Stakes races highlight Keeneland's spring opening weekend

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks are up for grabs this weekend as Keeneland begins its 16-day spring meet.

The historic, picturesque track opens Friday and will feature five of this month's 16 stakes races worth $4.225 million on Saturday. The marquee events are the $1 million Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass and $500,000 Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland for fillies, both of which offer 170 points toward next month's Derby and Oaks at Churchill Downs. The winners get 100 points.

Zulu, one of three Blue Grass entrants trained by three-time race winner Todd Pletcher, has 20 Derby points and is the 5-2 morning line favorite in the 14-horse field for 3-year-olds.

Pletcher's other horses are Donegal Moon, a 5-1 choice starting from the No. 2 post, and Cards of Stone.

Zulu arrived at Keeneland on Tuesday from South Florida and galloped a second time Thursday with Donegal Moon in preparation for the 1 1/8-mile race on dirt.

''He had a nice gallop around the track, a mile and an eighth, and went back and stood in the gate,'' assistant Tristan Barry said of Zulu's workout. ''Did that very well.''

Unbeaten Cathryn Sophia is even money leading a five-horse field in the 1 1/16 mile Central Bank Ashland. She has been impressive in both Grade 2 starts this year, winning the Davona Dale Stakes by seven lengths and the Forward Gal Stakes by 5 1/2.

Trainer John Servis is just as encouraged about Cathryn Sophia's chances after Sunday's workout.

''She worked super here and likes the track,'' he said. ''This will be her first time going two turns and should she get the job done, it would give her a lot of confidence going into the Kentucky Oaks. And me, too.''

Rachel's Valentina, another Pletcher pupil, is the 3-1 second choice; she was second in last fall's Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland. Also entered are Carina Mia (7-5), Weep No More (20-1) and Banree (20-1).

Another notable Grade 1 stakes race is the $300,000 Madison for fillies and mares, which features Breeders' Cup winners StopchargingMaria and Wavell Avenue.

''That's an ungodly race,'' oddsmaker Mike Battaglia said of the 13-horse Madison field. ''You love to see a race like that.''

Keeneland will race Wednesdays through Sundays through April 29.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.