Big Score highlights chilly Keeneland opener

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Although the temperature read just 47 degrees when live racing action got underway Friday at Keeneland Race Course for the first time in 2017, there still appeared to be several thousand patrons on hand by the time announcer Kurt Becker came on to call the opener.

The outdoor crowd mostly followed the sunshine to stay warm, but there were plenty of fans packing the inside of the grandstand on the second and third floors, mostly dressed in radiant colors in hopes of promoting warmer weather.

The action on the track was highlighted by an upset victory in the featured Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes by West Coast invader Big Score for trainer Tim Yakteen, who returned his backers with a win mutuel of $22.40.

Friday was also the popular Keeneland College Scholarship Day for local students, where 10 lucky winners took home a $1,000 scholarship, and one even luckier winner – April Fronk of the University of Kentucky – brought home the grand prize of a $10,000 college scholarship sponsored by former Keeneland success story and current Claiborne Farm stallion Runhappy.

The Opening Day crowd numbered 14,301, not bad for a windy and chilly Friday, but the temperature did eventually get up to about 57 at one point, and fans seemed comfortable in the sun by the 5:30 p.m. post of the Transylvania. I talked to several friends who had ducked out of work early and many of the college students at the North Terrace were playing hooky from their Friday classes.

The Transylvania looked like a two-horse race between 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Oscar Performance and recent Grade 3 Palm Beach winner Ticonderoga. But Oscar Performance was slow to get out of the gate, and 35-1 shot Holiday Stone went to the lead early and stayed their for the majority of the race, setting modest splits of :23.92, :48.48, 1:13.17 and 1:37.04.

Under Luis Saez, Holiday Stone was clinging to a 1 1/2-length lead in at the top of the stretch, before Big Score split horses to get into second and made a charging move to sweep past Holiday Stone. Big Score finished a half-length in front at the wire, running the 9 furlongs in 1:43.23. Holiday Stone held second and 39-1 longshot Makarios got up for third. Ticonderoga finished fourth and Oscar Performance never really played a factor, finishing fifth and 3 1/2 lengths behind the winner.

“I had a wonderful trip,” winning jockey Javier Castellano said. “I really like the way he did it today – very relaxed, very comfortable, good rhythm all the way through the race. I kept track of the pace. The way he did it was phenomenal. I give all the credit to Tim and the owner (George Krikorian) and the wonderful fans here at Keeneland. Nothing better than to win the Transylvania on Opening Day of the meet.”

Yakteen said he expected a strong effort shipping in from California.

“But until you run you never know,” he said. “He’s a good horse. I’m really happy for (breeder and owner) George (Krikorian). He stands (Big Score’s sire) Mr. Big, and this is a big start for him. We’re going to look at Churchill (Downs and the $300,000 Grade 2 American Turf May 6) most likely next. First we’re going to digest this and then come up with our next move.”

Brian Lynch, trainer of Oscar Performance, couldn’t offer any real excuse for the colt’s effort.

“He settled in nicely behind. The pace was not real quick and the rail opened up when it needed to but he just did not quicken,” Lynch said. “(His first race since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf-G1 in November) was a concern. He could have gotten tired. He was working on a much faster turf course at Palm Meadows (training center in South Florida). Maybe he was not as tight as I thought he would be.”