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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — What was old will be new again when Keeneland kicks off its fall meet on Friday.
The picturesque track will debut its new dirt surface, installed this summer to replace the synthetic Polytrack in use since 2006. Done to attract top horses, this weekend will feature many preparing for this month's Breeders' Cup world championships at Santa Anita.
Keeneland will host next year's Breeders' Cup.
Keeneland's new surface gets its first dose of stakes competition with Saturday's card featuring nine graded races totaling $3.6 million. The highlight is the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile offering the track's first $1 million purse.
Reigning two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan is entered, seeking his second Shadwell win in three years after finishing second last year. The 7-year-old went on to win the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita.
Training opened in August on the main track now comprised of sand, clay and silt. It features a new drainage system that could be tested right away with showers forecast for Friday.
So far, trainers and jockeys like how horses are taking to dirt.
"I worked a horse here yesterday on the new track and it seems like the horses are getting over it well," said jockey Kerwin Clark, back at Keeneland for a full meet for the first time in decades.
Sunshine is expected Saturday when Wise Dan shoots for a 4-0 start this year and second straight win since returning from emergency colic surgery in May. He has won 13 of 14 and is 22-2-0 in 30 career starts.
"He is just an amazing horse," Wise Dan trainer Charlie LoPresti said this week. "He is about as good as I can get him."
The Shadwell winner earns an automatic berth in the Mile and is among several Breeders' Cup win-and-in races.
Friday's slate features the $400,000 Grade I Darley Alcibiades and $200,000 Grade 3 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix. Both are Breeders' Cup qualifiers in the Juvenile Fillies and Sprint divisions respectively.
The 17-day meet runs through Oct. 25.
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