04/02/2004 1:00AM

Timo the Transylvania victor on opening day


LEXINGTON, Ky. - It was a gray day as Keeneland opened its 15-day spring meet Friday, and not just because of the weather.

Timo, a distinctive-looking gray colt, rallied under Edgar Prado to capture the featured $113,400 Transylvania Stakes on a raw, overcast, sometimes wet afternoon. An El Prado colt bred and owned by Carolyn Kapioltas and trained by Bill Badgett, Timo returned $6.60 as second choice in a field of nine 3-year-olds.

"I was happy with this, considering he was spotting these horses quite a bit of weight and was coming off a three-month layoff," said Badgett.

Timo, carrying high weight of 123 pounds in the one-mile turf race, was making his first start since finishing eighth in the Jan. 1 Tropical Park Derby. Before that, he won two stakes from his first five starts.

Before a crowd of 10,926, Timo was forwardly placed while saving ground behind the longshot leader, Mr. J.T.L., for most of the way. Turning for home, Timo swung out to challenge, and after a long drive, he finally got past Mr. J.T.L., a 26-1 shot, to prevail by three-quarters of a length, finishing in 1:36.52 over firm turf. America Alive was another neck back in third, while Commendation, the 9-5 favorite under John Velazquez, had some traffic trouble before finishing fifth.

Badgett said he is not eager for Timo to have a rematch with Kitten's Joy, who romped in the Tropical Park Derby and will run next in the Crown Royal American Turf at Churchill Downs on April 30. "We'll probably point to the Jersey Derby," he said, referring to a Monmouth Park stakes in May.

For Prado, the Transylvania win sustained a remarkable run at Keeneland. Since the 2001 spring meet, Prado has won 17 stakes here, second only to Pat Day's 18 during that span.

Despite the dismal weather, many people seemed to enjoy themselves as live racing returned to the Bluegrass region - especially the winners. One of those having a good time was Ron Moquett, who saddled Regal Reproach ($7) to win the meet opener. "I might be leading trainer now, but that won't last long," said a smiling Moquett.

Kim Schipke also was beaming ear to ear after Strength and Honor won the eighth race, a highly competitive $62,000 allowance for older horses. Owned by Schipke's Requiem Racing and trained by Chuck Simon, Strength and Honor finished 6 1/2 furlongs over a fast main track in a snappy 1:16.30. It was the third straight win for Strength and Honor, a 5-year-old Carson City gelding.

Sellers's vacation to remember

Shane Sellers had just won his 4,000th race. So what was he going to do next?

Go to Disney World, of course.

By sheer coincidence, Sellers already had planned to take his family to Walt Disney World in Florida after the Fair Grounds meet ended last Sunday in New Orleans. But when Sellers rode three straight winners on the closing-day program to become just the 42nd jockey in North American racing history to reach 4,000, the trip took on added meaning.

"We were going to enjoy it anyway, but that made it even better," said Sellers, an eight-time leading rider at Keeneland.

Sellers, 37, nearly didn't make it to 4,000. He suffered a severe knee injury in December 2000 at Fair Grounds and took off much of the next two years before finally being able to resume his career. He frequently talks about how thankful he is simply to be active again.

"Getting 4,000 is one of the main reasons I came back," he said. "All the hard work was worth it."

Sellers got started on his next thousand by winning the Friday nightcap on Shots ($8.20).

Madison classy and deep

The prospective field for the Vinery Madison Stakes here Wednesday is shaping up so strong that the race most likely will rate high consideration for graded status when the American Graded Stakes Committee meets next winter. The seven-furlong Madison is expected to attract as many as five graded stakes winners: Lady Tak, Harmony Lodge, Yell, Ema Bovary, and Buffythecenterfold.

With rare exceptions, new races are not eligible for a grade until after three years, and this will be the third running of the $175,000 Madison. The race was won in 2002 by Victory Ride, a Grade 1 winner, and last year by A New Twist over a field that also included Grade 1 winner Forest Secrets.

My Boston Gal nearing comeback

One filly who would fit well in the Madison but is not yet ready to race is My Boston Gal, the 2003 Beaumont Stakes winner who has been off for nearly a year. My Boston Gal, trained by Carl Nafzger, breezed a half-mile Friday at Churchill Downs in 48.20 seconds and likely will make her comeback at the Churchill meet that begins April 24.

Nafzger said My Boston Gal has made a successful return after having experienced lameness in a hind leg several weeks after finishing fifth in the Kentucky Oaks last May.

"We had all kinds of things done to see exactly what it was, but it never was pinpointed," said Nafzger. "So we gave her plenty of time, and she got over it. She's back doing great."

Borel back in business

Veteran jockey Calvin Borel has been cleared by doctors to begin riding Wednesday after recently being hospitalized for five days with a staph infection on his inner thigh.

Borel missed the final two days of the Fair Grounds meet that ended last weekend and also missed the opening three-day weekend here.

Sarava may try Ben Ali

Trainer Bob Baffert is pointing Sarava, the 2002 Belmont Stakes winner, to the Grade 3, $150,000 Ben Ali Stakes on April 22. The 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali will be the first race for Sarava since he finished fifth, beaten 5 1/4 lengths, in a Feb. 14 allowance at Santa Anita.

Sarava, owned by the partnership of New Phoenix Stable and Mrs. Susan Roy, is winless in just three starts since his 70-1 upset in the Belmont on June 8, 2002.

* Billy Reed, a former president of the National Turf Writers Association who has written extensively about racing and other sports in a career spanning nearly 40 years, has been hired as a media liaison for the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority.