It’s Keeneland time of year. A bit chillier than we may have hoped for, and a bit of precipitation in the forecast, too, but it is still Keeneland Time of the Year. Time to celebrate. Time to participate. Time to get out to one of the world’s most beautiful racetrack locations and enjoy the art of horse racing. Everything is beautiful there, as they say, in its’ own way.

Here is a closer look at Friday’s “Opening Day” card:

1st: 9-8-5-3-2…This is the first 2YO race of the season, and I have to go with Tony Basile, Julio Espinoza and Bwamazon Farm. Oops. I guess I just showed my age. The late Tony Basile, one of the finest gentlemen I have ever had the pleasure to know (and his grandson played soccer with my son, too), trained for Bwamazon Farm in Lexington. He normally got Julio Espinoza to ride. And, they dominated the “baby races” at Keeneland for years. And, years. And, years. I sure miss those days, some times. But today’s version as a guy who has built a similar reputation for this 41/2-furlong game. That is Wesley Ward. He has two in here, and I go with Onthewaytonevrland (9), who gets the Ward stable’s #1 rider for these kind of races — Julio Garcia. This 2YO is already gelded, and has been working lights out up at Turfway Park this winter. Homebred is out of a Irish-bred mare. That’s a question on the dirt, but gets the nod over Elle Factor (8), who will get the saddle from the affable John Hancock. This one is by The Factor, who had plenty of pure speed in his own right, and worked well over this track on March 31. Strike Play (5) is another from the barn of Ward, and has been training well up in Northern Kentucky over the polytrack, as well. This one cost $56,000 as a yearling, and the trainer does hit with .24% of first time starters. Have to use. I bet the 9 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 in the exacta.

2nd: 1-5-4-6…Wesley Ward could get off to a great start on Friday, and for the meet, in general. He sends out Kirby’s Penny (1) in this spot, and she is the 8-5 ML favorite. Well deserved, by the way, coming off a string of 6 races in a row where she has not been worse than second and has four wins mixed in that group. Has not been seen in the afternoon since last October here, but has been training well for the return. Has 2 wins and a second in her career over this track, and is reunited with one of the world’s top rides in Jose Ortiz. Adds up. Nineteenth Street (5) is a good one, and comes into this fray off a 7th place finish in a Stakes event over the grass at the Fair Grounds. Didn’t care for the sod, but only beaten 41/4 lengths in that one and gets considerable class relief for this one today. Won three back in the slop against tougher and goes for a barn that can win with the shift in surfaces (.13%). Golden Domer (4) has a second and a third in two starts at Keeneland, and comes into this one off two really good runs in a row, with a win and a second. Has hit the board in 6 of 8 lifetime, and has faced some good ones in the past. Can’t dismiss. I bet the 1-5 across the board and then box the top 3 numbers in the exacta.

3rd: 4-3-6-9-10…Another “baby race” — this one for the colts. I go to Shanghaied Roo (4), who will go for the barn of W. Bret Calhoun. He hits with .20% of first time starters, and this homebred has been training spectacular down south at Evangeline Downs in Louisiana. Gets a steady hand in the saddle today, who has hit with .17% of the last 29 rides for this barn. Like the 5-1 ML odds here. Del La Hoya (3) goes for a trainer that not many people will know off hand. But he hits with .30% of first time starters and .43% of those making the debut in the MSW ranks. The dam of this one has 2 winners from 2 starters and this 2YO colt by Courageous Cat had a super work here on March 31. Odds are 12-1 ML. Upset Special Alert. Todd Fincher is another trainer not widely known in these parts, but he will send out Myhotrodlincoln (6) in this spot, and he bears watching. The dam of this one has a winner from two starters, and the trainer does hit with .25% of those types in 99 to report. Cold rider, but capable. I bet the 4-3 across the board and then box the top 3 in the exacta.

4th: (13)-5-6-10-1-4-3…Keep an eye out for the #13 to see if she draws into the body of this race. If she does, I have to use in the mix. If not, I go with Valiant Reason (5) on top in this MC event. This one, trained by one of the game’s best in Michael Matz, is dropping in class to a level that she has never seen before. When the trainer takes this type of plunge, he is very good and this one did finish third twice and second once against tougher in the past. Trainer doesn’t normally crank them up for the first off a layoff and that is a concern, but she fits with this group. Stylitude (6) was claimed out of the last one by a trainer that scores with .12% of those making the barn debut after the purchase. She nearly won that one on Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park, when dropped in class. Has a work at Churchill since the claim and should compete with this group from a nice stalking position. Rider has struggled here before. Resonate (10) is owned by a good “Twitter Friend” in Ryan Dickey. The “Fireman” is a class act, and loves this game as much as Peter loved the Lord. I am really rooting for him, and his filly has a shot. She tired in the last, when racing for the first time off a long layoff. Should fit perfectly with these, too. I bet the 5 to win/place/show and then box the to 3 in the exactas.

