It's spring time in Central Kentucky. The sun is shining. Temperatures have finally gotten back to normal – mid 60s to low 70s daily – and life is good.
That all changes tomorrow, Friday, April 6, however, as life gets even better.
Why you ask?
, which was recently rated as the No. 1 Thoroughbred Track in North America for the fourth-consecutive year by The Horseplayers Association of North America, begins its Spring Meet, which for Lexington and surrounding area residents, means its an unofficial day of hookey from work.
During the 15 day Keeneland meet, which officially runs from April 6 to April 27, there will be 16 stakes races – 15 of them graded stakes races – all worth $3.635 million. Included in those 16 stakes races is one of the biggest Kentucky Derby prep races on the Derby Trail on April 14 – the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1)
Things get started this Friday, April 13th, with the running of the $100,000 Transylvania Stakes (G3)
, a 1-1/16th-mile race for three-year olds. Then, on Saturday, it is 75th running of the $500,000 the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1)
that highlights the second day of racing at Keeneland.
The Ashland, with a purse boosted to $100,000 this year, is a major steppingstone to the Kentucky Oaks (G1), which is run at Churchill Downs the day before the Kentucky Derby. Thirty-one fillies have used the Central Bank Ashland as a springboard to victory in the Oaks.
The Central Bank Ashland, which is for three-year old fillies and is run at 1 1/16 miles on the main track, is the first of five Grade 1 stakes to be run during the 15-day Spring Meet.
Trained by Wayne Catalano, Stephanie’s Kitten will be making her 2012 debut in the race, with Julien Leparoux scheduled to ride her.
Stephanie’s Kitten will also try to become the fifth filly to complete an Alcibiades-Ashland double. The other fillies to accomplish the feat were Take Charge Lady (2001-02), Silverbulletday (1998-99), Optimistic Gal (1975-76) and Doubledogdare (1955-56).
Other stakes winners in Saturday's Ashland field include John Oxley’s Dixie Strike, winner of the Florida Oaks in February; Hillsbrook Farms’ Hard Not to Like, winner of the Cup & Saucer on the turf at Woodbine last fall; and William Butler’s Lotta Lovin, a three-time stakes winner on Polytrack at Turfway Park.
The Central Bank Ashland will be carried live on NBC as part of its Saturday, April 7, racing coverage. The telecast, which will air from 4:30-6 p.m., also will include the Wood Memorial (G1) from Aqueduct and the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
Next Thursday and Friday, April 12 and 13, two more Grade 1 stakes races will be held. On Thursday, the featured stakes race will be the $300,000 Vinery Madison Stakes (G1)
, which is a seven-furlong race on the Polytrack for fillies and mares four-year olds and up. Then on Friday, April 13, the featured stakes race will be the $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile (G1) (formerly the Maker's Mark Mile
), a one-mile turf race for colts four-years old and up.
The 1-1/8th-mile race on the Polytrack is for three-year-olds and is a major prep race for the Kentucky Derby.
Over the years, 21 horses that have run in the Blue Grass Stakes have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby. Most recently, in 2007, Street Sense finished second in the Blue Grass, then went on to win the Derby under jockey Calvin Borel. The last horse to win the Blue Grass and the Derby was Strike the Gold in 1991. Prior to that, Spectacular Bid did the double in 1979.
Featured in this year's Blue Grass Stakes is Dr. Kendall Hansen's beautiful gray colt, Hansen
, one of the top three-year olds' in the country. Hansen, the champion two-year old who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs last November, comes into the Blue Grass Stakes with a win in the Gotham Stakes (G3) on March 3.
Other possible horses that might run in the race include: Adirondack King, who finished seventh in Rebel Stakes on March 17: Drill, who won San Vicente (G2) on Feb. 19; Dullahan, who finished second in the Palm Beach Stakes (G3) on March 11; Ever So Lucky, who took third in the Swale (G3) on March 10; Gung Ho, who finished second in the Rushaway Stakes on March 24; Holy Candy, who won his maiden at Santa Anita on March 23; Howe Great, who won the Palm Beach Stakes (G3) on March 11; Politicallycorrect, who won an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 26; Prospective, who won the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on March 10; and Raconteur, who captured the Private Terms on March 17.
Then on Sunday, April 15th, the featured race of the day will be the $150,000 Beaumont Stakes (G2), a seven furlong, 184-ft. race for three-year old fillies.
Rounding out the rest of the stakes races during the Keeneland meet are:
* April 21: $200,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (G3)
, a 1-1/16th mile for three-year olds and up. It's the final chance at Keeneland for a three-year old to get into the Kentucky Derby.
* April 21: $100,000 Giant's Causeway Stakes (L), a 5-1/2-furlong turf race for fillies and mares three-year olds and up.
Keeneland features racing on Wednesday through Sunday each week, except Easter Sunday, April 8. There is at least one stakes race on each of the 12 days of the meet. Post time for the first race each day is 1:05 p.m. (ET).
Racing from Keeneland will be featured daily on the cable network TVG, beginning at 1 p.m. (ET). Fans can also watch every Keeneland race live – and at no charge – on the track's website, Keeneland.com.
You can also follow Keeneland on twitter ( for news, information and expert picks, go to at @keenelandracing; for real-time paddock updates, go to @paddockreport), on facebook (facebook.com/keeneland) and on Youube (Keenelandfan).