The opening day of Keeneland’s Spring Meet featured a Breeders’ Cup champion headlining its main event, but a horse who finished fifth in that November race got the win Friday.
Big Score, a 10-1 shot who won’t turn 3 until May, looked to be trapped midpack at the top of the stretch, but when jockey Javier Castellano asked, the dark bay colt hit the gap and powered past the field to win the $150,000 Transylvania Stakes on the turf.
“He took his time, he split horses. He did the right thing,” Castellano said after the Grade 3 race. “The way he did it (winning from off the pace) was phenomenal. … nothing better than to win the Transylvania on opening day of the meet.”
Keeneland opened to a sunny if windy and chilly day, bringing out an announced crowd of 14,301. Bettors who took a chance on Big Score got $22.40 after he wore down Holiday Stone, who paid $26 to place. Makarios paid $9.80 for third. That unlikely trifecta got you $4,962.80.
Big Score’s owner, George Krikorian, said the California-bred had been rested since his disappointing finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita in November.
“He had kind of a bad trip (that day),” Krikorian said. “We were on an outside post, like 13 or 14. So, we gave him a little time off because he’s young. … He was a late foal. (Trainer Tim Yakteen’s) done a great job bringing him back.”
Krikorian has a movie theater empire and has been involved in racing all of his life. A Krikorian theater has been planned for the corner of Main and High streets in downtown Lexington for some time.
But it’s just coincidence his colt defeated Oscar Performance, the Breeders’ Cup champion and 3-5 favorite Friday. Oscar Performance hadn’t lost in three starts, but he also hadn’t been sent out this year. The American Racing Stables ridgling stayed in contention throughout, but had no response after the turn for home.
“We were expecting a strong effort, but until you run you never know,” Yakteen said of Big Score. “He’s a good horse. I’m really happy for George. He stands (Big Score’s sire) Mr. Big, and this is a big start for him.”
“There are going to be a lot of Mr. Bigs on the ground in the next couple of years, especially after what’s happened here today,” he said.
Perhaps the most exciting finish of the day until the Transylvania came in the fourth race, a $50,000 maiden claimer, as 14-1 shot Gladtobehere held off late charges by favored Roustabout and two other horses in a photo finish.
Jockey Javier Castellono took Gladtobehere to the lead out of the No. 7 post from the start. The 3-year-old gelding by 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and out of Donnay, trained by Eddie Kenneally and owned by Dixiana Farms, was never headed.
Roustabout, a 4-year-old gelding, was a 5-2 favorite, but broke slowly out of the No. 1 post and sat behind traffic until the stretch run. Jockey Miguel Mena pushed Roustabout four abreast along with second choice Summer O Fiftyfour and Barry’s Swing, but Gladtobehere nosed them all out in a bob at the wire, paying $31. Summer O Fiftyfour edged Barry’s Swing for third.
University of Kentucky students Christian Wallace and Alyson Rose came out to take part in the College Scholarship Day. They had registered online and gathered their free items and food after spending a chilly first couple of races tailgating on The Hill.
“It’s what you do in Kentucky. It’s what you come out here for,” Wallace said. “The only problem is that it’s just a little bit windy, a little bit chilly. … Other than that it’s been a great day.”
Wallace said he’d won all of 60 cents about four races in, but was proud since he’d had no luck at all in his other visits to the track. Wallace and Rose celebrated with some of their friends as the horses crossed in front of them in the fifth race.
“They were (celebrating), but then we didn’t end up winning.” Rose said.
“They watched it wrong, so, I got really excited, but really, no, none of us actually won,” Wallace added.
Keeneland has partnered with the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association for the college event since 2002 when 200 students turned out and all considered it such a success that they have continued it at every meet since.
Now, it attracts thousands of students per meet — more than 2,000 on Friday, according to Keeneland — and has drawn the support of as many at 35 sponsors who offer secondary prizes and gifts in addition to the 10 $1,000 scholarships and one $10,000 Runhappy prize this year.
This year’s winner of the Runhappy Scholarship was April Fronk, who graduated from Henry Clay High School in Lexington and is a junior at the University of Kentucky. She is pursuing a double major in Spanish and math, with a minor in business.
“I want to study abroad, and I was thinking about it for next summer, so this will be perfect for that,” Fronk said.
The KTA’s David Schneck said $600,000 in scholarships have been awarded at Keeneland and other tracks, since the program’s inception, half of that coming at Keeneland. The program also depends on some 60 student volunteers as Keeneland ambassadors.
“I was a student at Georgetown College 45 years ago and wish I could have been a Keeneland ambassador back then,” he said. “But I guess I’m a Keeneland ambassador now. I love it.”
KEENELAND SPRING MEET
When: Friday through April 28 with no racing on Mondays and Tuesdays or April 16.
First post: 1:05 p.m. each day (Gates open at 11 a.m.)
General admission: $5 (free for children 12 and under)
TV: TVG (Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes on NBC Sports Network)