03/31/2008 11:00PM

Top 3-year-olds target Keeneland stakes


Keeneland Race Course will open its 16-day spring meet Friday with a 10-race program highlighted by the $150,000 Transylvania Stakes and the first race of the year in Kentucky for 2-year-olds.

The Grade 3 Transylvania, the first of 16 graded stakes to be run this spring at the Lexington, Ky., track, has drawn a field of nine 3-year-olds, with Prussian likely to come favored in his first start since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. The 1 1/16-mile turf race is the feature of an excellent opening-day program that also will include a 4 1/2-furlong maiden race for 2-year-olds and three allowance races.

The Transylvania kicks off a stakes schedule that includes four Grade 1 races. The first of those comes Saturday with the $500,000 Ashland Stakes, which is coming up particularly tough. Two of the favorites for the May 2 Kentucky Oaks, Proud Spell and Country Star, are expected to top a field of at least seven 3-year-old fillies. Entries were to be drawn Wednesday.

Country Star, winner of the Grade 1 Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland last fall, breezed a half-mile Tuesday over the main Polytrack surface at Keeneland, finishing in 47.40 seconds. Her trainer, Bobby Frankel, was expected in town later in the day.

Proud Spell, trained by Larry Jones, had her final blowout for the 1 1/16-mile Ashland when she breezed five furlongs Sunday in 1:00.60 at Keeneland.

The other prospects for the Ashland, according to track officials, are Bsharpsonata, Absolutely Cindy, African Violet, Life Is Sweet, and Little Belle. Elusive Lady and Grace and Power have been withdrawn from consideration.

Life Is Sweet, trained by Bill Mott, worked Tuesday at Keeneland, getting a half-mile in 48.40 seconds.

The remaining Grade 1 races are the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes on April 12; the $300,000 Maker's Mark Mile on April 11; and the $150,000 Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings, a steeplechase event, on April 17.

The Blue Grass, as usual, is expected to be a crucial Kentucky Derby prep race. Pyro, one of the leading contenders for the 134th Derby on May 3, is among the 3-year-olds expected for the race.

The top trainers and jockeys in North America will converge on Keeneland during a three-week stand when purses will average roughly $650,000 per day. Garrett Gomez, the Eclipse Award-winning jockey of 2007, heads a jockey colony that also will include John Velazquez, Edgar Prado, Kent Desormeaux, and Robby Albarado.

Keeneland is introducing the Super High Five at this meet. Modeled after the bet launched last year in California, the Super High Five requires picking the first five finishers, in order, in the last race of the day. There is a $1 minimum, with a carryover resulting in case of no perfect tickets.

Keeneland still will have dime superfectas, as well as 50-cent pick fours and trifectas. The track also will offer its first two-day wager with a daily double on the Maker's Mark Mile and Blue Grass.

The Friday opener marks another college scholarship day, where 10 scholarships worth $1,000 each will be raffled off between races. Additional prizes also are being given away this year to registered students.

All Keeneland action will be shown live on TVG.