Horse of the Year, Blue Grass Stakes highlight 16-day Keeneland meet

Horses worked out on the Keeneland track in the cold, early mornings earlier in the week. The track's race meet starts Friday and ends April 26 after 16 days of racing.
Horses worked out on the Keeneland track in the cold, early mornings earlier in the week. The track's race meet starts Friday and ends April 26 after 16 days of racing. Herald-Leader

The calling card of any Keeneland race meeting is the expectation that there will be quality racing despite the lingering troubles dangling over the industry.

From both a human and equine standpoint, the 2013 Spring Meet, which begins Friday, has an All-Star sheen to it.

Visitors who have braved the morning chill to watch workouts at Keeneland this week have been treated to an onslaught of high-profile names that should drive the 16-day meeting.

Along with the bragging rights of having reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan on the grounds, Keeneland will be where the 6-year-old chestnut makes his 2013 debut. Wise Dan heads the list of probables for the Grade I Maker's 46 Mile on April 12.

The $300,000 Maker's 46 is one of 16 stakes, including five Grade I races, during a meet whose jockey colony will include such notables as Rosie Napravnik, Julien Leparoux, Joel Rosario and Hall of Famer Gary Stevens.

Stevens, who came out of retirement after seven years this January, last rode at Keeneland in 2005.

Three of the five Grade I races will be loaded onto a single card as the Madison and Jenny Wiley Stakes will be part of a blockbuster lead-in for the signature Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 13.

The lure of having average daily purses of more than $611,250 is paying dividends as Friday's opening-day card and Saturday's 10-race lineup averaged more than 10 horses a race.

One of the most notable increases to overnight purses has come in maiden races for 3-year-olds, which got a boost from $50,000 to $58,000, according to Keeneland vice president of racing, Rogers Beasley.

"The increase in purses has been fantastic," Beasley said. "Averaging over 10 horses a race is really unheard of in today's racing world. Bill (Keeneland president Thomason) graciously has allowed us to put a lot more money into the day money and that has helped us thank the horsemen who have been so loyal to us.

"People really appreciate that and that's what we're here to do. And we're very blessed because any spare change we can find we're allowed to give back to the racing community."

Though the form of some Blue Grass Stakes winners has been called into question in recent years, the $750,000 Kentucky Derby prep figures to have a full field next weekend.

Multiple graded stakes winner Uncaptured and Grade III winner Rydilluc are among the definite contenders pointing to the 11⁄8-mile test with Rebel Stakes winner Will Take Charge — who broke his maiden at Keeneland last fall — also under consideration.

"We are going to have five stakes on Blue Grass day but ... we put the same amount of effort into every day," Beasley said.

The support from horsemen is not only coming from regulars like Charlie LoPresti, trainer of Wise Dan, and last year's leading Spring Meet trainer Wesley Ward. Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey has a notable band on the backstretch, including defending Maker's 46 winner Data Link, while California-based Doug O'Neill has a regular string at Keeneland for the first time in several years.

"Keeneland is home, and I can't say enough about the track and the facilities," said LoPresti, who also plans to start Grade I winner Turallure in a 11⁄8-mile allowance race on the turf Saturday and has graded stakes winner Successful Dan headed for the Grade III Ben Ali Stakes on April 21.

"I'm really proud of Wise Dan, I'm proud of being part of Keeneland and that Wise Dan was part of Keeneland. It says something about our racing here and our facility."

Spring Meet

When: Friday through April 26, with 16 days of racing (No racing on Mondays and Tuesdays)

Post time: 1:05 p.m. (Gates open at 11 a.m.)

Admission: $5 per person. Children 12 and younger are admitted free.

TV: All races live on TVG

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