Smile Politely

Battle for the playground

Union RagsJust as last week was a veritable blitz of big-name stars in top-tier races, this Friday and Saturday will offer up another stellar set of stakes action in prepatation for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. While many of the horses running this weekend have been knocking around the track for years, several 2-year-old races will highlight the sport’s future. In four grade I races at two different tracks, the stars of tomorrow will come out to show us what’s in store for 2012.

Opening weekend for Keeneland’s fall meet always promises to pack a punch, and this year is no different. Scheduled to run over nine graded stakes this weekend are familiar names such as Gio Ponti, Aikenite, Sidney’s Candy, Switch, Wasted Tears, and Tapitsfly; but in the Grade I Alcibiades and Grade I Dixiana Futurity, two fields of relatively unknowns are looking to make a name for themselves in a big way. On Friday, a contentious field of 2-year-old fillies will vie for grade I victory in the Alcibiades. While the race looks like anyone’s to win, the filly with the biggest credentials so far is Tu Endie Wei, who already owns a pair of stakes victories from Woodbine; though she’s never run further than 6 ½ furlongs, Tu Endie Wei’s Polytrack background gives her a big advantage over Keeneland’s main track, which is made of similar synthetic material. Other interesting entrants with a stakes background include Flashy Lassie, the winner of the Grade III Debutante Stakes, and stakes runners Frolic’s Revenge and And Why Not.

The top three finishers of the Arlington Washington-Futurity—Shared Property, Take Charge Indy, and Motor City—are all in for a rematch in the Dixiana Futurity on Saturday. Majestic City, winner of the Grade III Hollywood Juvenile Championship and third last time out in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity, brings a little stakes class to the field, as well. The 2nd and 3rd-place finishers of the Grade II With Anticipation Stakes, Optimizer and Dullahan, are also entered. Our Entourage, who will be making his first stakes try, has a victory over the 1 1/16th-mile distance of the Dixiana Futurity, but that came over the turf at Saratoga. You could do worse than to bet a grass horse to win over Keeneland’s Polytrack, however; in fact, it would probably be in your best interests, along with any other synthetic specialist.

The juvenile stakes continue at Belmont on Saturday with the Grade I Frizette for fillies and the Grade I Champagne for males. Each of these races holds a potential superstar in the making. The 1-mile Frizette is shaping up to be a tremendous race with a field of six talented fillies. The victor of the Grade II Adirondack Stakes, My Miss Aurelia, will enter with the most street cred, but will have to take on the venerable Stopshoppingmaria, the Todd Pletcher trainee who earned a 101 Beyer in her maiden victory. Though the two have met before, the front-running Stopshoppingmaria spent that race playing catch up after stumbling badly at the break. Any filly in this race could step it up for the race of their lives; Harbor Mist is undefeated in two starts, including a 6-furlong stakes race at Saratoga, the Anne M. Clare. Miss Netta, a bay filly by Street Sense, will enter stakes competition for the first time after an impressive maiden victory at Saratoga, and Spare Change and Holiday Soiree are also entering off of wins.

Perhaps the biggest buzz horse among all these 2-year-olds can be found in the Champagne Stakes in the form of a Dixie Union colt named Union Rags. Undefeated in two starts, Union Rags was visually impressive when he romped to a 7 ¼-length victory last time out in a sloppy edition of the Grade II Saratoga Special. A flashy bay with a big white blaze and striking eye whites, Union Rags is hard to ignore on the track. Though he looked a little green in his stakes debut, where he drifted out in the stretch before he was straightened out to draw away from his rivals, that show he put on at the end of the race proves talent can make up for experience. None of the other eight horses in the field have a stakes win yet, but any one of these 2-year-olds could step up to the challenge. Power World, who finished 2nd in both the Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs and 2nd in the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, will try to win his first stakes race after finishing 5th in the Grade I Hopeful. A Bernardini colt named Alpha won by 6 in his debut at Saratoga, and will try to win a grade I in only his second career start. Invocation, who finished 2nd to Alpha in that race, will add blinkers for the first time in the hopes of making him sharper out of the gate. It will also be the first stakes try for Takes the Gold, who broke his maiden by 3 ¼-lengths going 1-mile here at Belmont his second time out.

With the Breeders’ Cup now less than a month away, the heat is on for 2-year-olds to grow up fast so that they may win big at Churchill Downs. These babies have some mighty big shoes to fill, so they can be forgiven if they make a few stumbles along the road to the Kentucky Derby. Did I say Derby? In October? In horse racing, is it ever too early to start thinking about roses?


The Grade I Alcibiades Stakes will air live from Keeneland on Versus. Post time is scheduled for approximately 5:45pm ET.


The Grade I Frizette Stakes will air live from Belmont Park on HRTV and TVG. Post time is scheduled for approximately 4:45pm ET.
The Grade I Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity will air live from Keeneland on Versus. Post time is scheduled for approximately 5:13pm ET.
The Grade I Champagne Stakes will air live from Belmont Park on HRTV and TVG. Post time is scheduled for approximately 5:18pm ET.

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