05/22/2003 12:00AM

Big plans ahead for San Dare


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Rick Hiles said he wouldn't mind seeing San Dare perform well enough at the Churchill Downs spring meet to be invited to run Aug. 16 in the Midwest's premier filly and mare turf race, the Beverly D. at Arlington Park.

Trouble is, a few other trainers might have the same goal in mind. In fact, the Saturday feature at Churchill, the 27th running of the $150,000 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap, has drawn such an accomplished group of fillies and mares that whomever emerges as the winnerwill almost surely become a candidate for the Beverly D.

San Dare, as a winner of back-to-back Grade 3 turf races at Gulfstream last winter, typifies the quality of the Mint Julep field, but she is not even the race highweight. That honor has gone to the remarkably consistent Cellars Shiraz, a Calder-based filly who will carry 120 pounds in the 1 1/8-mile turf race, which drew a field of nine.

Cellars Shiraz, trained by Bill Cesare, owns six wins and five seconds from 12 career starts on grass, a record compiled almost exclusively in stakes. Pat Day, whose only ride aboard Cellars Shiraz resulted in an easy victory in a minor off-the-grass stakes at the 2002 Gulfstream meet, will ride her Saturday.

San Dare and Quick Tip will each carry 119 pounds. Quick Tip is running back three weeks after a strong runner-up showing in the Citgo Mile on Kentucky Derby Day, which lifted the mare's career earnings past the $585,000 mark. As usual, Robby Albarado has the mount from trainer Neil Howard.

Without question, San Dare brings in the most compelling storyline in the field. Once unable to win for mid-range claiming prices, she has come to life in the last year for Hiles and owner David Mounts, winning five times and finishing off the board just once in 12 starts.

"It took her a while to figure things out, and for us to figure her out," said Hiles, adding with a laugh: "Actually, we know what she needs more than she knows what she needs."

The rest of the field for the Grade 3 Mint Julep is Desert Gold, Crystal Sea, Salzurita, Kiss the Devil, Stylish, and Guana.

Foster Handicap part of NTRA Pick Three

The Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap, highlight of the post-Derby segment of the Churchill spring meet, will be one of the three races in the first NTRA Summer Pick Three, it was announced Thursday.

The June 14 Foster will be linked with the Brooklyn Handicap from Belmont and the Leonard Richards from Delaware. All three races will be televised live by CBS Sports.

* Churchill horseplayers who prefer betting on front-runners when the temporary rails are placed well out onto the turf course might well have had a profitable afternoon here Wednesday, when the rails were set 15 feet out. The winners of both turf races went wire to wire: Sand Springs, prepping for the June 14 Regret Stakes, won the seventh race at a $7.20 mutuel, while Kay's Daughter won the 10th race by five lengths, returning a whopping $126.60.

* Because racing will be conducted here Monday on the Memorial Day holiday, Churchill will be dark Wednesday. The schedule for drawing entries for next week is Monday for Thursday and Wednesday for Friday.