04/03/2013 1:17PM

Keeneland: Star Contender returns to turf for wide-open Transylvania Stakes

Michael Burns
Star Contender returns to turf for Friday's Transylvania Stakes after a failed experiment on dirt in the Gulfstream Park Derby.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – As happens every April in North America nowadays, the 3-year-old division is being described as “wide open,” with the consensus being that an indefinable number of colts and geldings have a so-called “decent shot” at winning the Kentucky Derby. The 3-year-old filly division often is addressed the same way in the run-up to the Kentucky Oaks.

Conversely, far less is made of the 3-year-olds who already have been diverted by their connections into becoming specialists in the art of grass racing. And yet one long look at the Grade 3, $100,000 Transylvania Stakes on Friday at Keeneland leads to a very familiar conclusion: If this race is a true indicator of the current state of the division, then there is a lot of sorting-out to do.

“Generally, young horses get moved over to the grass after they haven’t shown much on the dirt,” said Mark Casse, who will saddle Star Contender for the Transylvania, a turf race that serves as the traditional lid-lifting spring-meet attraction at Keeneland. “One result is you tend to have a lot of unknowns.”

As an illustration of the race’s depth, perhaps six of the 11 entered in the 1 1/16-mile Transylvania will be sent away at single-digit odds, with Star Contender possibly one of them. Up With the Birds has been pegged as a lukewarm 7-2 favorite, with Bambazonki, Jack Milton, Fire Guard, and Redwood Kitten also likely to attract solid play.

The highest Beyer Speed Figures in the lineup belong to Fire Guard (87) and Jack Milton (86), most recently one-two in a Gulfstream Park turf allowance, and Star Contender, who got an 86 last fall in winning the $250,000 Cup and Saucer Stakes, a restricted turf stakes at Woodbine. In his lone start at 3, however, Star Contender finished last by 30 lengths in the Gulfstream Park Derby on dirt.

“He didn’t care for the main track at Gulfstream at all,” Casse said. “I knew we were in trouble after they went a sixteenth of a mile. We all now know that race was a good one [won by Itsmyluckyday], but still, 30 lengths? He shouldn’t get beat that far by Secretariat.”

[TRANSYLVANIA STAKES: Get Keeneland PPs, watch video previews]

With eight recorded workouts since then, Star Contender “has been training forwardly, and I expect him to run very well Friday,” Casse said.

The Transylvania, named for the 233-year-old private Lexington college dwarfed in size and reputation by the neighboring University of Kentucky, is carded as the ninth of 10 Friday races. It dates to 1989, when Shy Tom prevailed under Randy Romero. The 2012 running was won by Silver Max, ridden by Robby Albarado.