04/02/2014 2:38PM

Keeneland: Best three weeks of spring kicks in

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Horses put in some track time at Keeneland on Tuesday. The track is set to begin its 15-day spring meet Friday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Not too long ago, winter acted as if it was here to stay, and the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team was losing game after game. Horse racing? Barely on the radar.

Well, fast forward a few weeks, and the hardy folks of the Bluegrass State suddenly find themselves in sports heaven. Their resurgent Wildcats have made it to the Final Four at a time when the weather is finally getting nicer, and, most importantly for racing fans, Keeneland is opening for three glorious weeks of live action.

Along with the major announcement Wednesday that Keeneland is switching back to a dirt surface after eight years of Polytrack, this bucolic track was already buzzing as preparations were being made in midweek. By Friday, it will be full throttle when the 15-day spring meet starts with a 10-race card that includes the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes, the first of 16 stakes to be run during what promises to be another highly eventful meet.

“I think everybody’s ready to get going after the tough winter we had,” said Keeneland racing secretary Ben Huffman. “We’re all looking forward to hosting exciting top-class racing.”

Wise Dan, the reigning two-time Horse of the Year, is among those expected to make an appearance here, with the $300,000 Maker’s 46 Mile on April 11 marking his 7-year-old debut. The Maker’s 46, which Wise Dan won last year as a 2-5 favorite, is one of five Grade 1 races to be run during the first seven days of action.

As for the human participants, the question is not “Who’s here,” but “Who’s not?” John Velazquez, Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario, Rosie Napravnik, and many more top jockeys will be in competition on a regular basis. Same goes for many of the top trainers on the continent.

The spring signature race, the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes, is shaping up with a 14-horse maximum and figures to produce a starter or two for the May 3 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. The Blue Grass will anchor a sensational April 12 program that also will include the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley, Grade 1 Madison, Grade 3 Commonwealth, and Grade 3 Shakertown.

The first Grade 1 of the meet comes Saturday with the $500,000 Ashland, a race that could yield a filly or two for the May 2 Kentucky Oaks – provided the likely favorite, Testa Rossi, does not win. Trainer Chad Brown said he almost surely will bypass the Oaks with Testa Rossi, who has been a genuine standout so far on grass.

“I’m just not getting that feeling from her, that she’d be as good on dirt as she’s been on the turf,” said Brown.

Main events during the latter portion of the stand include the Grade 3 Lexington, a last-gasp Derby prep that will highlight a three-stakes card April 19, and meet-ending turf marathons, the Grade 3 Bewitch on April 24 and the Grade 2 Elkhorn on closing day, April 25.

Even on days without stakes – and there will be six of those – there still will be plenty of classy racing. Counting bonuses from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, Huffman estimated per-day purses at $627,000, once again among the highest in North America.

There will only be two Sunday cards (April 6 and 13) during the meet, owing to April 20 being dark because of the Easter holiday. The April 13 program not only will include the Grade 2 Beaumont Stakes but also a “Ladies of the Turf” theme, with many of the great female participants in racing history signed on to attend.

Friday is the biannual College Scholarship Day, with 10 scholarships worth $1,000 each being raffled off throughout the day. For Saturday, Keeneland is encouraging fans to wear blue to support Kentucky in its NCAA push.

Post time every day is 1:05 p.m. Eastern, except Blue Grass Day, when a 12-race card will start at 12:35. TVG will have an on-site presence throughout the meet.

One slight down note: The weather for opening day might not match the fans’ giddy mood, as strong thunderstorms being predicted for Thursday night could carry into Friday, with high temperatures reaching the mid-60s.

