Another season at Keeneland gets underway Oct. 5 with a strong field of 2-year-old fillies going 1 1/16 miles over the Polytrack in the $500,000 Darley Alcibiades (gr. I).
Leading the field is the unbeaten Irish Smoke, a daughter of Smoke Glacken and a $285,000 2-year-old in training purchase from the OBS select sale this March. Irish Smoke broke her maiden impressively at first asking Aug. 2, going five furlongs at Saratoga. She then galloped to a 3 ¼-length victory over a field of nine as the 6-5 favorite in the 7-furlong Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) Sept. 2. Trainer Patrick Biancone calls her “one of the best fillies in the country,” and gives a leg up to regular rider Julien Leparoux for owners West Point Stable and Lewis G. Lakin.
Looking to recover from a second-place finish to Irish Smoke in the Spinaway is Ken McPeek trainee A to the Croft, a daughter of Menifee who broke her maiden first time out, going six furlongs at Churchill Downs July 8. She was a game second to speedster More Happy in the 6 ½-furlong Adirondack (gr. II) at Saratoga Aug. 15, missing that win by just three-quarters of a length before finishing behind Irish Smoke. She leaves the dirt for the first time and stretches out to two turns in this race.
"We're looking forward to going two turns, which seems like her ideal distance," said McPeek. "This race is good experience for the next one (the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies). She came out of the last race good, steady as she goes, no issues. We've been waiting for two turns and this has been the plan all along. She trained over the Polytrack last spring and has trained over it recently as well, she's a galloper and she'll have no problem, she'll like it."
Already proven over Polytrack is Frank Calabrese’s Dreaming of Liz, an impressive wire-to-wire winner in the 1-mile Arlington-Washington Lassie (gr. III), her most recent start over Arlington Park's all-weather surface Sept. 8. Although the El Prado filly was beaten 10 lengths in her first start at five furlongs for trainer Wayne Catalano, she won her next race – a 6-furlong maiden special weight – by seven before taking the Lassie.
Also familiar with the synthetic track is West Coast trainer Doug O’Neill’s Grace Anatomy. A daughter of Aldebaranout of the Storm Cat mare Propriety, Grace Anatomy broke her maiden coming from behind in a 6-furlong maiden special weight over the Del Mar Polytrack Aug. 19. She previously finished third in her first start at 5 ½-furlongs over the same surface for a partnership that includes Suarez Racing, Paul Lo Duca, and J. Paul Reddam.
“She’s got a lot of scope and a long stride, she covers a lot of ground,” O’Neill said in an Oct. 2 NTRA teleconference. “This is her sire’s first crop and I’ve seen a few others that looked solid. She’s showed talent and acts like a filly that wants the race to set up in front of her and then be able to close in on it.”
Initiation, Morakami (fourth to Irish Smoke in the Spinaway), Minewander, French Kiss, Startswampindowski, Bee’s Wax, Country Star, Rasierra and Sunday Holiday round out the field.
The $500,000 Darley Alcibiades (gr. I, race 9, approximate post 5:15 p.m.), 1 1/16 miles over Polytrack for 2-year-old fillies – all carry 118 pounds
PP, Horse, Jockey
1. Initiation, Garrett Gomez
2. Dreaming of Liz, E. T. Baird
3. Morakami, Javier Castellano
4. Irish Smoke, Julien R. Leparoux
5. Minewander, Larry Melancon
6. French Kiss, Joe Johnson
7. Startswampindowski, Shaun Bridgmohan
8. Bee's Wax, Rene Douglas
9. Grace Anatomy, Mike Smith
10. Country Star, Rafael Bejarano
11. Rasierra, Jamie Theriot
12. A to the Croft, Kent J. Desormeaux
13. Sunday Holiday, Robby Albarado