5th: 6-3-7-4-1-2…Beautiful Street (6) is a 3YO filly that I have been watching (and writing about) all winter, as she has trained at the Casse Training Center near Ocala. She made her 2YO debut last May and breezed to an easy 31/2-length win at odds-on favoritism. This homebred for the Oxleys appears to be super talented, and now healthy again to try racing. My Best Bet of the Day, especially if you can get anywhere close to the 5-2 ML odds. Eddie Kenneally picks up the services of top jockey Jose Ortiz to rider Belles Orb (3) in this spot. This filly has two wins in 4 starts, with two starts less than impressive. Either really good or really poor. Comes out of a Stakes race where beaten nearly 6 lengths last time out. Should find the company here a bit more to her liking, but the preferred choice may be a SW soon, too. Hold Her Tight (7) goes for the barn of J. Larry Jones and comes into this one off a MSW win at the Fair Grounds for owner & former Gov. Brereton C. Jones. Was odds-on in the last one, indicating that the connections really like this daughter of Proud Citizen. Trainer scores with .19% of those coming off this type of layoff. I bet the 6 to win/place/show and then key the 6 over/under all the numbers listed, and in the horizontal plays, too.

6th: 3-7-10-9-5-2-1-4-6…Business Expense (3) is a grass expert who should be very tough to handle if this one stays on the sod. What with the weather forecast, please make sure to see the track conditions, but this figures to be held over a very soft surface — either way. This daughter of Uncle Mo cost $250,000 as a yearling, and won at Saratoga on debut. Last two have been late-clsosing efforts and she nearly missed at Gulfstream Park back in December in her last effort. Working well at Palm Meadows and the trainer hits with .27% of those making the return. Gets a top rider who has won on her in the past. The pick. Devamani (7) will be making her NA debut today for a trainer that does well with these types (.18% on first time on American soil). Has moved over soft turf in most of her starts to date, and has been training well at Payson Park in South Florida. Has hit the board in 6 of 7 career starts. The one to beat. Soglio (10) has two wins and a third in the last three outs. Was taken off trainer Graham Motion two races back for a top KY-based trainer, who does well with these kind of pick-ups. Has a third over this grass in the resume, and is by a top grass sire in Scat Daddy. Can’t dismiss. I bet the 3-7 across the board, and then box the top 3 in one exacta. I key the top 2 over/under all the other numbers in two others.

7th: 2-1-3-7-10…Almithmaar (2) is the 8-5 ML favorite coming off a head loss in the debut run at Gulfstream Park on March 4. Lead nearly the whole way in that one before being caught on the wire. Dam is a Stakes winner, and this one cost over $625,000 as a yearling. Already gelded — which is a huge surprise, considering the sire power connected. But should help focus on running. D Squared (1) ran second on debut March 11. Worked well after that one, too, for a top barn. Home-bred son of Speightstown, who has all the makings to be a good one. Trainer has a solid win % with those making the second start (.18%) and this one was well bet on debut. Corrupt (3) is another from the Casse barn. Ran third on debut at Woodbine last October. Was the beaten favorite in that one, and has been training lights out for the return. Can’t dismiss. I bet the 2 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 in the exacta. I key the 2 over/under all the numbers listed in two more.

8th: 7-6-8-9-4-2-3…Astrollinthepark (7) ran third last time out at Oaklawn Park when caught four-wide. Gets a top rider aboard for this one today, and has faced some real good ones in the past when facing Stakes competition. Training very well for this one, and should be fit after the last run. Love the 5-1 ML odds. Sister Kan (6) has won six races in a row and has hit the board in 12 of 14 lifetime starts. Will step it up today in the class department, but this 4YO filly is as game as any in the land. Will be stalking the leaders from the get-go. Miss Kentucky (8) is another who will be pressing the pace. Comes off a bit of a layoff for a trainer that hits with .12% of these kind. Has a win in one start over this track. I bet the 7 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 in the exacta.

9th: 1-12-8-5-4-3-2…G3 Transylvania Stakes …Since my son went to, and was graduated from Transylvania University — at no small cost to his padre — I feel like I am personally “invested” in this Stakes event already. I go with Maraud (1), who comes into this one off two straight victories for the barn of Todd Pletcher. In 5 career starts to date, he has 3 wins and 2 thirds, and the win in the G3 Palm Beach was as gutty as they come. Gets the barn’s top rider back on board in this one, and they have teamed up for 2 wins already. Has been on “good” surf twice already with a win. Analyze It (12) figures to be the PT favorite, and probably at very low odds after back-to-back impressive wins to start his career for trainer Chad Brown. But this one drew an awful post position — which has very low odds at this distance on this grass course. Plus, he will be facing “East Coast Wet” grass for the first time. I think he is a very vulnerable favorite and I will be betting against. Captivating Moon (8) is 12-1 ML odds, and may have a shot in an upset bid. This son of Malibu moon has 2 wins and 3 seconds in 6 career starts, with the only missing link a run over the slop here last fall. Ran a very nice second in a tough-as-heck Stakes event at Tampa Bay Downs last time out. I can’t leave this one out. I bet the 1-8 across the board and then box the top 3 in one exacta. I key the 1-8 over/under all the rest in two more smaller versions.

10th: 7-3-10-6-5…Liberty Lane (7) gets a solid “dot” — or must use — for me in this spot. This 4YO gelding is getting a drop to a career low level and won against much tougher two races back at the Fair Grounds. I can easily toss out the grass race last time out, where he was beaten just 4 lengths. This one has 4 wins to his credit already, and should add to that total with a could trip today. Has enough tactical speed that the rider can use if the track is playing that way. Under and Over (3) was claimed last time out by a top trainer/owner combo — who definitely know how to play this game. If they can work their magic, this one could be tough with the addition of a top rider in this one. Tabaddol (10) was claimed last time out after his second third-place finish in a row. Bumps up in class for this one today, but should be closing at the end. Could use the 20-1 odds to light up the board in the finale. I bet the 7 to win/place/show and then key the 7 over/under all the other numbers listed.

Good Luck & All the Best/Gene