Keeneland's major Kentucky Derby prep race, the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, has been moved to the racetrack's opening weekend in 2015, one week earlier than normal.
Keeneland announced the change Friday as part of a shakeup of its Spring Meet schedule. The track also said that the Blue Grass Stakes purse will grow from $750,000 to $1 million in 2015.
The schedule change puts the Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday, April 4, the same day as the NCAA men's basketball tournament's Final Four, which takes place in Indianapolis in 2015. The University of Kentucky men's basketball team is ranked No. 1 in the nation and is favored to be playing Final Four weekend.
Moving the Blue Grass Stakes to April 4 also puts it on the same day as the track's major Kentucky Oaks prep race, the $500,000 Central Bank Ashland Stakes.
"By moving the Toyota Blue Grass up a week on the calendar, to be a month before the Kentucky Derby, and elevating the purse to a million dollars, we further enhance its stature as a nationally prominent classic prep," Keeneland vice president of racing Rogers Beasley said in a news release. "The coupling of these two Keeneland icons — the Blue Grass and the Ashland — will make for a spectacular day of racing and give fans the opportunity to see top Derby and Oaks contenders."
Keeneland's re-ordered Spring Meet also comes with richer purses. The 16 stakes races are worth $4.35 million, an increase of $575,000 from spring 2014.
With the purse increase, the Blue Grass ranks as one of North America's richest Kentucky Derby preps. It becomes Keeneland's second million-dollar stakes, following the Fall Meet's Shadwell Turf Mile, which was increased to $1 million earlier this year.
The move is the first date change for the Blue Grass since the race was shifted from the final Thursday of the Spring Meet to the second Saturday in 1989. Three other stakes traditionally featured on the Toyota Blue Grass undercard will join the opening Saturday lineup and each has earned a purse enhancement: the $350,000 Madison, up $50,000 from last year; the $300,000 Commonwealth, up $125,000; and the Shakertown, up $25,000.
The Blue Grass and Ashland are worth 100 points each to the winners on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and Road to the Kentucky Oaks, respectively.
The shifting of the Spring Meet stakes calendar also provided Keeneland an opportunity to strengthen the Coolmore Lexington, another Kentucky Derby prep, which moves up a week to April 11, and carries a boosted value of $250,000, up from $200,000 last year.
Coolmore Lexington Day anchors a strong second weekend of racing, April 10-12, which kicks off Friday with the $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile. The $300,000 Jenny Wiley remains in its traditional spot on the second Saturday, April 11. Moving up a week to join that day's undercard are the $150,000 Ben Ali and the $100,000 Giant's Causeway.