05/28/2011 5:57PM

Churchill Downs: Keertana takes photo

Churchill Downs/ Reed Palmer Photography
Keertana rallies up the edge to win a three-horse photo over Bearpath and Guys Reward.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In an incredibly tight finish that nearly resulted in a triple dead-heat, Keertana was the narrowest of winners Saturday in the 74th running of the Grade 3, $111,200 Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Favored at 3-2 over her six male rivals, Keertana, a 5-year-old mare, prevailed by a nose over Bearpath, with Guys Reward another nose back in third. El Crespo was fourth, while Musketier, the 8-5 second choice, finished fifth.

Keertana, ridden by Jose Lezcano, rallied along the hedge to challenge front-running Guys Reward with a quarter-mile to go, and those two waged a fierce battle the rest of the way, with Bearpath rallying with a flourish to join them on the wire.

Bred and owned by Barbara Hunter and based at Churchill with trainer Tom Proctor, Keertana returned $5 after completing the three-turn, 1 1/2-mile distance in 2:33.61 over a firm turf course. It was her 11th victory from 26 career starts, with the $67,567 winner’s share moving her career bankroll to $981,938. Proctor has said achieving the $1 million milestone is a primary goal for Keertana, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Johar.

Guys Reward, with Miguel Mena up for Dale Romans, led through slow fractions of 1:19.27 for six furlongs and 1:45.82 for a mile before Keertana drew even. “You won’t see many more exciting horse races than that,” said Romans, who the previous Saturday was in Maryland to send out Shackleford to win the Preakness.

Simmard, Dark Cove, and Formulaforsuccess were early scratches from an original field of 10.

* After the fifth race Saturday, Churchill hosted a touching winner’s circle ceremony to honor Brass Hat, who was retired earlier this week at age 10. Brass Hat ran 40 times and earned nearly $2.2 million for owner-breeder Fred Bradley and his son, trainer Buff Bradley.