Spring in the sports world: Not-to-be missed events around Central Kentucky

March 20, 2014 

As the saying goes, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. This year, the lion got here early, made himself at home and seems in no hurry to depart.

But the calendar says spring has sprung, so why shouldn't we believe it, too, despite a distinct lack of lamb sightings?

In the absence of warm weather, here are some warm thoughts about the top events to watch in the sports world around Central Kentucky this spring.

Keeneland a Wise (Dan) move

A visit to Keeneland Race Course is a spring rite of passage in the Bluegrass, but if you want the biggest bang for your buck, specifically target the second weekend of the meet. The track's signature Kentucky Derby prep race, the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, takes place on April 12 but there are four other graded stakes including two additional Grade I races on the undercard that day. And if you sneak out of work a day earlier on April 11, there is a chance you can catch two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan making his first start of 2014 in the Grade I Maker's 46 Mile. The Keeneland Spring Meet runs from April 4-25.

■ Another of Lexington's not-to-be missed events for those who love horses: The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, which takes place April 24-27 at the Kentucky Horse Park. The cross-country course is open for public viewing on April 23. Gates open at 7 a.m. on April 24.

The origins of the Kentucky Derby

There is no spectacle quite like the Kentucky Derby, especially when shared with about 160,000 of your closest friends. Don't just focus on the big events of the first Saturday in May, though. Take in the behind-the-scenes work that goes into getting Thoroughbreds to that stage by visiting one of the area's many major farms that week. Nothing says season of growth like witnessing a new generation of foals alongside their mothers. Here's a link to an excellent reference for horse farm tours from VisitLex.com: http://www.visitlex.com/idea/horse-farms.php

Don't forget these diamond gems

Louisville and Kentucky are two of the up-and-coming collegiate softball programs in the nation. There is not a better time to catch a game than when the Cards visit Kentucky on April 2 at 6 p.m. The rematch is set for April 30 in Louisville, also at 6 p.m.

The SEC comes to Lexington

Athletes from arguably the premier track and field league in America will converge at the University of Kentucky for the Southeastern Conference Championships (May 15-18). UK has two of the top females in the nation in sprinter Dezerea Bryant and hurdler Kendra Harrison.The boys of summer come early

■ The University of Kentucky baseball team has a leading contender for best two-way player in the nation in pitcher/first baseman A.J. Reed. Check out Kentucky in its Southeastern Conference home-opening series against top-ranked South Carolina this weekend. The Gamecocks were national champs in 2010 and 2011. As usual on an SEC weekend, game times are 6:30 p.m. Friday, 2 Saturday and 1 Sunday.

■ The Cincinnati Reds open their 2014 season in Great American Ball Park on March 31, taking on the St. Louis Cardinals at 4:10 p.m. The Reds have a new manager in Bryan Price and need big things from rookie Billy Hamilton, one of the fastest players baseball has seen in years.

■ The Lexington Legends open their 2014 season April 3 in Whitaker Bank Ballpark, taking on the West Virginia Power at 7:05 p.m. Fireworks will follow the game.

■ It's hard a find a better brand of high school baseball than in Central Kentucky. Since 2003, Lexington schools have won the state championship five times. Plus, Harrison County won in 2010 and Woodford County in 2012. This year's state tournament is June 2-7 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.

A sport that's never out of season

Prized in-state quarterback recruit Drew Barker turned down Steve Spurrier to become the centerpiece of Mark Stoops' 2014 Kentucky recruiting class. Starting when UK spring practice opens March 28, we see if the ex-Conner High School star, who graduated early to take part in spring drills, can stake a claim on the Kentucky starting quarterback job as a true freshman. Last year, an estimated 50,831 turned out for the first Blue-White spring football game of the Mark Stoops era. With UK coming off a 2-10 season, we'll see April 26 (3:30 p.m.) if Kentucky fans can match last season's unprecedented Blue-White Game attendance.

■ Kentucky is not the only in-state school with a quarterback battle this spring. On April 11 (7:30 p.m.), you can travel to see if ex-Lexington Catholic star Kyle Bolin can wrest the Louisville starting quarterback job away from Will Gardner in the first spring game of Bobby Petrino's second stint as Louisville head coach.

■ The University of Kentucky has had at least one football player chosen in the last six NFL drafts. From May 8-10, we'll find out if ex-Wildcats linebacker Avery Williamson can keep that streak alive.

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