04/08/2011 2:19PM

Keeneland opener brings spring with it

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Keeneland/Coady Photography
They're off as Keeneland starts its 15-day spring meeting.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The sun had peeked out from its cloud cover and a warm breeze was blowing. The quiet of the Kentucky countryside was broken by Keeneland’s race-caller, Kurt Becker, breaking one of his typical lengthy stretches of welcome silence by somberly intoning: “They’re at the post.”

Then came the cheering, the pounding of hooves, and, perhaps most importantly, the cashing of many tickets. Winter, indeed, was history, and all was right in the Bluegrass world, as Keeneland got its 15-day spring meet under way Friday with an odds-on winner romping to victory in the first race.

Everyday Dave, ridden by Jeffrey Sanchez and trained by Wesley Ward, opened immediate daylight on his fellow 2-year-olds before striding along to a 2 1/4-length triumph in the 4 1/2-furlong opener. He returned $3.80 to his backers, many of whom obviously were aware of the Ward’s considerable prowess with juveniles. Asked how many more fast 2-year-olds he has ready to run here this spring, Ward quipped with a grin, “Quite a few.”

There would be nine more races run before a happy crowd, one that included a healthy percentage of college-age patrons enticed by a scholarship raffle. The Grade 3 Transylvania was scheduled to be run later in the card as the proverbial tip of the Keeneland stakes iceberg: 15 more, all but one of them graded, are scheduled by the time the meet ends April 29, with the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes on April 16 serving as the annual spring-meet highlight.

New at this meet is a 50-cent pick five that replaces the traditional pick six, which rarely had its jackpots build to appreciable sums. The pick five will be held on the last five races daily.

Rider walks away from spill

The meet opener did not go off without a scary reminder of the perils of racing. Hachi, ridden by Matthew Straight, stumbled at the break, throwing his jockey to the track while the other five 2-year-olds raced away. Straight was able to walk into the track ambulance on his own power, and when he returned to the entrance of the paddock runway, his twin brother, Michael, was waiting for him in his wheelchair.

Michael Straight, 25, was paralyzed from the waist down on Aug. 26 after going down in a one-horse spill at Arlington Park near Chicago.

Jimmy Corrigan, the trainer of Hachi, said Straight “told me the ground broke away from him, and off he came.” Corrigan then breathed a heavy sigh of relief in the knowledge of what can always happen.

Matthew Straight was experiencing pain in his shoulder afterward, and although he asked permission to fulfill his only remaining mount on the card, he was ordered to have X-rays taken at a nearby hospital by track physician Dr. Barry Schumer. Ben Creed replaced him on Basilio’s Thunder in the fourth.

Derby hopefuls hit Churchill

While a number of Derby hopefuls are at Keeneland to run in the Blue Grass Stakes next Saturday, April 16, two more were recent arrivals at Churchill Downs: Stay Thirsty and Shackleford were vanned through the stable gate Thursday, joining Decisive Moment as the first Derby candidates to begin training under the twin spires.

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Shackleford has $200,000 in graded earnings after his runner-up finish in the Florida Derby, while Stay Thirsty, well-beaten in the same race, has an edge on him in making the 20-horse cutoff with his $260,000 bankroll. Decisive Moment, with $306,000, got to Churchill two days after running second in the Vinery Spiral at Turfway Park.

Stay Thirsty “shipped in well and looks well,” said Michael McCarthy, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “He’s had a good winter down there in Florida. Obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted in the Florida Derby, but if he can bounce back and we can get four good weeks here, maybe we can get lucky.”