03/30/2010 12:00AM

Keeneland ready to spring to life


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The locals who bore the brunt of a long Kentucky winter can reap their just rewards this weekend. Temperatures in the high 70s are being forecast for Friday and Saturday, the first two days at Keeneland, where top-class horses and horsemen will be on parade as usual amid the greenery of spring.

Keeneland president Nick Nicholson hosted a media conference Tuesday to express the excitement that has built toward the spring meet, which runs through April 23.

"It's been so much fun to watch this place come alive after the winter we had," Nicholson said. "I don't know if Keeneland has ever looked better."

The 15-day meet opens Friday with the $100,000 Transylvania Stakes, the first of 16 stakes worth $3.65 million. A field of nine 3-year-olds was entered Tuesday in the Grade 3 Transylvania, a 1 1/16-mile turf fixture that goes as the ninth of 10 races. Macias, Nordic Truce, and Lost Aptitude could vie for favoritism.

Lost Aptitude has excelled on grass, although trainer Dale Romans gave in to temptation and tried the Kentucky Derby trail by running the colt in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on the Gulfstream Park dirt. The result was a 46-length defeat.

"We tried it, it didn't work, and now we're back to doing what we know he can do," Romans said.

The first race of the meet is the type that is always popular with fans: a 4 1/2-furlong maiden race for 2-year-olds. A field of eight is entered, with the usual suspects, Wesley Ward and Steve Asmussen, being well represented.

As usual, the stakes schedule is front-loaded so as to dovetail with major races at Churchill Downs during Kentucky Derby week. The first of four Grade 1 races, the $500,000 Ashland Stakes, will be run Saturday, followed in quick order by the $300,000 Vinery Madison on April 8, the $300,000 Maker's Mark Mile on April 9, and the traditional meet highlight, the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes, on April 10.

Most of the top jockeys in America will be here at one time or another, with many of them competing here for virtually the entire meet, including Garrett Gomez, Julien Leparoux, Robby Albarado, Kent Desormeaux, Corey Nakatani, Shaun Bridgmohan, and Javier Castellano. Likewise, many of the top stables will be prominent from flagfall to finish and on through Derby week at Churchill.

Keeneland will be closed Sunday because of the Easter holiday, with the first five-day week starting Wednesday, April 7. Mondays and Tuesdays are the usual dark days. First post daily will be 1:05 p.m. Eastern.

Keeneland is broadening its outreach to fans this meet through a variety of social media, including Twitter, Facebook, texting, online chats, and website advancements. Live streaming of races is available for free on keeneland.com.

TVG will provide extensive onsite coverage throughout the meet, with Todd T. Schrupp and Simon Bray handling anchor duties during the first two days.