07/01/2010 11:00PM

Acoma always tough at home

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - You wouldn't blame David Carroll for wishing Churchill Downs ran 12 months a year. That way, whenever Acoma was ready to run Carroll could just lead her the few hundred yards from his backstretch barn to the saddling paddock, then watch her roll.

"She loves it here," Carroll said.

Even though she lost for the first time in six career races at Churchill when second in the Mint Julep Handicap four weeks ago, her overall effort was highly encouraging and it's a primary reason Acoma (pronounced ACK-uh-muh) figures to be favored Saturday in the Grade 3, $100,000 Locust Grove Handicap. A deep field of 12 fillies and mares is entered in the one-mile turf race, but no others can match the credentials of Acoma, who will have Robby Albarado aboard when breaking from post 4.

In the Mint Julep, Acoma hit high gear in the final furlong, surging past Keertana in the final yards and falling three-quarters of a length shy of catching the winner, Hot Cha Cha. Considering it was her first race in more than six months, Carroll was elated, despite her perfect Churchill record being spoiled.

"She came out of that last race in great shape," Carroll said. "Our plan for her all along has been to get two races in her, then take her to the Beverly D.," a Grade 1 race on Aug. 21 at Arlington Park. "If she runs another big race Saturday, we should be in good shape."

Acoma, a 5-year-old mare bred and owned by the mother-daughter team of Helen Groves and Helen Alexander, will tote high weight of 121 pounds, one more than Keertana, a 4-year-old filly in excellent form. In the Mint Julep, Keertana was going for her third straight victory when she loped to the lead turning for home, then just couldn't quite contain the inside run of Hot Cha Cha or the belated blitz by Acoma.

Keertana will have Miguel Mena aboard Saturday when leaving from post 7.

Meadow Saffron and Danzon are among the fringe players in this 29th running of the Locust Grove, which goes as the ninth of 11 races and shares the Saturday spotlight with another Grade 3, $100,000 race, the Bashford Manor Stakes (race 10) for 2-year-olds.