Well-matched field assembled for closing-day Fayette at Keeneland

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Jen Caldwell

October 26th, 2016

Noble Bird headlines a well-matched cast of eight runners entered in Keeneland’s $200,000 Fayette Stakes (G2) on Saturday, closing day for the Lexington, Kentucky, track.

Mr. Z, Iron Fist and Divining Rod are also entered in the 1 1/8-mile affair, which could see any one of the eight end up in the winner’s circle.

Noble Bird is one of three entering the Fayette off a win. The Mark Casse-trained five-year-old was most recently seen taking the Lukas Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs in front-running fashion on October 1. He earned a career-best 117 BRIS Speed rating in late May for an 11-length romp in the Pimlico Special Handicap (G3), but followed those with unplaced efforts in a pair of Grade 1s in New York.

Noble Bird is a Grade 1 winner, thanks to a neck victory in the 2015 Stephen Foster Handicap (G1), and keeps jockey Julien Leparoux in the saddle as he attempts back-to-back stakes scores in this spot.

Divining Rod is another of the three exiting a win, and in fact brings a two-race win streak into the Fayette. Both of those wins have come in the four-year-old’s only starts this year. He opened his 2016 season at Parx in an allowance/optional claimer on September 5, and showed back up at the same venue 22 days later to take another allowance/optional claimer.

Divining Rod’s only stakes win came at Keeneland in last year’s Lexington Stakes (G3), which he followed with a trio of thirds in the Preakness Stakes (G1), Ohio Derby and Indiana Derby (G2). The Arnaud Delacour charge shows just one unplaced run in his 11-race career, with that coming as a fifth in the Smarty Jones Stakes (G3) to close out 2015. Divining Rod gets Floret Geroux in the irons this time around to help his chances.

Mr. Z is looking for his first victory since taking the Ohio Derby in June 2015. The D. Wayne Lukas pupil ran second in the Indiana Derby (G2) one race later, but hasn’t hit the board in five starts since. The Malibu Moon four-year-old actually only owns one start for this year, finishing sixth in the Ack Ack Handicap (G3) on October 1, and will attempt to turn things around here with James Graham holding the reins.

Iron Fist will be making his third start for new trainer Steven Asmussen in this spot after spending the past two years with Jerry Hollendorfer. The four-year-old gray was never able to earn a stakes victory with Hollendorfer, though he did place in the Del Mar Futurity (G1), Pennsylvania Derby (G2) and Native Diver Stakes (G3). The Tapit colt most recently just missed by a half-length in the Ack Ack Handicap (G3) at Churchill Downs on October 1 and will have Ricardo Santana Jr. aboard for the first time here.

Chocopologie has captured four of his last five races, all by easy margins, and could upset the Fayette apple cart. The dark bay four-year-old’s only loss in that streak came while running second in his stakes bow in the Super Derby (G2). The Patrick Devereux Jr. trainee easily scored in a pair of allowance/optional claimers before earning his first stakes win in the Governor’s Cup Stakes at Remington Park on September 25. He tied his career-best BRIS Speed rating of 98 on that occasion and keeps Colby Hernandez in the pilot’s seat on Saturday.

Hawaakom has spent much of his career running in allowance and claiming races. It’s only been this year that the Jazil six-year-old has been trying stakes rivals, and he’s not done to bad. The chestnut gelding captured the West Virginia Governor’s Stakes in August and ran second in both the Greenwood Cup Stakes (G3) and Lukas Classic in his past two. The Wesley Hawley charge earned a career-best 100 BRIS Speed rating for his second behind Noble Bird and will give that rival another go with regular rider Miguel Mena aboard.

Kasaqui is a bit of a question mark in this spot. The gray six-year-old has spent all but three of his 21 starts on the turf, including a near miss second in the Wise Dan Stakes (G2) followed by a win in the Arlington Handicap (G3) and a rallying neck second in the Arlington Million (G1) this year. He was fifth by only two lengths for trainer Ignacio Correas IV in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) over Keeneland’s green on October 8 and returns off the three-week turnaround on the main track this time. Robby Albarado has the return call.

Prayer for Relief hasn’t competed since a sixth-placing in the Godolphin Mile (UAE-G2) on Dubai World Cup Day, March 26, at Meydan. The eight-year-old son of Jump Start actually hasn’t competed in the United States since February 2015. Trainer Dale Romans sent him to Meydan for that year’s Godolphin Mile and the dark bay raced exclusively at that track in five subsequent efforts. Prayer for Relief, a dual Grade 2 winner stateside, will try for a return to the winner’s circle with Corey Lanerie aboard Saturday.

Noble Bird photo courtesy of Churchill Downs/Coady Photography