A Heavenly Love won an unseasonably warm day and the 66th running of the $400,000 Darley Alcibiades to open the Fall Meet at Keeneland on Friday.
With temperatures topping 80 degrees in October, a crowd of 19,204 saw two tickets punched for next month’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar.
Jockey Julien Leparoux guided 9-1 shot Heavenly Love to an easy victory in the 1 1/16 -mile Darley Alcibiades, the second “win and you’re in” Breeders’ Cup qualifier of the day.
“She exploded (around the final turn) but we still had some left,” Leparoux said. “When she gets to the lead, she kinda looks around. She’s still a little baby, but she’s a very nice filly.”
Leparoux settled Heavenly Love behind trainer Mark Casse’s other entry, Dancing, as they entered the first turn and held there until making his move as they rounded toward the frontstretch. The trip was untroubled and impressive.
“Awesome performance. She trained beautifully,” said Casse’s assistant David Carroll, who added that as long as the Debby Oxley-owned filly checks out in the next few days, she’ll be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup.
Heavenly Love paid $13.40, $5.80 and $4.40. The 3-2 favorite Princess Warrior finished 5½ lengths back for second and paid $3.40 and $3. Dancing, off at 14-1, paid $6.60 for third.
The Grade 1 stakes win was also the third victory of the day for Leparoux and Casse together as they were on John Oxley’s (Debby’s husband) Gio Game in the first race and Magical Sky in the fifth.
Breeders’ Cup Challenge race winners get an automatic berth, paid entry fee and travel allowances to race in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar on Nov. 3-4. There are seven more Challenge races this weekend at Keeneland.
The oldest Thoroughbred stakes race in America produced a thrilling finish as Whitmore with Manuel Franco aboard chased down an upset-minded Awesome Banner at the wire in the 165th running of the $250,000 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes (G2).
“I was 2-3 lengths behind,” Franco said of his run on the 3-1 shot. “When I made my move, he was game. Never give up … We did it.”
It looked to be anyone’s race at the top of the stretch as the 11-horse field swung seven wide. Jose Lezcano pulled 16-1 shot Awesome Banner to the lead midway through the frontstretch only to see Whitmore bob in front in the final moments.
Whitmore, covered the 6 furlongs in 1:09.90 and paid $8.80, $4.80 and $3.40. The Ron Moquett trained 4-year-old gray gets an automatic berth into next month’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
“I’m going to relish this Phoenix win,” Moquett said. “The Breeders’ Cup has been our goal. So if everything’s great, we’re going.”’
Runner-up Awesome Banner paid $13.80 and $7.80. Limousine Liberal, the 5-2 race favorite, finished a close third for $3.40.
Elias White, a 96-year-old who worked as a boy at the old Kentucky Association track in downtown Lexington where the Ogden Phoenix was first run, helped present the race trophy.
Jockey Robby Albarado held on in a photo finish for his 500th win at Keeneland in the third race of the day, a $30,000 claimer.
Albarado looked to have pulled Silver Defense away down the stretch, but Jose L. Ortiz brought Burgameister alongside as they approached the wire. Silver Defense kept a nose in front for the 3-year-old gray’s second win.
“It’s a big honor, because considering all the great jockeys that come through Keeneland, it’s a feat in itself,” Albarado said. “Just to continue to ride for 27 years of my career and continue to ride at the highest level is such a pleasure and an honor - I mean, I can’t explain it. And (having) Pat Day in front of me and Don Brumfield in front of me — Hall of Famers — it’s just special. It’s a special place here.”
Albarado, 44, of Lafayette, La., has more than 5,000 career wins, including the 2007 Preakness and 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic aboard Curlin. He got his first Keeneland win in the 1996 Fall Meet and is the track’s third leading rider behind Pat Day (918) and Don Brumfield (716).
The $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile headlines five graded stakes scheduled Saturday, including four Breeders’ Cup Challenge races.
The $250,000 Thoroughbred Club of America (G2) earns a spot in the Filly and Mare Sprint. The $400,000 First Lady (G1) earns a spot in the Filly and Mare Turf.
The $500,000 Clairborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) for 2-year-olds gains entry into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, one of the precursors for hopefuls on the long road to the Kentucky Derby.
The Shadwell features last spring’s Maker’s 46 Mile winner American Patriot, trained by this year’s Kentucky Derby winning trainer Todd Pletcher. It will offer entry into the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
The Shadwell goes off at 5:45 p.m. and the last post is 6:18 p.m., just enough time to hop back on one of the Lextran shuttles to Kroger Field for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff against Missouri. Shuttles will be running from the stadium to Keeneland and back beginning at 11 a.m. if you’re crazy enough to take it all in.
When: Through Oct. 28 (no racing Mondays and Tuesdays)
First post: 1:05 p.m. each racing day