Barry Lushan More than 1 year ago
Todd for the next 3weeks. Ughhhhhhh!,,
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure these are going to be the best three weeks. These fields are way down in size. Most fields have 8, 7, 6. I have looked at the 3-day weekend and I know I really became deflated. I was so ready to attack and now I'm rethinking even playing there. Last few years avg fields were probably 9 to 10. As most exotic players know, you cant bet tri's and supers in 7 fields. There is no value over the long term. I'm hoping maybe its a one weekend thing and next weekend the cards fill?
Pom DeTerre More than 1 year ago
Great decision and long overdue. However while keenland may be best 3 weeks of spring, NOTHING compares to the Saratoga meet, including the BC, the T c ,Del Mar or anywhere. 40 days of the best horses in the world, great social scene n Polo, ssh shopping, restaurants, breakfast, while watching horses breeze, lake George and Adirondack mtns, auctions Best people watching in the world. Just bring your wallet you name it, it's all there, the only summer place to be. h
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
How can you say "Best horses in the World" and keep a straight face?. Dirt horses sure.
john g More than 1 year ago
Absolutely great news, a win-win situation for betters. Get rid of the poly crap and return the Bluegrass to the Ky. Derby prep status it once enjoyed. The caliber of horses will improve dramatically for future Bluegrass stakes, and once again future Derby winners will have went thru Keenland to wear the roses. The local public has been wanting Keenland to do this for years, and I believe this had more to do with their decision than some outside chance of hosting the Breeders Cup races once every ten years. Keenland seating and space could not support the Breeders Cup, and to invest that much money to do so for a very small chance of running BC races imo would not be a wise investment, and would take away from the character of the track it now enjoys. I believe the only reason to switch back to dirt was for the Bluegrass stakes to regain its status as a major Ky. Derby prep, after all, Lexington Ky. is the horse capital of the world. And, the synthetic fad has faded, stick a fork in it.
jackdsplns More than 1 year ago
Yeah its done alright. What great news now the Bluegrass is back to it's rightful status as a major Kentucky Derby prep. All in the name of tradition. The Kentucky Derby. The good old American iconic race. What you fail to realize is horse racing is now a GLOBAL sport. American racing needs to ADAPT to the rest of the world. It needs to step into the 21st century. After the Kentucky Derby and the rest of the triple crown what does American racing have? A Breeders Cup that the rest of the world is increasingly not giving a damn about. There are many global races that attract horses from all over the world like the Japan Cup, Dubai World Cup, Australian CUP etc. American horses cannot participate because the horse capital of the world you speak of Lexington Ky.is breeding sorry assed milers with no stamina that can't compete with the rest of the world. Tradition is great , we have our Kentucky Derby but the French have their Arc, the English their Derby ,but the difference is the Euros have stout stayers that can compete worldwide. Japan racing was laughable 20 yrs ago now their breed and racing is much better than ours. Poly track was a step in the right direction but American racing is stuck in the 1940's with no vision for the future. So after your beloved Bluegrass stakes is run ,enjoy your steady diet of 6 furlong races on dirt . But know this: the American bred is far inferior to the Euros and Japanese because of its obsession of breeding speed to speed to race on hard concrete dirt surfaces.
Walter More than 1 year ago
Americans have never really embraced that racing is global. Past and present, it's very rarely that American horses go to Europe to run in important races. Euros come here much more frequently. Really the only place where Americans have traveled and performed is Dubai.
russell More than 1 year ago
Still haven't been there. Its on my short list
Edward Nelson More than 1 year ago
2nd best track to be at next to saratoga. Poly or not, great atmosphere for the races
Rob More than 1 year ago
So glad they are getting rid of Poly Crap
jackdsplns More than 1 year ago
Poly Crap ha ha ha that's very funny and original. You sound like a dumb hayseed
Randall More than 1 year ago
God's country
Steve Seger More than 1 year ago
This is the Best. Big fields, and more money in the pools for us gamblers. Low takeout. Top jockeys, and back to dirt.
tim blake More than 1 year ago
hardly any big fields this weekend. really disappointing compared to other years. i'm kind of shocked still.
Mark Olsen More than 1 year ago
THE BEST horse racing experience in the WORLD!
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
You haven't been to Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood, or Chantlly...
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
Flemington, Meydan, Sha Tin, Longchamps....