LEXINGTON, Ky. -- It was supposed to be an evenly matched race among unknowns, but once the 10 2-year-old fillies in the Alcibiades turned for home Friday at Keeneland, Heavenly Love already had put it away.
Giving jockey Julien Leparoux and trainer Mark Casse their third and most important victory on opening day of the Keeneland fall meet, Heavenly Love stamped her ticket to the Breeders' Cup in emphatic fashion, winning the Grade 1, $400,000 Alcibiades by 5 1/2 lengths.
"She exploded [on the turn], but we still had some left," said Leparoux. "She's still a little baby, but she's a very nice filly."
Heavenly Love, bred and owned by Debby Oxley, returned $13.40 after finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.32 over a fast track. The daughter of Malibu Moon was coming off a maiden victory last month at Kentucky Downs before putting forth a breakthrough effort that earned her an expenses-paid berth to the Nov. 4 BC Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar.
Casse was supposed to be here all day, but his morning flight out of Gainesville, Fla., was canceled, leaving assistant David Carroll to deputize.
"Awesome performance," said Carroll, who until last year trained his own stable for nearly 25 years. "She trained beautifully."
Earlier in the day, Casse and Leparoux teamed to win a pair of maiden special races with Gio Game ($5.60) and Magical Sky ($5.20).
On a mostly sunny day, and before an on-track crowd of 19,204, Heavenly Love sat a relaxed second as her stablemate, Dancing, set fractions of 23.94, 48.38, and 1:13.81. Midway through the final turn, Leparoux let his mount out a notch, and by the time the filly passed the furlong pole, she had a three-length lead en route to a decisive score.
The win was the second in Alcibiades history for Leparoux (Peace and War, 2014) and the third for Casse (Spring in the Air, 2012, and My Conquestadory, 2013). Debby Oxley's husband, John, was the owner of record of Spring in the Air.
Princess Warrior, a surprise 3-2 favorite off just a maiden sprint win at Churchill Downs last month, emerged best of the others when finishing second, another 1 1/2 lengths before Dancing. The Brad Cox pair of Sassy Sienna and Kelly's Humor were separated by just a head when fourth and fifth, respectively, and were followed in order Bet She Wins, Caroline the Great, Arabella Bella, Over Thinking, and Pacific Gale.
Kenny McPeek, trainer of Princess Warrior, said he was very encouraged by the filly's effort and said "there's a good chance" he will look to run the daughter of Midshipman back in the BC Juvenile Fillies. "This was just her second start, but she handles everything like she's an 8-year-old."
The $2 exacta (9-1) paid $48.80, the $1 trifecta (9-1-8) returned $171, and the 10-cent superfecta (9-1-8-10) was worth $112.48.