It only took 1:47.25 to get Keeneland’s fall meet off to a rousing start Oct. 5. The first race, a maiden special weight for 2-year-olds on a turf course softened by torrential rains the night before, was taken by 15-1 shot Pico Entry. A half brother to Keeneland grade 1-placed Cherry Wine, the son of Point of Entry was bred by and is raced by William Pacella, Frank L. Jones Jr., and Frank Shoop. He is trained by Louisville native Dale Romans. Pico Special won a head-bob decision over 20-1 Temple, trained by Steve Margolis.
Making our way into the grandstand just after the opener was declared official, we ran into a longtime friend and racegoer who astutely had hit not only the trifecta for $920.40 but also the 10-cent superfecta for $520.07. His $7-and-change investment was a hot start to a hot day in Central Kentucky.
A few steps down from our happy handicapper was Margolis, who was happy that his Temple City colt had run well but was disappointed just the same for losing the photo. Bemoaning the depth of the field for a maiden race at Keeneland fell on deaf ears. Everyone wants to win at the Central Kentucky track—its winner’s circle real estate is as valued as any other track’s in the country. Hitting the board means your horse was well-bred, raised properly, trained to the minute, and faced a field of equals.
Later in the day Romans would find his way to the winner’s circle again when his 3-year-old Promises Fulfilled, a $37,000 yearling purchase, zipped a final quarter in under :24 to fend off venerable sprinters Whitmore and Limousine Liberal in the Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes (G2). The race has been won by champions Wise Dan, Work All Week, and Runhappy in recent years.
That race preceded a strong performance by Three Chimneys Farm and Paul Fireman’s Fern Circle Stables’ Restless Rider in the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (G1). Lexingtonian Kenny McPeek was the winning trainer in the event for the fourth time, adding more local
flavor to the weekend’s results.
Darley sponsored the day and had an umbrella giveaway for select patrons. While it didn’t rain, an unsually warm October day had many taking shade under their brightly colored umbrellas on the apron as patrons in the box seats opened Keeneland’s signature parasols. Keeneland’s western-facing grandstand—with a vista of the rolling hills of Central Kentucky—offers a landscape reminiscent of a Raoul Dufy racetrack painting from the 1920s.
We’re being a bit provincial as Keeneland is a scant 3 1/2 miles from the BloodHorse office, but the venerable plant is one gem of a U.S. racetrack. Saratoga has its history, the smell of the wooden grandstand taking patrons back a century or so. Belmont is “Big Sandy” in the Big Apple. Del Mar is California cool while Santa Anita’s art deco design and San Gabriel Mountains backdrop is simply jawdropping. The best? It depends on the day and whom you ask, but Keeneland is in the mix. If nothing else, its customer service is second to none.
The racing action, heroics, and class we witnessed opening day played out again the following day in front of 24,142 with three grade 1 events, and the weekend concluded Oct. 7 featuring the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (G1).
Win, lose, or miss by the bob of a head, Keeneland’s opening weekend is one of the treasures of the game.