04/01/2011 12:45PM

Keeneland: Ashland first of four Grade 1 events at spring meet

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Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Early Kentucky Oaks favorite Kathmanblu will prep for the May 6 race in Saturday's Ashland at Keeneland.

The charter planes and horse vans have been descending in recent days on Lexington, Ky., where on Friday a rite of spring will get under way when Keeneland begins a 15-day meet that will showcase many of the best horses and horsemen in North America.

“We’ve got about 800 horses on the grounds right now, and there’s more to come,” said Keeneland racing secretary Ben Huffman. “It’s going to be another exciting meet.”

The first of four Grade 1 races at the meet comes Saturday, when several of the top prospects for the Kentucky Oaks will clash in the $400,000 Ashland Stakes, including Kathmanblu, who closed as a lukewarm favorite in the only Oaks future wager offered this spring by Churchill Downs. Kathmanblu was scheduled to breeze this weekend at Gulfstream Park before being flown Wednesday to Keeneland, according to trainer Ken McPeek.

Dancinginherdreams, an impressive winner over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland in her career debut last fall, also will go in the 1 1/16-mile Ashland. Other known prospects include Bouquet Booth, Delightful Mary, Draw It, Excited, and Wyomia, while several more 3-year-old fillies are possible starters, including Triune, who would have to be supplemented for a $20,000 fee.

The meet opens Friday with the Grade 3, $100,000 Transylvania for 3-year-olds on the turf. Entries for opening day will be taken and drawn Tuesday.

The other Grade 1 races all will be run during the second week of the meet, with the $300,000 Vinery Madison on April 14, the $300,000 Maker’s Mark Mile on April 15, and the richest race of the meet, the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes, set for April 16.

In all, 16 stakes worth more than $3.4 million are on the schedule. Several stakes have undergone moderate purse cuts, but Huffman said he expects per day purses to average in the $600,000 range, as usual.

The Friday opener will come after four dark days on the Kentucky circuit. Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., winds up four months of winter racing Sunday.

Keeneland has announced a slew of special events in celebration of its 75th anniversary. The track was founded in 1936.

 

Ex-jockey Troilo becomes steward in Indiana

Just two years after retiring from the saddle, Bill Troilo has been hired as a steward at both Thoroughbred tracks in Indiana.

Troilo, 50, won more than 2,500 races in a 28-year riding career, retiring in April 2009 after suffering chronic knee problems. He attended stewards’ school at the University of Louisville and has worked in various capacities at tracks in Kentucky and Indiana since then. When Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park had openings over the winter after Dan Fick became director of racing at Remington Park in Oklahoma, Troilo was hired as a state steward at both tracks.

“I feel very fortunate,” said Troilo. “I knew someday I wanted to be a steward, but I didn’t think it’d happen this quick.”

Indiana Downs begins April 18.

Injured apprentice rider ready for Keeneland

Apprentice rider Marcelino Pedroza returned Thursday from his native Panama after taking time to recuperate from an injured knee and will be ready for the start of Keeneland, according to his agent, Julio Espinoza.

Pedroza, the leading rider at the 2010 holiday meet at Turfway, last rode Jan. 29 and will apply for an extension to his apprenticeship. Pedroza, 18, is the nephew of accomplished journeymen Martin Pedroza and Cornelio Velasquez.

Pedroza was injured at Turfway in a paddock accident, after which a hairline fracture was diagnosed. He has 44 career wins.

Torres nearly set to resume riding

Jockey Francisco Torres said Thursday that he is awaiting an okay from his physician to begin working horses in preparation for Keeneland and Indiana Downs. Torres sustained three fractured ribs at Oaklawn, where he had been riding this winter after returning from the arthroscopic knee surgery he underwent last fall. His last mount was March 11.

Torres, 41, has won nearly 2,400 races in North America during a career interrupted by a lengthy stint in the Middle East. He is being represented by Doc Danner, who also is working for Freddie Lenclud.

◗ Miguel Mena, who passed the 1,000-win milestone at the recently ended Fair Grounds meet, has hired Frank Bernis as his agent. Mena, a 24-year-old native of Peru, has been a mainstay at Keeneland and Churchill Downs since 2006.Bernis will continue to work for Jamie Theriot, who won two Breeders’ Cup races last fall at Churchill with Dubai Majesty and Chamberlain Bridge.

◗ Apprentice rider Constantino Roman enters the Keeneland meet with momentum after winning five races in his first week at Turfway. Roman, 20, switched to Turfway on March 20 after riding exclusively at Hawthorne since arriving from Mexico.

◗ Tickets at $150 each are now on sale for the annual Kentucky Derby trainers’ dinner, to be held May 3 in downtown Louisville. More information is available by calling Vickie Garcia at (859) 259-1643.

– additional reporting by Marcus Hersh