03/30/2009 11:00PM

Coming from all over for opening day


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Chilly and wet weather notwithstanding, springtime in Kentucky pretty much became official Tuesday when entries for opening day at the Keeneland spring meet were released.

The 10-race Friday opener is anchored by the $150,000 Transylvania Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile turf race that features the kind of melting-pot look that will typify the 15-day meet to its April 24 conclusion. Recent arrivals from Gulfstream Park, Fair Grounds, and Santa Anita form the core of the Transylvania, the first of 17 stakes at the meet.

The balance of the opening-day card - for which a few showers and a high temperature of just 54 has been forecasted - also offers standard Keeneland fare: three allowances and a pair of maiden special weight races, including the first 2-year-old race in the state this year.

The uncoupled Darley Stable duo of Florentino, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, and Stormalory, trained by Bill Mott, look like logical favorites among eight 3-year-olds in the Transylvania.

The Transylvania kicks off a slightly revised stakes schedule that was trimmed by $600,000 from last year but still offers some $3.8 million in purses. Overnight purses, including maiden races worth $50,000, were not affected by the cuts so that they remain lucrative for everyday horsemen, according to Rogers Beasley, director of racing at Keeneland. Per-day purses still will average about $600,000, which ranks Keeneland among the highest in North America.

The only other stakes on the opening three-day weekend is the Grade 1, $400,000 Ashland Stakes, which had its purse cut by $100,000 from last year. The Ashland figures as a key prep for the May 1 Kentucky Oaks and will have Stardom Bound, a winner of five straight Grade 1 events, as a strong favorite with Mike Smith aboard. A field of about eight 3-year-old fillies was expected when Ashland entries were taken Wednesday.

Major races come fast and furious the following week. Eight stakes will be run during the April 8-11 period, with the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes, the annual meet highlight, on Aprilo11. Kentucky Derby prospects for the Grade 1 Blue Grass include Charitable Man, Patena, Hold Me Back, Mafaaz, and Terrain.

Keeneland will be dark Mondays, Tuesdays, and April 12 (Easter). The meet brings several notable changes, particularly for ontrack fans. First post each day is five minutes earlier at 1:05 p.m. Eastern. General admission has been raised from $3 to $5, although meet-long passes are available for $13. And preferred parking is now available ($5 Wednesdays and Thursdays, $10 on other days), as opposed to the old system that consisted solely of free general parking and a private valet service for clubhouse members.

Wagering on Keeneland races will be available on all four major online platforms - Xbressbet, TVG, Youbet, and twinspires.com. Live online streaming also will be available on those sites and on keeneland.com. Exclusive broadcast rights belong to TVG, which has planned extensive onsite coverage for much of the meet.

Opening day also is College Day, with the track and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association raffling off 10 college scholarships worth $1,000 apiece.