Updated on 09/16/2011 7:06AM

Keeneland starts with a bang


LEXINGTON, Ky. - It won't take long for the Keeneland spring meet to begin producing news worthy of the racing world's attention. A pivotal matchup between two of North America's most highly regarded 3-year-old fillies, Take Charge Lady and Belterra, is expected to take place in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes here Saturday, just a day after the 16-day meet opens.

Quite possibly because Take Charge Lady and Belterra will be entered, the $500,000 Ashland is likely to come up with a small field, according to Keeneland's new stakes coordinator Dan Bork. Other probables for the 1 1/16-mile race are Bronze Autumn, Take the Cake, and possibly Chamrousse and Colonial Glitter.

The Ashland is the first of two Grade 1 races to be run at the meet, with the other being the traditional meet highlight, the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 13. A Grade 1 steeplechase, the Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings, is scheduled for closing day, April 26.

The Friday opener is the $100,000 Transylvania Stakes for 3-year-olds at a mile on turf. Probable favorites in a field that probably will approach the turf-course maximum of 10 starters include Political Attack, Mr. O'brien and Flying Dash.

The $100,000 Lafayette Stakes is the Sunday feature, which represents a change from the traditional spring schedule. The Lafayette displaces the now defunct Appalachian for 3-year-old turf fillies. In turn, the Lafayette, which formerly was run on the first Wednesday of the meet, has been replaced by the $100,000 Madison, a new seven-furlong race for fillies and mares.

Purses are expected to average about $630,000 per day, which would be the highest of any track in North America. There will be at least one stakes a day, and 19 overall, worth a total of over $3.65 million. Accordingly, top trainers and jockeys from all over the country will be at the meet.