Some items of note from the first day of the 2011 Keeneland Fall Meet (results via DRF.com):
-I really liked the performance of Aikenite to finish 2nd in the Phoenix. The distance of six furlongs isn't his best (he's better at 7f), and the track was playing heavily to the rail all day long, but he was able to use a late run in the three/four path to just miss the upset winner Hoofit at the wire. Big run from Aikenite, a colt that appears to be in excellent form right now. That race also flatters his Forego rivals - Jackson Bend and Jersey Town - and, in turn, the performance of Uncle Mo in the Kelso. Of course, it's important to note that Aikenite runs very well at Keeneland (5-2-2-0).
-Not to pick on Todd Schrupp from TVG, but sometimes his hyperbole is a little too much to take. After Hoofit (NZ) won the Phoenix (a Win and You're In race for the Breeders' Cup Sprint), Schrupp went on and on about how "this is what the Win And You're In series is all about!", while quickly noting that Hoofit is not Breeders' Cup eligible and would need to be supplemented to run at Churchill.
Look, I understand why the Breeders' Cup doesn't make the WAYI races a direct entry and still requires the horse to be BC eligible, but can TVG spare us with the over-the-top announcements that "this is what the series was designed for" when an allowance horse upsets a WAYI race and would require its owners to pony up $100,000 in order to run in Louisville? What he should be saying is "this is why you want to make your horses Breeders' Cup eligible early in their careers - so you don't have to pay $100,000 to become Breeders' Cup eligible when they finally get good and win a big stakes race".
With his win in the Phoenix, Hoofit now has CAREER earnings of $175,000. It's highly unlikely his owners are going to part with $100k to make him Breeders' Cup eligible.
-Okay, one more TVG rant: following the Phoenix Paul LoDuca talked about how New Zealand horses (like Hoofit) are great sprinters and really know how to run. His analysis was partially true but severely missed the big picture: Hoofit raced exclusively on turf in his native New Zealand and then tried Polytrack in his first North American start at Presque Isle Downs. He fit the Phoenix from a running style and surface perspective as much as a "sprinter" perspective. LoDuca also failed to mention that in Hoofit's native New Zealand he was an extremely average horse, at best.
So while Hoofit deserves credit for winning the race, I believe his victory had more to do with the biases of the track than his sprinting talents. Every horse that wins a race, even a stakes race, isn't great. Sometimes the circumstances fit that horse at the time.
-The rail was really the place to be today at Keeneland, at least in sprints. And it wasn't just speed on the rail, it was late runners on the rail, too. Hoofit probably doesn't win the Phoenix without a biased rail, and no way does Gutsy Call win the last race of the day without one. Put that in the back pocket as we go forward.
While the old dirt track is long gone, some of its quirks found their way to the Poly on opening day of the 2011 fall meet.
-Two-turn graded stakes races on Polytrack are killers for dirt-only horses. Repeat that over and over.
Over half the field was dirt-only horses in today's Grade 1 Alcibiades, and ALL of them failed to finish in the top three. All of them.
If you were playing a Pick 3, Pick 4 or Pick 5, you could have tossed half the field and felt pretty good about it.
-Julien Leparoux won four of the ten races on opening day; three races on the Poly and one on the turf. That's nothing new for a jock that really knows how to ride on synthetic and turf surfaces.