Submitted by Noel Michaels on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Keeneland: Opening-day Transylvania Stakes draws 11 3-year-olds
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Eleven 3-year-olds have been entered for the opening-day feature at the Keeneland spring meet, the $100,000 Transylvania Stakes, a Grade 3 turf race in which Fire Guard and Jack Milton figure among the top contenders in a well-matched field Friday.
Fire Guard, with Joel Rosario riding for Bill Mott, and Jack Milton, with John Velazquez up for Todd Pletcher, were the one-two finishers in a key Gulfstream Park turf allowance race Feb. 9. They could vie for favoritism with some of their more stakes-seasoned rivals in the 1 1/16-mile Transylvania, including Up With the Birds, Bambazonki, Redwood Kitten, and Star Contender.
Entries for the 10-race Friday opener were drawn Tuesday, and the Transylvania (race 9) is just one of a handful of alluring events. The card also features the first race for 2-year-olds in Kentucky this year (race 4), including a stable coupling for Wesley Ward, as well as four allowance races.
The Transylvania is part of a late pick-four wager (races 7-10) with a $200,000 pool guarantee sponsored by TVG.
Ward, who has been allotted 50 stalls here this spring, was the leading trainer at both the spring and fall meets here last year.
Julien Leparoux, who has the call on Pyrite Mountain in the Transylvania, is back from Southern California for the meet. Leparoux has been the leading jockey at every Keeneland meet since the fall of 2010 and has won or tied for nine titles here overall.
Overnight purses at Keeneland have been substantially enhanced for the first time in years, with maiden races for 3-year-olds now worth $58,000 (up from $50,000) and maiden races for 2-year-olds up to $52,000 (from $50,000). Allowance races also have seen similar hikes, with the richest of the Friday allowances being worth $68,000.
“That’s been a big draw for us in getting some new outfits here this spring, along with all the other top stables we always have,” said Rogers Beasley, the longtime director of racing at Keeneland.
Friday coincides with College Scholarship Day, a once-a-meet fixture that offers 10 $1,000 scholarships by raffle. Students must be present to win.
While just two stakes are on tap for the three-day opening weekend – the Transylvania on Friday and the Grade 1 Ashland on Saturday – the meet will hit high gear the following weekend, with the Maker’s 46 Mile on April 12 and five graded stakes, led by the Grade 1 Blue Grass, on April 13.
First post daily is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
Casse duo expected in Ashland
The $500,000 Ashland, like so many of the upcoming Keeneland stakes, is shaping up with a terrific cast, with the Mark Casse duo of Spring In the Air and Spring Venture among the 3-year-old fillies likely for the 1 1/16-mile Polytrack race. The race is worth 100 points to the winner on the new system being used to qualify for the Kentucky Oaks.
Saturday entries were to be drawn Wednesday. Keeneland racing officials said they expect the Ashland to fill to its capacity of 14 starters.
There is no stakes race Sunday, nor the following Wednesday or Thursday.
? Kent Desormeaux, the Hall of Fame jockey who was the leading rider at the 2008 Keeneland spring meet, said he will ride here this meet before moving on to Arlington Park for the summer for the first time. Desormeaux will have Penny Ffitch-Heyes as his agent at Arlington, which starts May 3.
? The Friday weather forecast calls for early temperatures in the 30s before reaching a high of 60 later in the day. Saturday is supposed to be warmer, with a high of about 65.
? Commuters using Versailles Road (U.S. 60), the main local access road into Keeneland, are being warned by track officials about major construction in both directions for the meet’s entirety. Delays and inconvenience are very possible.