04/03/2007 11:00PM

'A' list spring party

Edgar Prado will be part of an elite jockey colony at the Keeneland spring meet that will also include Garrett Gomez and John Velazquez.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Pretty much anybody who is somebody in horse racing will step foot into Keeneland this spring. It's safe to say that $660,000 in average daily purses would entice the best of the best to almost any corner of the country, but the success of Polytrack, the proximity to the Kentucky Derby, and other contributing factors are sure to make the 15-day spring meet that begins Friday a veritable melting pot of the sport's elite.

Edgar Prado, Garrett Gomez, and John Velazquez - arguably the three hottest jockeys in North America today - along with powerhouse stables trained by Todd Pletcher, Doug O'Neill, and Steve Asmussen will be prominent throughout the meet, ensuring that Keeneland will be the place to be over the next three weeks.

"I can't remember such electricity leading up to a meet," said Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland since 2000.

With the debut of Polytrack at the 2006 fall meet having been met with widespread kudos, requests for stall space at this meet were unprecedented. Nicholson credited the results of the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs last fall - several BC winners either raced or trained over Polytrack here - with helping to eradicate doubts about how effective a month or so spent at Keeneland would be when looking toward future engagements at Churchill.

"Horsemen are looking at training and racing here as a major plus, which is a major reason we've got so many top horses stabled here this spring," said Nicholson.

Indeed, major contenders for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks will have their final preps at Keeneland. Street Sense and Great Hunter are among the big names pointing for the meet highlight, the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes on April 14, while Oaks hopefuls Octave and Mistical Plan will get to work right away among nine fillies expected Saturday for the Grade 1, $500,000 Ashland Stakes.

At least one stakes will be run on every Keeneland program through the end of the meet, April 27, and besides the Blue Grass and Ashland, the stakes schedule also includes such important races as the Grade 2 Maker's Mark Mile on April 13, the Grade 2 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup on the Blue Grass undercard, and the Grade 2 Lexington on April 21.

First, however, comes the $150,000 Transylvania, the opening-day feature that carries a bonus. Usually limited to 3-year-olds whose connections have nothing more than future turf stakes in mind, this 19th running of the Grade 3 Transylvania instead has a Derby hopeful in Sedgefield. His trainer, Darrin Miller, is looking for more graded earnings to enhance the colt's Derby eligibility while also dodging the more rugged Blue Grass and Lexington.

Sedgefield, with Rafael Bejarano to ride, will break from post 9 in a field of 10 in the Transylvania, which goes at one mile on the turf. Other major contenders include Marcavelly, a Bill Mott-trained colt making his first start since finishing second as an odds-on choice here last fall in the Bourbon Stakes, and U D Ghetto, the Kentucky Cup Juvenile winner who will be making his grass debut.

The Transylvania, which is carded as the ninth of 10 races and is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Eastern, will be directly preceded by an unrestricted allowance that marks the seasonal debut of Funny Cide, the 2003 Derby winner. The 1 1/16-mile race drew an extremely deep field of 12.

The first of 10 2-year-old races scheduled during the course of the meet will serve as the curtain raiser, as nine unraced "babies" will dash 4o1/2 furlongs. Yogi'ssplashofgold, Nownownow, and Hargill all have shown considerable morning promise and figure to take strong action.

TVG is pulling out all the stops in its coverage of Keeneland, as Todd T. Schrupp, Matt Carothers, Frank Lyons, Gary Stevens, and other on-air personalities will be on site for much of the meet.

Although the weather in recent weeks in the Lexington area has been exceptionally warm, a cold front came through Tuesday night, and high temperatures in the mid- to high 40's are in the forecast for opening day through early next week.