04/08/2016 6:36PM

Shakhimat warms up day for backers on chilly Keeneland opener

Coady Photography/Keeneland
Emma-Jayne Wilson guides 6-1 Shakhimat to a front-running win in the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes before 12,013 fans who braved cold, wet weather on opening day of the Keeneland spring meet.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Shakhimat took command at once and never looked back in posting a 6-1 victory in the Grade 3, $100,000 Transylvania Stakes as Keeneland opened its 16-day spring meet on a wet and cold Friday afternoon.

With Emma-Jayne Wilson aboard for Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield, Shakhimat returned $14.20 after prevailing by 3 1/4 lengths over J R’s Holiday. Inspector Lynley was another half-length back in third and just a nose in front of Converge, the 2-1 second choice.

Wilson and Attfield spend most of their time in Canada. Attfield makes Keeneland a regular stopover to and from Florida every year, but Wilson takes a break from riding every winter and typically launches a comeback at about this time of year. Her ride on Shakhimat was just her sixth this year.

Shakhimat “settled back and was in my hands,” said Wilson. “Every time this horse works, he’s so keen when he puts his head in front. I had quite a bit of horse turning for home, and unless something really came running, I thought we would be tough.”

Shakhimat, an Ontario-bred by Lonhro, is owned by Richard Hogan and Dan Gale. The Transylvania was his first start in exactly five months. The colt won two of his three starts last year at 2, all at Woodbine, with a victory in the ungraded Coronation Futurity capping his season.

The winning time was 1:42.65 over a turf course rated firm.

Catapult, the 9-5 favorite and like Converge trained by Chad Brown, finished fifth, followed by One Mean Man, Prime Time Man, and Sorryaboutnothing. Urban Bourbon was an early scratch.

The $2 exacta (2-5) paid $118.80, the $1 trifecta (2-5-1) returned $265.50, and the 10-cent superfecta (2-5-1-7) was worth $54.58.

The Transylvania came near the end of a 10-race card that had fans bundling up if they dared emerge from the enclosed areas of the grandstand and clubhouse. Not only did the thermometer barely manage to reach the mid-40s, but an intermittent rain turned hard (and was briefly mixed with hail) prior to the seventh race, and conditions were exacerbated all day by a biting wind.

Unfortunately, it’s supposed to be even colder and windier for the huge Blue Grass Stakes program here Saturday, with the high forecast to hit only 46.

Friday started with a $2 daily double worth a mere $5.60 after victories by Big City Dreamin ($2.80) and Slan Abhaile ($3). Big City Dreamin, a 2-year-old Florida-bred filly, is trained by Wesley Ward, who has been a major force here for the last decade in baby races.

“She ran like we hoped she would,” Ward said afterward.

Big City Dreamin returned to the winner’s circle with a gash on the inside of her right hind leg and won’t necessarily run back in the May 5 Kentucky Juvenile at Churchill Downs, said Ward.

“We’ll have to see what this is about,” he said.

Chalk resurfaced again in race 4 when Flatter Me Big ($5) led throughout a maiden-claiming sprint. In the next race, West Coast Chick ($11.40) outnodded Kathballu in the first tight win photo of the meet, and then Animal Instinct ($9.60) got a terrific ride from John Velazquez in winning the sixth race, the only turf race of the card besides the Transylvania.

The fourth favorite of the card came through in race 7 when Conquest Serenade ($5) fought back under Jose Lezcano to defeat 12-1 Mines and Magic, after which Twirl Girl ($18.60) rallied from off the pace to give jockey Luis Saez his second win of the day.

Speed, in general, was good on the main track, with most of the eight winners racing on or close to the lead. The wealth was well distributed, as Saez was the only jockey or trainer to double on the day.

Despite the weather, attendance was 12,013, up considerably from opening day of the 2015 spring meet, when only 8,459 showed up amid widespread tornado warnings.

A $10,000 college scholarship was given away before the eighth race Friday by Jim McIngvale, best known in racing as the owner of Eclipse champion sprinter Runhappy. His donation was in conjunction with the biannual College Scholarship Day promotion, which raffles off 10 scholarships worth $1,000 each by co-sponsors Keeneland and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association.