Churchill Downs spring meet open Saturday night - NBC Sports

Churchill Downs spring meet open Saturday night
April 25, 2014, 4:18 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Next weekend's 140th Kentucky Derby is the marquee event of Churchill Downs' spring meet, but there are plenty of attractive races around it.

The meet opens Saturday night with the $150,000 Grade 3 Derby Trial, the first of 24 stakes races worth $7.6 million. As always, the track's cornerstone races are the Kentucky Oaks for fillies next Friday, followed by the Derby on May 3.

Right now, the Derby is the focus with several contenders expected to arrive the next few days. The likely favorite, Santa Anita Derby winner California Chrome, is set to come in on Monday.

"He's coming into the Derby perfect, the way I would like for him to be," California Chrome trainer Art Sherman said.

Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong is expected late Saturday by van from New York. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said he opted for ground transportation because the colt hasn't been on a plane.

Trainer Todd Pletcher's foursome of Danza, Intense Holiday, We Miss Artie and Vinceremos have arrived and are expected to work Sunday.

Although the Trial offers no points, there is plenty of Derby intrigue.

Trainer Bob Baffert entered Chitu, who is safely in the Derby field with 54 points, and Bayern, on the bubble with 20. Chitu is likely to scratch, work on Sunday, and then enter the Derby.

But if Bayern wins the Trial, he will pass Harry's Holiday and Vinceremos in earnings to move into the Derby field.

As those scenarios unfold, opening night will unveil some new additions.

Fans will get their first view of the Big Board, a 15,224 square-foot LED screen facing the grandstand. Larry Collmus will also begin calling the races under the Twin Spires after working for Gulfstream Park and serving as the voice of NBC's Breeders' Cup and Triple Crown race coverage. Collmus takes over for Mark Johnson.

In all, six Grade 1 events are scheduled during the meet and are likely to feature some of the country's top horses.

The top stakes race for older horses, the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap, is June 14 and one of three night racing cards. Churchill's other "Downs After Dark" events are June 20 and 27.

The $300,000 Grade 2 Alysheba on May 2 could mark the return of last year's Clark Handicap winner, Will Take Charge, to Churchill Downs. The $500,000 Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is expected to draw defending two-time Horse of the Year, Wise Dan.

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