04/03/2012 2:57PM

Keeneland: Opening day sees return of Successful Dan

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Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Successful Dan (right) has been off since being disqualified from victory in the 2010 Clark at Churchill.

Keeneland Race Course opens its 15-day spring meet Friday not only with the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes for 3-year-olds, but also several rich allowance races, including one to mark the long-awaited return of the top older horse Successful Dan.

The $100,000 Transylvania, run at a mile on turf, anchors a 10-race opening-day card for which entries were drawn Tuesday at the Lexington, Ky., track. State of Play, with John Velazquez to ride for Team Valor International and trainer Graham Motion, was assigned post 1 as perhaps a slight favorite in a field of seven.

First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern, with the Transylvania, the ninth race, going at 5:13. One race earlier, Successful Dan will make his first start since finishing first in the 2010 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. The 6-year-old gelding was disqualified to third in the Clark and has not raced since then, having incurred a suspensory injury in the interim. Successful Dan will have Julien Leparoux aboard when he breaks from the outside post among nine older horses entered in the $65,000 allowance, which goes at the Beard Course distance of seven furlongs and 184 feet.

Successful Dan has been working regularly at Keeneland for trainer Charlie Lopresti, who has been extremely pleased with him. “There is a whole lot of hope for this horse,” said Lopresti.

Among the chief opposition to Successful Dan are the multiple stakes winner Capt. Candyman Can and the millionaire Noble’s Promise.

The Friday opener begins with the first race of the year in Kentucky for 2-year-olds, a maiden race at the Headley Course distance of 4 1/2 furlongs. Trainer Wesley Ward has a stable coupling that surely will draw heavy action.

Three allowances (races 4, 5, 7) lead into the Successful Dan race and then the Transylvania, which looks very well-matched. Besides State of Play, a narrow winner of the Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park last out, other top contenders include Travel Advisory, Monastic, Silver Max, and Icon Ike.

The high point of opening weekend comes Saturday with the Grade 1, $500,000 Ashland Stakes, for which Keeneland racing officials were expecting about 10 3-year-olds when entries were drawn Wednesday.

The meet highlight comes a week from Saturday on April 14, with the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes. Three other Grade 1 races also will be run during the first full week of the meet: the Vinery Madison on April 12, the Maker’s 46 Mile on April 13, and the Jenny Wiley on the Blue Grass undercard.

Many of the top jockeys from the Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds meets are expected to compete regularly, including Velazquez, Leparoux, Robby Albarado, and many others.

Keeneland is introducing a number of new concepts and activities at this meet, including fractional wagering, decimal displays, interactive games, and a kids’ club, along with many of its standbys such as Saturday handicapping seminars and paddock interviews with jockeys.

As usual, TVG will have a major ontrack presence throughout the meet, while the NBC Sports Networks also will be on hand for the Ashland and Blue Grass.

The meet runs through April 27 on a Wednesday-through-Sunday schedule. There is no racing on the first Sunday of the meet because of the Easter holiday.

Although weather in this region of the country has been much warmer than normal for weeks, a cold front was expected in mid-week, with the forecast for Friday calling for partly cloudy skies and a high temperature of 65.

Opening day coincides with College Scholarship Day, with 10 scholarships worth $1,000 being raffled off throughout the afternoon.