Lady and The Track | April 8, 2020

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Rich Stakes, Kentucky Derby Preps Highlight Keeneland Spring Season


Storied Racetrack Opens On A Thursday For 2019 Spring Meet

By Margaret Ransom

The lawn jockeys outside the Keeneland paddock await opening day and to be repainted with the silks of the next meet’s big stakes winners. Photo: Jordan Thomson

Every year racing fans know that spring has sprung in the Bluegrass thanks to the opening of Keeneland’s exciting three-week meeting held each April and this year the storied central Kentucky racetrack kicks things off on a Thursday for the first time in 60 years. The feature event on opening day is the inaugural Palisades Turf Sprint Stakes and “Central Bank Thursday Night Live at Keeneland” will provide the festive backdrop for the evening. The first race is set to break from the gate at 3:00 p.m. ET

The “Central Bank Thursday Night Live at Keeneland” will feature live music provided in partnership with The Burl, a popular live music venue in Lexington, beginning at 7:00 p.m. and continuing throughout the evening. Keeneland will also host a jockey autograph signing session benefitting the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund from 1:30-2:30 p.m. near the walking ring.

This year a total of 18 stakes worth a record $4.6 million will be offered over the 16 days, highlighted by the 95th running of the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI), which has been set for this Saturday, April 6. The race, which offers Road to the Derby points to make the gate for the Kentucky Derby (GI) on a 100-40-20-10 basis to the top-four finishers, is the centerpiece of each spring’s season and boasts some of the biggest names in racing as past winners, such as Bull Lea, Coal Town, Round Table, Northern Dancer, Lucky Debonair, Forward Pass, Arts and Letters, Riva Ridge, Alydar, Spectacular Bid, Chief’s Crown, Summer Squall, Strike the Gold, Prairie Bayou, Holy Bull and Skip Away.

Also on Saturday is the $500,000 Central Bank Ashland Stakes (GI) for 3-year-old fillies in search of points to make the Kentucky Oaks (GI) on May 3. It also has a pretty solid list of past winners in Bewitch, Real Delight, Doubledogdare, Blue Norther, Blush With Pride, Princess Rooney, Go For Wand, Prospectors Delite, Inside Information, My Flag, Silverbulletday, Take Charge Lady, Lovely Maria and Monomoy Girl a year ago.

Keeneland. Photo: Jordan Thomson

Overall, a record average of $768,500 in daily purses will also be up for grabs.

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint Stakes winner Bulletin is scheduled to make his seasonal debut in the opening-day $100,000 Palisades Turf Sprint, a 5 ½-furlong dash for 3-year-olds. The WinStar Farm-owned son of City Zip, who is trained by Todd Pletcher, is one of several Breeders’ Cup winners likely to start in the opening weekend stakes.

Champion Jaywalk, who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) and was fourth in her sophomore debut in the Davona Dale Stakes (GII) at Gulfstream Park on March 2, is likely for the Ashland, and champion Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (GI) winner Shamrock Rose is being pointing to the Madison Stakes (GI) on Saturday. The Mark Casse-trained daughter of First Dude won the Lexus Raven Run Stakes (GII) at Keeneland last fall prior to her Breeders’ Cup victory.

The second Saturday of racing, April 13, is another blockbuster day which is centered around the $350,000 Coolmore Jenny Wiley Stakes (GIT), a 1 1/16-mile turf test race for fillies and mares, and the $200,000 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (GII) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, the last Road to the Derby prep race with points on a scale of 20-8-4-2 to the top four finishers. The day’s other stakes are the $200,000 Ben Ali Stakes (GIII), for older runners at 1 1/8 miles, and the $100,000 Giant’s Causeway Stakes, a 5½-furlong turf dash for fillies and mares.

Stakes for older horses round out the meeting, highlighted by the $100,000 Hilliard Lyons-Baird Doubledogdare Stakes (GIII) for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles, set for Friday, April 19, followed the next day by the $250,000 Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes (GIIT) at 1½ miles on the turf. No racing will be held Easter Sunday, April 21, and the April 26 closing-day feature is the $150,000 Bewitch Stakes (GIIT), for fillies and mares racing 1½ miles on the turf.

With the exception of opening day, post time at Keeneland every day has been set at 1:05 p.m. ET.

Keeneland Spring Meet Highlights:

  • TVG’s Gabby Gaudet and Scott Hazelton take the reins as hosts of “Today at Keeneland,” the track’s live preview show, and also will provide expert commentary in the Paddock between races
  • The Keeneland Shop, Keeneland’s newly remodeled flagship store, offers patrons an enhanced shopping experience;
  • The April Sale of 2-year-olds in training and horses of racing age returns on April 9, with the preview day set for April 8
  • Keeneland Hospitality introduces “It’s All Greek to Me,” a stand on the north end of the second floor Grandstand featuring Greek salads and gyros
  • The Keeneland Library celebrates its 80th birthday with two new exhibits: “From the Vault: Jockeys,” which consists of 26 images of jockeys dating from the late 1800s to the mid-20th century; and, “Herbert Haseltine: The Gold Standard,” which features prominent works by the famous sculptor