04/02/2008 3:31PM

Back on the Main


Commenter jim summed up my own feelings about the start of April when he concisely wrote, "Inner is over and Keeneland opens Friday...yippee!" I took-a-break/gave-up-on the Aqueduct inner-track meet about a month ago, other than double-carryovers, and have been waiting for the return of seven-furlong sprints and one-turn miles that started today. I needed a freshening, and the final month of the inner, with its new lows of quality this year, seemed like the time for a layoff.

It's not as if the racing suddenly got a whole lot better with the surface switch, and players who had been complaining about a recent speed bias on the inner were still complaining after a run of front-end winners on the main, but my fresh eyes found the card playable and there was one nice opportunity in the sixth race -- one that included two types of horses who are seem to be routinely overbet: slow horses from hot trainers, and grass horses returning from layoffs in dirt races.

Golden Wind was a legit favorite, stretching out from six furlongs to a mile as the lone speed with clearly superior figures. Such horses do not quicken my blood at 7-5. But the second and third choices in the race were those types mentioned above: Boxitup was the 2-1 second choice despite four horrendous dirt races to start his career. He followed those with four decent grass effort, and now was returning to the dirt. Study Abroad, the thiord choice at 4-1, had won her last start by 10 1/2 elngths but did it against statebred maiden claimers and earned a figure of 54 that was not going to be competitive here. Had she been trained by John Doe instead of Rick Dutrow, she would have been 8-1. So I tossed them both, punched Golden Wind over the only other two plausible contenders in the race, 8-1 Slipstone(last-out 60) and 12-1 Roll The Di (last-out 58) in exactas and tris, and it worked almost to perfection: Golden Wind jogged on the front, Roll the Di was a clear second and Slipstone was third with 20 yards to go....but got nailed on the wire by Study Abroad. Bad result since the tri, which paid $120, probably would have been closer to $200, but the $37.20 exacta wasn't terrible.

As for the second part of Jim's "yippee," Keeneland indeed opens Friday, where the feature will be the $150k Transylvania for 3-year-olds on the grass. Prussian, unraced since suffering his lone defeat as the 7-2 second choice in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, is 9-5 in a spotty field that includes Barrier Reef, who was transferred to the Godolphin string after winning the Whirlaway on dirt at Aqueduct Feb. 2.

Saturday's Keeneland feature is the G1 Ashland for 3-year-old fillies, an excellent Kentucky Oaks preview and a challenging spot for Country Star to make her season debut: She faces Proud Spell, who handed Indian Blessing her first loss in the Fair Ground Oaks, and Bsharpsonata, who has won four straight stakes at various distances and surfaces.

The Ashland is one of a mind-boggling fourteen graded stakes races around the country the first Saturday in April. The lineup includes four other G1's (the Wood Memorial and Carter at Aqueduct, the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn and the Santa Anita Derby), the G2 Illinis derby and the G2 Oaklawn Handicap.

Yippee indeed.