By J.N. Campbell

Top Storylines for Fall Stars: A Keeneland 2020 Preview

By J.N. Campbell
Keeneland's fall meet opens on Friday
Keeneland's fall meet opens on Friday

Our new addition to the team J.N. Campbell has spent many a day at Keeneland and has put together some thoughts for the opening week of the upcoming event...

A racetrack has this quiet stillness when it is devoid of humans and horses. But slowly and steadily, as the minutes tick by, you see one, two, and then a slew of activity. Once the gates open, the public compounds and the din rises. Both extremes offer perspective, and during a meet, are as regular as the tide. This year, that ocean cycles were disrupted, and regulars at the track consistently commented on the metronome being off. 

This week, the Thoroughbred community will witness another tradition ransacked by COVID-19 when Keeneland’s Fall Meet opens on Friday October 2. With strict protocols in place, there will be no spectators, and the elegantly designed track website outlines numerous restrictions and policy changes. 

The folks there, now led by the extremely capable Shannon Bishop Arvin who is the first woman to helm the place, were able to test conditions back in July. They put on a highly-successful 5-day set of races to replace the regular meet that was scrubbed back in April. Though many uncertainties reign, including a September Keeneland sale that fell short of previous revenue marks, the Association is in very solid hands entering what they call “Fall Stars.” 

Here are a few of the story lines you might want to follow:

No Burgoo? What the…

The major question as “Fall Stars” opens is how much of a revenue smack will the Racecourse take when the dust clears in November? For the first time since the highly successful Breeders’ Cup in 2015, when American Pharoah capped his Triple Crown year by winning his final race in the Classic, the purple and white-clad racing spectacle returns to Keeneland. Harsh November conditions were a concern then, as well as the seating, but the forest green wave more than accomplished its goals—a rousing success on all levels.

This time around, BC was supposed to be an even greater grandiose affair, but sadly, with no spectators, one would think the economic hit would be sizable. No giant steaming pots of burgoo consumed by masses or a teaming gift shop, and no need for those extra tents and grandstands to accommodate the visitors from far and wide. It will be eerily quiet for the Meet which runs from October 2-24, and the Breeders’ Cup, November 6-7.

And the winner goes to…

Though the crowd noise will be diminished, the racing will not. Like always, who will emerge as the jockey and trainer leaders? This is always a scramble since the April and October Meets only run for a month at Keeneland. For jockeys seeking to ride on Opening Day, they had until September 29 to arrive in Lexington and submit themselves to COVID testing. If they arrive after, there are specific qualifications they must adhere to.

The colony will be sequestered, like jurors, and placed in “regional” quarters, depending on where they were riding previously. Hopefully, we will see some of the usual suspects come in, especially jocks from the Northeast, like the Ortiz brothers and Javier Castellano. Yet, Keeneland also becomes a stage for up-and-coming bugs, like future stars Julien Leparoux, Florent Geroux, and who can forget, the performance that Joel Rosario put on when he first arrived? 

Watch for the efforts of Tyler Gaffalione, the son of a jockey, who continues to rise in the ranks of riding titles and Grade 1 winning mounts. As for the training title, old faces abound like Mike Maker, Mark Casse, Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher, Wesley Ward, Steve Asmussen, and many other regulars.

Watch out for some new blood. Look no further than rookie trainer, Reeve McGaughey, son of Shug and nephew to Charlie LoPresti. The Younger McGaughey arrives for his first full Keeneland Meet. We hope to see one of his horses compete, the class-climber Nathan Detroit, out of Union Rags, in The Bourbon (G2) on the turf. Look out!

Redemptive Power

This year, with so few Graded races, the stakes schedules in general, was massively reduced. This in turn created difficult decisions for trainers and their connections, to find suitable spots for their high-priced charges. As mentioned, though jockey restrictions on travel and quarantine rules continue, it will be interesting to see a loaded Keeneland stakes schedule that includes six G1 races.

They always put forward a great set of cards with full fields, so wagering opportunities are at a premium. Since the Breeders’ Cup will be almost a month later, “Fall Stars” stakes could serve as a great way for connections to round their runners into form. For horseplayers, surveying the nominations can offer clues as to who might be running. This is always an excellent means to do some pre-race handicapping.

Opening Weekend, Top 3, Grade 1 Watch List (October 2-4): Breeders’ Cup “Win, and You’re In” Races

Friday October 2: The Darley Alcibiades (69th Running, $350k for 2-yo Fillies): 8.5 Furlongs, Dirt

Mark Casse garners the most recent number of winners in this race with 3, but he only has one nom this year with Make Mischief. Local super trainer, Kenny McPeek rides in with a strong hand, led by Crazy Beautiful. She was beaten last out by Dale Romans’ Girl Daddy at Churchill, so a rematch might be in the cards, along with the show horse from that race, Timothy Hahn’s Alexandria. I would also keep an eye on Steve Asmussen’s string. Joy Rocket, Lady Lilly, Thoughtfully, and power runner, Cantata look scary good. But, if Robert Reid’s Vequist, a daughter of Nyquist and 9+ length winner last out at Saratoga hits the track, lookout! 

Saturday October 3: The Shadwell Turf Mile (35th Running, $750k for 3-yo/up); 8 Furlongs, Grass

A matchup between Chad Brown and Brad Cox on the turf would be good sport. Cox has made major strides on this surface in the past year, and he has two solids from his barn on-deck, Beau Recall and Factor This. Of course, don’t count out Brown (Uni, another from his outfit, holds the KEE Haggin Course track record, 1:32.87) who counters with Raging Bull, Without Parole, Flavius, and Analyze It. We could also see in this race, Mark Casse’s gem Got Stormy, Todd Pletcher’s salty Halladay, and Mike Maker’s hard-knocking Hembree and Parlor. What fun!

Saturday October 3: The Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (107th Running, $400k for 2-yo); 8.5 Furlongs, Dirt

With Mark Glatt’s winner in the Del Mar Futurity, Dr. Schivel, taking it to the pasture till next year, there are still plenty of options here that entice. Two that stand out are Steve Asmussen’s Jackie’s Warrior and Dale Romans Sitin On Go. The former marched up the furlong markers over the last 3, undefeated, to the tune of $265,064 in earnings.

The latter was a surprise longshot winner at 24-1 last out at Churchill in the Iroquois (G3). Personally, I would like to see Reinvestment Risk make an appearance. A Chad Brown-trained and Klaravich Stables-owned, runner who was a short-price last out, but was not up to beating Jackie’s Warrior. Another try might be in order. Nothing like a possible preview of what we might see a month later at the same track for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile 

Sunday October 4: The Juddmonte Spinster (65th Running, $400k for F&M, 3-yo/up): 9 Furlongs, Dirt 

The two-time winner Blue Prize will not be in the Spinster this year, so others can have a shot. Could we see another titanic heavyweight fight between Brad Cox’s Monomoy Girl and Steve Asmussen’s Midnight Bisou? Monomoy has had her number, but so much has happened since the BC Distaff last year. We shall see who else shows up. Fingers crossed it will be Shedaresthedevil (KY Oaks victor). But Cox might choose to wait and run her at another Keeneland race—the BC Distaff! Either way, he could have two mounts at some point squaring off against one another. I would like to see George Weaver’s Point of Honor take another crack at some of these, as well as, Eddie Kenneally’s Lady Kate. If John Sadler’s Ollie’s Candy ships in, then we have ourselves a heck of a field.

Happy Keeneland!

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