Keeneland heats up with Spring meets

By Laura Pepper

As spring rolls into Lexington, the three-year-olds at Keeneland Race Course are looking to make haste in the “horse capital of the world.”

Trainers, horses and jockeys from across the country flock to Keeneland’s spring meet, making it one of the hottest tracks in America. Because many of the horses are on the road to the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby in May, it’s an exciting time of the year for those involved.

“It’s very unique here at Keeneland,” said Rogers Beasley, Keeneland’s director of racing. “The spring meet and the fall meet are two different things. The spring meet we get everybody from Fairgrounds, we get them from Payson Park, we get them from Gulfstream, we get them from Santa Anita. Everybody’s on the Derby trail, everybody’s on that Oaks trail, everybody’s thinking about that great horse.”

Approximately 1,800 thoroughbreds are stabled at Keeneland, Beasley said.

Evan Downing, an assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, has worked in the industry as an exercise rider.

“I’ve traveled all over the country, and nowhere draws more people to the races like Keeneland does,” Downing said.

Whether it is working out in the morning or running in some of the toughest final prep races with future Derby competitors, those on the Derby trail try to stay in top-shape while at Keeneland.

Over the years, Keeneland has been host to some of the most well known champion and stakes horses, including Barbaro, Hard Spun and Rags to Riches, last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner and the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont Stakes.

This year’s class is filled with even more bright young horses.

Pyro, trained by Asmussen, headlines the Kentucky Derby hopefuls at Keeneland. In his first workout this spring at Keeneland on March 24, Pyro went 1:02.40 in five furlongs. A furlong is 1/8 of a mile. He worked six furlongs in 1:14.60 on Monday. His final prep race before the Derby will be the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 12.

Proud Spell and Country Star headline the fillies on the Kentucky Oaks trail. In their final workouts before Saturday’s Ashland Stakes, Proud Spell worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 on Sunday for trainer Larry Jones, while trainer Bobby Frankel’s Country Star had her final work on Tuesday, going 47.40 in four furlongs. Last fall, Country Star won the Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland.

Also running in the Ashland Stakes is Bsharpsonata for trainer John Salzman. She worked five furlongs in 1:01.60 on March 26 and is on a four-race winning streak.

As the horse world begins to fix its eye on Kentucky again, Keeneland’s spring meet fuels Derby fever.