It is a given that the nine graded stakes races during Keeneland's opening weekend will produce their share of contenders for the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5 and 6.
Whether some of the Lexington track's prep races carry as much weight in the eyes of handicappers and horsemen this season isn't quite as certain.
With the Breeders' Cup setting up shop at Santa Anita Park's soon-to-be replaced synthetic surface the last two years, it can be argued that more attention was paid to Keeneland's lineup of stakes races over the Polytrack during that time — especially considering no horse whose last prep was on dirt won a Breeders' Cup race in 2008-09.
Now that racing's year-end championships are back on conventional dirt for the first time since 2007, evaluating some of this weekend's performers could present a bit of a challenge if they have little or no experience on dirt.
"I guess each trainer has their own views on that," said trainer Jonathan Sheppard, who will saddle champion Informed Decision in Saturday's Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes as she prepares to defend her title in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. "I personally don't think it makes that much difference. They can either handle it or they can't. And if you give your horse a prep for Churchill here, I don't think it's going to affect how they're going to run there, although some might think different."
The majority of Informed Decision's success has come over synthetic tracks, but her win in the Grade I Humana Distaff at Churchill last year gives Sheppard the comfort of knowing she can handle either surface.
Such a luxury is not enjoyed by everyone. And many connections with potential Breeders' Cup contenders have made their horses' last prep over the dirt.
As was the case in the Spinaway Stakes last weekend, trainer Todd Pletcher is sending out four juvenile fillies in Saturday's Grade I Frizettte Stakes at Belmont Park. Some say such an influx of entries from one barn is the product of a lack of dirt prep races this time of the season.
"One hundred percent, it's an issue," said leading New York-based owner Mike Repole, who has the probable favorite for Saturday's Grade I Champagne Stakes in Uncle Mo. "That this year it's on a dirt surface, I really think it's limited (in the number of preps). Delaware had a race but, for graded-stakes company, there is not much.
"We need to get some more preps for these horses," Repole continued. "Todd's got to put four horses in a Grade I, and ... I think there would be a lot of trainers in this world that would like that problem. But it's hard for him to separate his horses."
Although more credence can be given to horses with strong dirt form, going into the Breeders' Cup with momentum is important regardless of the surface.
In 2006, the first year Keeneland debuted its Polytrack, Asi Siempre -— previously a standout on turf — won the Juddmonte Spinster and went on to finish second in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill before being disqualified to fourth.
Trainer Wayne Catalano, who is expected to send out Jordy Y in Friday's Grade I Darley Alcibiades and Major Gain in Saturday's Grade I Dixiana Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, is among those who isn't losing too much sleep over his horses' lack of dirt experience.
After all, if he is forced to worry about it in a few weeks, it means his horses are in the Breeders' Cup picture.
"As far as I'm concerned Polytrack has been good to me," said Catalano, who saddled champion She Be Wild to a runner-up finish in the Darley Alcibiades last year before her win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. "We'll make the transfer to dirt. We have to. We'll get by Saturday or Sunday and find out what to do from there."