Winter is over, spring has sprung, and Thoroughbred racing’s best days will commence in a little more than thirty days. The Triple Crown season is just around the corner, and April brings the final preps for Kentucky Derby and Oaks contenders. It also brings high-class racing throughout the country and the opening of one of racing’s premier tracks, Keeneland Race Course in Kentucky.
The outstanding coverage of horse racing on NBC that started last year will include the major prep races for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks this month. NBC will provide TV coverage on consecutive Saturdays with a broadcast of the Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, and Ashland Stakes on April 7th and the Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes on CNBC April 14th.
Opening days are a time for celebration at all tracks but opening days at a few select tracks in the U.S. are special. Saratoga and Del Mar top the list, but not far behind is opening day at Keeneland. On April 6th, Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky will open for its annual spring meet. Keeneland is one of the meccas of Thoroughbred racing and hosts some of the classiest racing in the country. During the three week meet, the track will have fifteen graded stakes in nearly every major racing division.
The first half of the month is packed with graded stakes on all the major circuits, including a total of eight Grade 1 races over the first two weekends and a total of 36 graded stakes during the month. If you like high class racing, April is the month to get your racing shoes on and start paying attention to the Thoroughbreds!
The Fair Grounds in New Orleans will host the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby for 3-year-olds. Mark Valeski, who finished second to the much-heralded El Padrino in the Risen Star Stakes (chart), will be the likely favorite. The Fair Grounds will also feature two other Grade 2 races: the New Orleans Handicap for older horses and the Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap for turf runners.
The last of the three Kentucky Derby future pools closes at 6:30 pm Eastern.
The Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky opens for business. Opening day will feature the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes, a one-mile turf race for 3-year-olds.
The second Saturday of the month is a great day of racing! Aqueduct in New York and Santa Anita in California will both host Grade 1 races for Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Top 3-year-old Creative Cause is expected to start in the Santa Anita Derby. Gemologist and Alpha will be the colts to watch in the Wood Memorial in New York. New York will also have the Grade 1 Carter for sprinters and a total of four graded stakes on April 7. For the Kentucky Oaks hopefuls, New York has the Grade 3 Comely and Keeneland will have the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes. The Ashland, Wood, and Santa Anita Derby will be broadcast on NBC.
April 12 – 14
Keeneland has a rare superfecta of four Grade 1 races on three consecutive days. Starting Thursday April 12th, Keeneland has the Vinery Madison for female sprinters at seven furlongs, followed by the Maker’s 46 Mile for turf runners on Friday, April 13th, and Saturday, April 14th brings the Blue Grass Stakes and Jenny Wiley Stakes. The Blue Grass is for 3-year-olds and is expected to feature Kentucky Derby hopefuls Dullahan and 2-year-old Eclipse champion Hansen. The April 14th card at Keeneland will also include the Grade 3 Shakertown Stakes for turf sprinters and the Grade 2 Commonwealth for older sprinters on the Polytrack. The Blue Grass will be broadcast on CNBC in a telecast that will also feature the Arkansas Derby from Oaklawn.
April 13 – 14
Oaklawn Park will have its biggest weekend with the Grade 1 Apple Blossom for older fillies and mares on Friday and the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on Saturday.
The 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace is a possible starter in this year’s Apple Blossom. Among the expected entries for the Arkansas Derby is the Southwest and Rebel Stakes winner Secret Circle. April 14th will also include the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap for older horses at 1 ⅛ miles.
The third Saturday in April is the last opportunity for potential Kentucky Derby runners to bank graded stakes earnings and qualify for the big race. Keeneland will have the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington at 1 1/16 miles and Aqueduct has the Grade 2 Jerome Stakes at one mile, one of the oldest stakes races in the country. The Jerome is a newcomer to the Kentucky Derby prep season; having traditionally been run in the fall at Belmont, it was moved to April at Aqueduct last year. Last month’s Spiral Stakes winner at Turfway Park, Went the Day Well, is a possible starter in the Lexington.
Santa Anita will host a trio of graded turf stakes: The San Simeon, Santa Barbara, and San Juan Capistrano. The Grade 2 Santa Barbara will be run at 1 ¼ miles on the turf for fillies and mares. The Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano is an open race on the turf at 1 ¾ miles. The Grade 3 San Simeon will be run on the downhill turf course for sprinters at 6 ½ furlongs.
Closing weekend at Keeneland will feature the Grade 3 Bewitch at 1 ½ miles for filly and mare turf runners, and another 1 ½ miles race for open company on the turf in the Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes.
Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky will open for business. Most of the attention will be on the competitors on the grounds who will be preparing for the Kentucky Oaks on May 4th and the Kentucky Derby on May 5th. The Grade 3 Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial Stakes at one mile will be run for 3-year-olds on opening day.