- Associated Press - Saturday, April 29, 2017

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Churchill Downs opens Saturday night with two stakes races leading a slate of features approaching next weekend’s 143rd runnings of the marquee Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.

Todd Pletcher-trained Syndergaard leads a seven-horse field of 3-year-olds for the $100,000 William Walker Stakes over six furlongs at the storied track. Athena meanwhile aims to defend her title in the $65,000 Roxelana for fillies and mares after winning last year’s six-furlong event as an 18-1 longshot.

Churchill’s 38-day spring meet includes the additions of the Matron (May 20) and Chicago Handicap (June 24), both $100,000 Grade 3 races for older fillies and mares formerly run at Arlington Park. Those races have raised the total stakes purses to $8.84 million for the meet that runs Wednesdays to Sundays through June 30.

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