon when French-bred Keep Quiet kicked clear to take the mile and one-sixteenth turf contest over strong favorite Ticonderoga.
|Keep Quiet and Florent Geroux in the post parade for the Bourbon|
|Keep Quiet heading to victory in the Bourbon|
|Team Casse greeting Keep Quiet and Geroux after their win in the Bourbon|
The final graded stakes of the weekend offered one of the most impressive performances when the classy I'm a Chatterbox drew away from the small field to win by an effortless seven lengths.
|I'm a Chatterbox in the paddock before the Spinster|
|I'm a Chatterbox running away with the Spinster|
Unfortunately, the Spinster was marred by the tragic breakdown of Miss Pink Diva. Thoughts go out to her connections.
|I'm a Chatterbox's win in the Spinster gave Geroux a sweep of the Sunday stakes|
|Rest in peace, Miss Pink Diva.|
Altogether, Keeneland's Fall Stars Weekend was a weekend of ups and downs – the one's that define racing. After all, Keeneland is "racing as it was meant to be" and it certainly did not disappoint.
|Thanks for the memories, Keeneland.|