by Margaret Ransom
Keeneland’s highly anticipated spring racing season gets underway on a Thursday this year — the first Thursday opening in 60 years — and over the course of the historic 16-day season daily purses will average a record of $768,500 making the Lexington, Kentucky, oval a must-stop for many of the country’s top horses and their connections.
Overall, a total 18 stakes worth a record $4.6 million in purses will be offered, including two additions to the calendar, with at least one scheduled nearly every day.
As is tradition, Keeneland will be dark on Easter Sunday (April 21).
Because this year opening day is on a Thursday, Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton has proclaimed it to be “Keeneland Day in the Bluegrass.”
Topping the meet are the big Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks preps, the 95th running of the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GII) and the $500,000 Central Bank Ashland Stakes (GI) respectively, both set for this Saturday, April 6. However, the opening weekend graded stakes action gets underway on Friday with the $150,000 Kentucky Utilities Transylvania Stakes (GIIT), a 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-olds.
The Blue Grass will be televised by NBC Sports, along with the Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets (GII) and the Santa Anita Derby.
The rich April 6 card will also include the $300,000 Madison Stakes (GI) for older fillies and mares at seven furlongs, the $200,000 Shakertown Stakes (GIIT) for 3-year-olds and up at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf and the $250,000 Commonwealth Stakes (GII) for older horses going seven furlongs.
The four-day opening weekend stakes action wraps up on April 7 with two events for 3-year-old fillies — the $200,000 Appalachian Stakes Presented by Japan Racing Association (GIIT) at one mile on turf, and the $150,000 Beaumont Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select (GII), which will be contested at seven furlongs and 184 feet on dirt.
For the remainder of the spring meet, racing will be held Wednesday through Sunday, except on Easter.
The second Saturday of racing, April 13, is another stakes action-packed day, which features the $350,000 Coolmore Jenny Wiley Stakes (GIT), a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares on the turf, and the $200,000 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (GII) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles. The Lexington is one of the final two preps on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and offers qualifying points to make the gate for the Run for the Roses on a 20-8-4-2 basis to the top four finishers.
The other stakes on April 13 are the $200,000 Ben Ali Stakes (GII) for older horses racing at 1 1/8 miles, and the $100,000 Giant’s Causeway Stakes, a 5 1/2-furlong turf race for fillies and mares.
Other graded stakes set for the final days of the meet are the $100,000 Hilliard Lyons Doubledogdare Stakes (GII) for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on April 19 and the $250,000 Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes (GIIT) at 1 1/2 miles on the turf on April 20. The closing-day feature on April 26 is the $150,000 Bewitch Stakes (GIIT) for fillies and mares racing 1 1/2 miles on the turf.
The two new stakes for this spring season are the $100,000 Palisades Turf Sprint for 3-year-olds going 5 1/2 furlongs on the grass, which is scheduled for opening day, and the $100,000 Limestone Turf Sprint, a 5 1/2-furlong grass race for 3-year-old fillies set for April 12.
Post time for the first race every day is 1:05 p.m. ET.
The 2019 spring meet will include the April 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale, to be held on Tuesday, April 9. Preview Day is scheduled for April 8.
Keeneland will be offering the following wagers:
- $1 Exactas (all races)
- 50¢ Trifecta (races with at least five betting interests)
- 10¢ Superfecta (races with at least six betting interests)
- 50¢ Pick Three (the day’s first Pick Three begins on the first race and continues thru the day; the final Pick Three encompasses the final three races)
- $1 Rolling Doubles continuing throughout the card
- 50¢ Pick Four (the first one begins on the day’s second race; the second and final one covers the day’s final four races)
- 50¢ Super High Five (at least seven betting interests). Offered on every race of the day with 7 betting interests.
- 50¢ Pick Five
- $1 Pick Six on the last six races of the day
- $1 Win, Place, Show
All other wagers, unless noted, have a $2 minimum.
Keeneland’s takeout is:
- Win, Place, Show – 16%
- Exacta – 19.5%
- Pick Five – 15%
- All other exotics – 22%
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law in Kentucky known as the “Borell Law.”Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time.She lives in Robinson, Texas, with her longtime beau, Tony. She is the executive director of the 501(c)(3) non-profit horse rescue, The Bridge Sanctuary.