LEXINGTON, Kentucky — An historic month for Keeneland that includes its first Breeders' Cup and the likely farewell of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah begins Friday with the opening of its 17-day fall meet.
Sixteen stakes races worth more than $5 million in purse money highlight the meet that precedes the Breeders' Cup championships Oct. 30-31 at the picturesque track. Nine graded races worth $3.7 million will be run during Keeneland's first three cards, with Saturday's $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile leading seven events guaranteeing entry into the Breeders' Cup weekend.
The month and season conclude with the $26 million Breeders' Cup being run in central Kentucky for the first time. The two-day championships span feature the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff on Oct. 30 and the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic the next day, which will likely be American Pharoah's swan song before retirement.
"This is a monumental time for Keeneland nearly 80 years in the making," Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said.
Opening day feature is the $500,000 Grade 1 Alcibiades for 2-year-old fillies. Dothraki Queen heads the 11-horse field and has already earned a spot in the Breeders' Cup by winning last month's Pocahontas at Churchill Downs.
Friday's card includes the $150,000 Grade 3 Phoenix with last year's champion sprinter, Work All Week, listed as the 2-1 second choice behind Runhappy, an impressive winner in the King's Bishop at Saratoga.
Four graded stakes — including two Grade 1s in the $500,000 Breeders' Futurity and the $400,000 First Lady — join Saturday's featured Grade 1 Turf Mile. Dutch Connection, one of three British horses, is the 4-1 morning line favorite in the 13-horse field including Arlington Million winner The Pizza Man.
The 2014 and 2015 Kentucky Oaks winners — Untapable and Lovely Maria, respectively — top Sunday's card in the $500,000 Grade 1 Spinster.
Keeneland officials believe hosting the Breeders' Cup makes this the best fall meet the track has seen.
"Horses are coming in already and wanting to get used to the track and the surface and the facilities," said Rogers Beasley, Keeneland vice president of racing. "We've got some great talent that's already here. . We'll have some great horses here to win those opening races and go on to win in the Breeders' Cup."