By Ben Massam

Keeneland opens its doors for its 16-day spring meet Friday, ushering in the unofficial beginning of springtime in the Bluegrass. Mother Nature appears to have missed that memo, however, with snow expected early in the day Saturday, but Friday’s 10-race card is classic Keeneland, with milder temperatures and robust field sizes expected. The opening day feature is the GIII Frontier Utilities Transylvania S., highlighted by the return of William Lawrence’s undefeated Analyze It (Point of Entry).

The 2018 spring meet also marks the second time in as many meets when Keeneland has adjusted its takeout rates. A heavily discussed issue among horseplayers and others in the industry, the latest reduction restores win, place and show wagers to a lower 16% rate and drops exactas to a 19.5% rate (exactas were 22% in the fall and 19% previously), while keeping trifecta, superfecta, pick three and pick four rates at their fall meet levels, which rose to 22% from 19%.

‘Analyze’ This

Analyze It looms as the clear headliner of the opening day Transylvania after dazzling in a pair of starts over one mile on the grass as a juvenile. The bay captured his career debut at Belmont by an emphatic 6 1/4 lengths, earning ‘TDN Rising Stardom,’ and followed that effort up with an equally facile 4 1/4-length victory in the GIII Cecil B. Demille S. at Del Mar Nov. 26. Pointed to this spot for his 2018 debut, the speedy Chad Brown trainee drew the sometimes problematic post 12 of 12 in the Transylvania, likely necessitating some early-race tactical decisions from jockey Jose Ortiz.

If a ground-saving trip is unlikely for Analyze It, Treadway Racing Stable’s Maraud (Blame) will have one by default after drawing the rail. The bay, a three-time winner from five starts, parlayed a forwardly placed trip into a victory in the GIII Palm Beach S. at Gulfstream Mar. 3 and could carve out an ideal stalking trip Friday. The Transylvania’s diverse cast features another last-out stakes winner in Dragon Drew (Get Stormy), who captured the Black Gold S. at Fair Grounds Mar. 3 for co-owner/trainer Buff Bradley.

Admiralty Pier (English Channel) hinted at significant ability as a 2-year-old, finishing third in the grassy GII Summer S. and capturing the Display S. when last seen over Woodbine’s Tapeta track Dec. 2. Lothenbach Stables homebred Captivating Moon (Malibu Moon) is another with a proven record to handle multiple surfaces, having finished second in the Arlington-Washington Futurity on synthetic, as well as the restricted Spendthrift Juvenile Stallion S. on dirt last year. Turf may be his most effective surface, however, as the bay has kicked off his sophomore campaign with an allowance score and a runner-up finish behind ultra-talented ‘TDN Rising Star’ Gidu (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) in the Mar. 10 Columbia S. at Tampa Bay Downs.

Handicapping for a Cause

Through the @BETKeeneland Twitter account, which provides horseplayers with information, stats and insights during race days, Keeneland will host a “handicapper of the day” during each of its 16 race days. Each handicapper’s wagers–financed by a $200 bankroll–will be shared on Twitter, and the winnings from their bets will be donated to support the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA). Last autumn, winnings benefitted the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF), and Keeneland intends to partner with a new charitable initiative every meet.

“The @BetKeeneland handle is an exciting mix of traditional and cutting edge designed to deliver real-time handicapping tips and tools directly to our wagering fans,” Keeneland Chief Marketing Officer Christa Marrillia said. “The Handicapper of the Day series will further elevate the race-day fun and, in keeping with Keeneland’s philanthropic mission, support industry charities.”

Beginning with the TDN‘s own Brian DiDonato on opening day Friday, the roster of participating handicappers includes former professional hockey player and lead NBC Sports handicapper Eddie Olczyk, TVG’s Todd Schrupp and Caton Bredar, former racecaller Dave Johnson, NHC winners Michael Beychok, Jonathon Kinchen, Paul Matties Jr. and Judy Wagner, and prominent racehorse owner Samantha Siegel, who recorded the highest bankroll of the fall meet, contributing $4,050.80 to the PDJF.

“The TAA is proud to partner with Keeneland as the beneficiary of @BetKeeneland during the 2018 Spring Meet,” TAA President John Phillips, owner of Darby Dan Farm, said. “Handicappers are some of our biggest supporters and we’re grateful for the continued support from the Keeneland Association, one of our seed-money donors.”

Keeneland, together with the Breeders’ Cup and The Jockey Club, established the TAA in 2012 and has donated more than $1.3 million to the cause through its racing and sales programs.

Spring Place to Be

As always, Keeneland has a wide-ranging events schedule to augment the action on the racetrack. In addition to staples such as Sunrise Trackside and tailgating on The Hill, Keeneland will host special days to benefit specific causes such as College Scholarship Day Apr. 6 , Wear Red Day Apr. 11, Military Day at the Races Apr. 22 and Horses and Hope Pink Day Apr. 26.

Weather a Factor

Saturday’s blockbuster 11-race card, highlighted by the 94th GII Toyota Blue Grass S. and the 81st GI Central Bank Ashland S. is likely to take the brunt of this weekend’s wintry weather. With a forecast calling for snowfall Saturday morning and an overnight low of 22 degrees Fahrenheit, it is nearly a certainty that weather will have some impact on the card, which features 124 horses entered prior to scratches.


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