LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Keeneland's spring meet opens what is arguably the picturesque track's biggest year ever.
Already prepared to host the Breeders' Cup World Championships for the first time on Oct. 30-31, Keeneland begins a 15-day meet featuring 16 stakes races worth $4.35 million, with more than half that total at stake during the opening Saturday.
Headlining a card with five stakes races worth $2.275 million is the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass, which added $250,000 and was moved up a week to provide a four-week break before the May 2 Kentucky Derby. Carpe Diem is the even-money favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 race with eight 3-year-olds.
The spring meet runs through April 24 at Keeneland, the first Kentucky track besides Churchill Downs to host the Breeders' Cup.
Friday's opening-day feature is the $100,000 Transylvania for 3-year-olds on turf.
Three other stakes races for older horses were shifted to Saturday along with the Blue Grass: the $350,000 Madison, $300,000 Commonwealth and $125,000 Shakertown. The $500,000 Grade I Ashland for 3-year-old fillies remains on the opening Saturday card as a prep for the May 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill.
The 91st running of the Blue Grass will be run on dirt for the first time since 2006 after nearly a decade on a synthetic surface. Keeneland converted the surface last August.
The question in the Blue Grass is whether Carpe Diem uses the new surface to go 2-0 this year.
Carpe Diem won the Tampa Bay Derby by five lengths in his only 2015 start. He won the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in October and his lone defeat came in a runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita.
Challengers aren't scared by Carpe Diem's impressive record. Ocho Ocho Ocho trainer Jim Cassidy bypassed the Santa Anita Derby and shipped his horse from California to run in the Blue Grass.
"I didn't want to knock him out with a tough race out there," Cassidy said. "I wanted to focus on the (Kentucky Derby) and I thought that this might be a little easier spot."
Ocho Ocho Ocho finished eighth in the San Felipe on March 7. The Delta Jackpot winner is one of two second choices at 6-1 on the morning line in the Blue Grass.
Saturday's winner will earn 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, ensuring a chance to run in the Run for the Roses.