Updated on 09/17/2011 10:13AM

Racing's rite of spring


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Some of the good people of the Bluegrass state are still mourning, their beloved Kentucky Wildcats having been unceremoniously dispatched as the favorite from the NCAA tournament last weekend.

Fortunately for sports fans in the region, happier times are at hand. A 15-day race meet begins Friday at Keeneland Race Course, where even the most dispirited souls can rediscover a smile or a spring in their step.

There are many reasons Keeneland engenders such rejuvenation, but the short version is this: Horse racing just doesn't get a lot better than it is at Keeneland. With purses averaging more than $600,000 a day, many of the best horses, trainers, and jockeys on the planet are lured to this bucolic track, where racing has been conducted since 1937.

As usual, with races such as the Kentucky Derby and Oaks just around the corner, the opening half of the Keeneland meet is loaded with critical prep races. While the $100,000 Transylvania Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds, is carded as the opening-day feature, the really big stuff begins Saturday with the $500,000 Ashland Stakes, a Grade 1 race that figures to serve as the most important prep for the May 2 Oaks.

One Saturday later, the highlight of the meet, the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, will serve a similar role for the May 3 Derby. Several top Derby contenders, including Peace Rules and Badge of Silver, are among the likely starters in the Blue Grass, a Grade 1 race that has produced the Derby winner 22 times.

Friday, though, is when it all begins, and the Transylvania looks like a good starting point. Remind, a sensational winner in the only two grass races of his career, both coming this winter at Gulfstream Park, looks like a deserving favorite in a field of nine.

Remind is owned by Claiborne Farm, one of the most fabled racing stables in Keeneland history. A homebred by Deputy Minister, Remind was soundly beaten in his career debut on the Aqueduct main track in November, but after trainer Bill Mott regrouped at Payson Park and spotted Remind on the grass, the colt quickly turned things around.

Remind romped in a January maiden race, and seven weeks later, in an entry-level allowance, the result was virtually identical: Remind broke sharply to set the pace before being ridden out to a comfortable score.

Jerry Bailey, who has ridden Remind in all three starts, has the mount on Friday.

Mott, whose 21 career stakes wins trail only D. Wayne Lukas's 45 atop the all-time Keeneland standings, has crafted a rather interesting legacy since Keeneland built its turf course in 1985. Mott's first four stakes wins at Keeneland (1983-86) were on dirt, but the next 17 have all been on the turf, the latest being Styleistick in the Appalachian last spring. Mott runners have captured two runnings of the Transylvania: Crimson Guard in 1995 and Baptize in 2001.

Probably the strongest challengers to Remind are two other colts who were active at the Gulfstream meet: Hypnotist, winner of the Dave Feldman Stakes in late January for trainer Barclay Tagg, and White Cat, a narrowly beaten second in the Feldman and Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes in his last two starts. He is trained by Ken McPeek.

The third race on opening day, a $50,000 maiden special weight sprint for colts and geldings at 4 1/2 furlongs, is the first of the year for 2-year-olds in Kentucky. All 2-year-old races at Keeneland in the spring are run out of the Headley chute.

The Transylvania goes as the eighth of nine races. First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

The weather forecast for opening day shows a slight chance of thunderstorms and a high temperature of about 70.

'First horse in' policy in place

In keeping with how other Kentucky tracks have addressed fans' concerns about wagering fraud since the Breeders' Cup pick six fiasco was uncovered last fall, Keeneland officials announced Wednesday that betting on each race will stop when the first horse is entered in the starting gate.

That same "first horse in" policy was used the last several months at Turfway Park, which Keeneland co-owns and manages.

* The drive-through wagering service that is operational year-round at Keeneland will be open during the live meet.

AT A GLANCE: Keeneland Race Course

RACING SCHEDULE: 15 days; Friday through April 25; dark Mondays, Tuesdays, and April 20 (Easter Sunday).

POST TIME: 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

ADMISSIONS: General, $2.50; reserved seats additional at various prices; clubhouse, private.

AVERAGE PURSES: About $605,000 daily.

PARKING: General, free; valet, private.

LOCATION: Six miles west of downtown Lexington on U.S. 60.

PHONE: (859) 254-3412 or (800) 456-3412.

INTERNET: www.keeneland.com