The start of the 2017 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes

The start of the 2017 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes

Rick Samuels

Blue Grass, Ashland Highlight Keeneland Spring Meet

A total of $4.4 million in stakes purses will be offered.

Keeneland announced Jan. 18 its 2018 spring meet will offer 16 stakes worth a season record $4.4 million in purse money.

Headlining the meet, to be held April 6-27, are the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) and $500,000 Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1) and the enhanced status of the $200,000 Appalachian Stakes Presented by Japan Racing Association (G2T).

Fifteen of the spring's 16 stakes are graded events with half contested on the turf. The Appalachian, a one-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies, was upgraded to grade 2 status for 2018 by the American Graded Stakes Committee. Keeneland increased the purse of the Appalachian by $75,000 to $200,000 and moved the race to the first Sunday of the meet.

"Keeneland takes great pride in the strength and diversity of its racing program, and we continually elevate the opportunities to attract North America's top horsemen," Keeneland vice president of racing and sales Bob Elliston said. "We know the Keeneland spring meet is a special event on everyone's calendar. For that reason, we strive to offer the best racing experience possible for horsemen and fans alike."

Saturday, April 7, features Keeneland's signature Blue Grass and Ashland Stakes, prep races for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) and Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1), respectively. The Blue Grass, for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles, and the Ashland, for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, are worth 100 points each to the winners on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and Road to the Kentucky Oaks.

The early nomination deadline for the Toyota Blue Grass and Central Bank Ashland is Feb. 17. Late nominations are due March 21.

NBC Sports Network will provide live coverage of the Blue Grass, along with the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct Racetrack and Santa Anita Derby (G1).

The Blue Grass Day undercard comprises of the $300,000 Madison Stakes (G1), for older fillies and mares at seven furlongs; the $200,000 Shakertown Stakes (G2T), for 3-year-olds and up at 5 1/2 furlongs; and the $250,000 Commonwealth Stakes (G3), for older horses going seven furlongs.

Opening weekend concludes April 8, with the aforementioned Appalachian and the $150,000 Beaumont Stakes (G3), for 3-year-old fillies going seven furlongs, 184 feet, on dirt.

The $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile (G1T), for older horses, will be held April 13.

Four stakes highlight the April 14 card, anchored by the $350,000 Coolmore Jenny Wiley Stakes (G1T), a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares on the turf, and the $200,000 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (G3), for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles. The Lexington awards the winner 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Rounding out the undercard that day are the $200,000 Ben Ali Stakes (G3), for older horses racing 1 1/8 miles, and the $100,000 Giant's Causeway Stakes, a 5 1/2-furlong turf race for fillies and mares.

Older horses are showcased in graded stakes during the final days of the Spring Meet. The $100,000 Hilliard Lyons Doubledogdare Stakes (G3), for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles, is set for April 20, followed by the $250,000 Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes (G2T) at 1 1/2 miles  April 21. Closing day, April 27, features the 150,000 Bewitch Stakes (G3T), for fillies and mares racing 1 1/2-miles.

Racing during the spring meet will be held Wednesday through Sunday. Gates open at 11 a.m. ET. Post time for the first race daily is 1:05 p.m.