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Aikenite draws bead on Phoenix

10/6/2011

LEXINGTON, Ky.-- Aikenite has developed quite a tradition at Keeneland, albeit not one as old as the Phoenix Stakes. The 4-year-old Dogwood Stable star has an unmistakable knack for running well over the local Polytrack surface, having posted daylight scores in an allowance race here last fall and the Grade 2 Commonwealth Stakes last April.

Now comes the 159th running of the Grade 3, $175,000 Phoenix, the oldest stakes race in America, and Aikenite has the six-furlong fixture dead in his sights. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the colt is one of seven sprinters trying to earn a fees-paid berth Friday into the Breeders' Cup Sprint, the Nov. 5 race for which the Phoenix serves as a Win and You're In event.

Aikenite, with John Velazquez to ride, will break from post 6 in the Phoenix, the eighth of 10 opening-day races (post time, 5:13).

Aikenite "seems to have an affinity for the Keeneland surface, going all the way back to when he was a real good second in the Breeders' Futurity as a 2-year-old," said Michael McCarthy, who oversees the Kentucky string when Pletcher is elsewhere. "Timing-wise, both Keeneland meets have fit well for him the last couple of years. We're looking forward to leading him over Friday."

Aikenite will try to become the first horse to sweep the Commonwealth and Phoenix in the same year since Golden Gear did it for Noel Hickey in 1995. His form on the Churchill dirt isn't bad, either: He won the Grade 2 Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard in May.

Probably the top threat to Aikenite is Flashpoint, the lone 3-year-old in the Phoenix field. Trained by Wesley Ward for the Peachtree Stable, the speedy gray colt forced a swift pace in the Grade 1 King's Bishop on the Aug. 27 Travers undercard before fading to fifth. Cornelio Velasquez has the mount from post 1.

Other contenders include Hamazing Destiny, the 2010 BC Sprint runner-up looking for his first win of the year for trainer D. Wayne Lukas; Sterling Outlook, a last-out dead-heat winner of a restricted stakes on the Del Mar Polytrack for new trainer John Sadler; and Cool Bullet, runner-up to Aikenite in the Commonwealth in the spring for Steve Margolis.

Rounding out the cast are Southern Style and Hoofit.

The Phoenix was first run in 1831 at the old Kentucky Association track in Lexington.