Sports

First big test for perfect filly

Consistency and brilliance.

If trainers were to make a wish list of the traits they most want the horses in their barns to possess, those two qualities probably would battle for the top spot.

So it is little wonder Steve Klesaris considers himself most fortunate to have the filly Mani Bhavan residing in his shedrow.

For in just three career starts, the 2-year-old daughter of Storm Boot has already demonstrated she has both those desirable traits in abundance.

The undefeated and virtually untested Mani Bhavan will attempt to pass the stiffest test of her young career Friday when she tackles two turns and Polytrack for the first time against six rivals in the Grade I Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland.

The 11⁄16-mile Alcibiades is one of five Grade I races highlighting Keeneland's opening weekend. Joining the $500,000 Alcibiades on the Friday card will be the Grade I First Lady Stakes for fillies and mares 3 years old and up going 1 mile on the turf.

A modest $30,000 purchase as a yearling, Mani Bhavan has been frighteningly methodical in the way she has deconstructed her foes to date.

The well-built dark bay filly has never trailed at any point of call thus far as her blazing speed has allowed her to win her three starts by a combined 171/2 lengths.

And in an age when lengthy layoffs between starts are more the norm than the exception, Mani Bhavan came back on 18 days' rest after capturing the Grade II Adirondack Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 13 to win the Grade I Spinaway Stakes over 7 furlongs.

"She's really, to date, done everything perfectly," said her trainer, Klesaris, who is one win away from 1,000 for his career. "She's just got an exceptionally quick gear. Even away from the blocks, she's quick. They open the gates, and she's already a couple lengths in front and, thus far, no one has been quick enough to stay with her."

After breaking her maiden by 91/4 lengths and romping by 7 in the Adirondack, Mani Bhavan showed she possessed some mettle in addition to her sheer ability when she turned back a challenge from Jardin in the stretch to win the Spinaway by 11/4 lengths.

While Mani Bhavan has been successful cruising away on the front end, her effortless style tells Klesaris she could just as easily relax behind horses if need be.

"She's been schooled and educated in behind horses many times so it's something I think she has the ability to do," Klesaris said. "She just goes to the races and does her job and does it right."

Owned by Puglisi Racing and TYB Stable, Mani Bhavan will be going beyond 7 furlongs for the first time on Friday. Still, that's hardly the most pressing concern on Klesaris' mind.

"The biggest question mark in my head is the synthetic surface. Not the distance, the synthetic surface," he said. "She trains well on it, she gets over everything well. But again, racing on it is entirely different."

Although she was soundly beaten by Mani Bhavan in their career debut at Delaware Park on July 12, fellow Alcibiades contender Bon Jovi Girl has already proved she relishes the distance.

The Tim Ritchey-trained daughter of Malibu Moon is coming off a 93/4-length win in the 11⁄16-mile Fairway Stakes at Delaware.

Dream Empress, from the barn of Kenny McPeek, also owns a win over the 11⁄16-mile distance having triumphed last time out on the turf at Saratoga on Aug. 22. Darley Stables' Devotee comes into the Alcibiades off a 21/4-length score first time out over 61/2 furlongs at Saratoga on Aug. 31.

While the Alcibiades field is loaded with potential, the $400,000 First Lady Stakes is stocked full of proven starlets.

Dreaming of Anna, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2006, is one of four Grade I winners in the field and is looking to rebound off a fourth-place run in the Beverly D. Stakes on Aug. 9.

The 4-year-old filly finished second in the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup last fall on Keene land's turf course.

Multiple Grade I winner Precious Kitten was second in this race one year ago and has yet to win in four starts over the Keeneland turf. Before her fifth-place finish in the Beverly D., Precious Kitten captured the Grade I Gamely Stakes at Hollywood on May 26.

Rutherienne opened her 2008 campaign with a narrow victory in the Grade II Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland in April while the late-running Forever Together won over soft ground in the Grade I Diana Stakes at Saratoga on July 26.

"I think, overall, it should be pretty good because there should be a pretty strong pace," said Ben Colebrook, assistant to Rutherienne's trainer Christophe Clement. "She should be able to tuck in and hopefully get a good trip."

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