04/06/2006 11:00PM

Thrills right off bat with $139 winner

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Pat Lang Photography
Chin High (right), Shaun Bridgmohan up, upsets Friday's Transylvania, the opening-day feature at Keeneland.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - If the rest of the meet unfolds this way, it's going to be a very long three weeks for chalk players at Keeneland.

Friday's opening-day feature of the 15-day spring meet, the Grade 3, $150,000 , was won by Chin High, the longest shot in a field of 10 3-year-olds. Chin High, trained by Neil Pessin, returned $139 to win after finishing a length ahead of Le Plaix, a 24-1 shot.

Chin High, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, rallied from ninth in his stunning victory before 18,031 ontrack fans. By Smart Strike, Chin High had won a maiden race by a neck at Evangeline Downs in his fourth and most recent start on March 15.

"We've been pointing for this spot for a while," said Pessin, adding, with all seriousness: "When we entered, we thought we had a good shot to win."

To Sender, the 4-5 favorite, was eager to battle for the early lead in the Transylvania, a mile race on grass. But he began to fade on the far turn, leaving In a Flash on the lead, after which a swarm of back runners, including Chin High and Le Plaix, sped to the front after making their way through traffic.

Chin High, owned by Ike Thrash, finished in 1:37.87 over firm turf.

"It was a matter of whether I could find any room for him," said Bridgmohan. "I didn't want to get him stopped."

Wherethewestbegins, an 8-1 shot, finished third, while To Sender faded to last.

The $2 exacta returned $1,239.20, and the $2 trifecta returned $12,907.80.

The main track started the day rated "good" because of Thursday rain, then was upgraded to fast after the second race. Ominous clouds moved in soon thereafter, but measurable rain did not fall until shortly after the Transylvania was run.

The last dirt race of the day, the seventh, was won by 10 lengths by Wanderin Boy ($4.40), who finished 1 1/16 miles under Javier Castellano in a swift 1:42.05. Wanderin Boy may race next in the May 5 Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs, said trainer Nick Zito.

Wanderin Boy, owned by Arthur Hancock, "chased some nice horses this winter," said Zito. "That was an awesome race."

Romans picks up a first

For all his accomplishments - nearly 1,000 wins and multiple training titles during a 20-year training career - Dale Romans experienced a career first on Friday.

"I've never won a 2-year-old race in the spring at Keeneland," Romans said after sending out One Good Yank ($12.20), owned by Jerry Crawford, to a 4 1/2-length victory in the first race of the meet, a 4 1/2-furlong dash for 2-year-olds.

The placement of a 2-year-old race as the meet opener marked a departure from previous springs, when a two-turn, low-level claimer was carded as the first race. Because Keeneland always has been noted for a classy brand of racing, the sight of $5,000 claimers bounding around the track provided a twist that the track's late racing secretary, Howard Battle, would have found humorous.

"Howard had a lot of fun in a lot of ways," said Rogers Beasley, Keeneland director of racing. As for the break in Battle's tradition Friday: "We thought having a full field of 2-year-olds would be nice."

Clemens on hand for opener

Among the celebrities turning out for opening day was Roger Clemens, the future baseball Hall of Famer. Clemens was in town ostensibly to watch his son, Koby, play third base for the Class A Lexington Legends of the South Atlantic League, but the scheduled Thursday night game was rained out.

Before the first race, Clemens walked into the Keeneland walking ring with Bill Heiligbrodt, a fellow Houston resident.

"I've never been here before," said Clemens. "This is great."

Paljo, owned by Heiligbrodt, flashed early speed before fading to fourth in the opener.

* The Green Monkey, the Forestry colt who brought a world-record $16 million purchase price at Calder on Feb. 28, joined the Todd Pletcher stable Friday morning at Churchill Downs after a short van ride from Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky.

"Since the sale, he's been at Ashford, resting and doing a little jogging," said Pletcher. "We're in no hurry with him, although I still think he's the precocious type. We're just going to let him get settled in and take it slow."