LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Warm weather and exciting racing combined to produce a near-record crowd of 19,204 for opening day of the Keeneland Fall Meet Friday.
On-track wagering rose eight percent to $1,470,920, and all-sources handle increased two percent to $8,756,822.
Debby Oxley’s homebred Heavenly Love shook clear at the top of the stretch and drew off to win the 66th running of the $400,000 Darley Alcibiades (G1) for 2-year-old fillies by 5½ lengths over favored Princess Warrior.
Also on Friday, Robert LaPenta, Southern Springs Stables and Head of Plains Partners’ Whitmore won the 165th running of the $250,000 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix (G2).
Trained by Mark Casse and ridden by Julien Leparoux, Heavenly Love covered the 1 1/16 miles on a fast main track in 1:45.32. It was the third victory in the Darley Alcibiades for Casse and the second for Leparoux.
The victory provided Heavenly Love with a fees-paid berth to the $2 million 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) to be run Nov. 4 at Del Mar.
Heavenly Love rated in second place in the early running behind stablemate Dancing, who led the field of 10 through fractions of :23.94, :48.38 and 1:13.81. On the far turn, Heavenly Love surged to the lead and began to widen on the field at the head of the lane.
The victory was worth $240,000 to Heavenly Love, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Malibu Moon out of the Deputy Minister mare Darling My Darling, a two-time Keeneland stakes winner. A winner of two of three starts, Heavenly Love increased her earnings to $322,000.
Heavenly Love returned $13.40, $5.80 and $4.40. Princess Warrior, ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., returned $3.40 and $3 and finished 1 ½ lengths in front of Dancing, who paid $6.60 to show under Manny Franco.
It was another 1½ lengths back to Sassy Sienna who was followed in order by Kelly’s Humor, Bet She Wins, Caroline the Great, Arabella Bella, Over Thinking and Pacific Gale.
In the Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix, Whitmore ran down the pace-setting Awesome Banner to win by a nose with favored Limousine Liberal finishing another neck back in third.
Trained by Ron Moquett and ridden by Manny Franco, Whitmore covered the 6 furlongs on a fast main track in 1:09.90 and added $150,000 to his bankroll. The victory was the first graded stakes triumph at Keeneland for Moquett and Franco.
With the victory, Whitmore earned a fees-paid berth to the $1.5 million TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) to be run Nov. 4 at Del Mar.
Awesome Banner led the field of 11 through fractions of :22.27 and :45.75 with Seventh Sense (TUR) and Mr Manning in closest pursuit.
On the far turn, Whitmore angled to the outside and got first run at Awesome Banner with Limousine Liberal rallying even wider. Those three dueled to the wire as a team with Whitmore narrowly prevailing.
Whitmore posted his third graded stakes victory of 2017 and increased his earnings to $1,172,000 with a record of 15-8-2-3.
Whitmore is a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred gelded son of Pleasantly Perfect out of the Scat Daddy mare Melody’s Spirit.
He returned $8.80, $4.80 and $3.40. Awesome Banner, ridden by Jose Lezcano, returned $13.80 and $7.80 with Limousine Liberal, ridden by Jose Ortiz, returning $3.40 to show.
Threefiveindia finished another half-length back in fourth and was followed in order by Loose On the Town, Uncontested, Favorite Tale, Richard the Great, Mr Manning, It’s the Journey and Seventh Sense.
In Friday’s third race, Robby Albarado became the third jockey to win 500 races at Keeneland when he guided Breeze Easy’s Silver Defense ($13.80) to a head victory.
Albarado, who scored his first Keeneland victory during the 1996 Fall Meet, is the third-leading rider here by wins behind Pat Day (918) and Don Brumfield (716). Albarado has been the leading rider four times (Spring 2002, Spring 2003, Fall 2008 and Fall 2009).
“It’s a big honor, because considering all the great jockeys that come through Keeneland, it’s a feat in itself,” Albarado said while holding his young son, Liam. “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.”
Asked about his favorite Keeneland memory, Albarado answered, “Every win. Fans don’t discriminate whether it’s a claiming race or a stakes race. They treat it just like every one (is the same). Just the fans here, the quality of the horses – it’s everyone’s favorite place.”
Keeneland honored 95-year-old Elias “Shug” White, the oldest known horseman from the old Kentucky Association track, which was located in downtown Lexington and operated for more than 100 years.
White was just 11 years old when he exercised racehorses at the Kentucky Association track, which closed in 1933. Keeneland opened three years later.