05/26/2011 1:49PM

Churchill Downs: Proctor shows faith in Keertana by challenging males in Louisville


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Tom Proctor isn’t what you would call radical, even slightly liberal. But that doesn’t mean he won’t step outside of the box once in a while, as he will do Saturday at Churchill Downs when he pits his star turf mare, Keertana, against nine male rivals in the 74th running of the Grade 3, $100,000 Louisville Handicap.

“We’ll see how smart I am, huh?” Proctor said with a laugh.

Keertana, a remarkably consistent 5-year-old with earnings of $914,371, will break from post 4 with Jose Lezcano aboard in the Louisville, which is run around three turns at 1 1/2 miles on turf. Keertana is listed as a close 2-1 morning-line second choice to Musketier, who was assigned post 10 as the 9-5 favorite.

“I’m just trying to keep from shipping her around too much,” said Proctor. “I could’ve run her in New York or I could’ve waited to run her 1 1/16 miles in a couple weeks,” referring to the Sheepshead Bay at Belmont Park and the Mint Julep at Churchill. “The three turns is what she really wants. She’s doing good and all that, so I felt like this was the right kind of spot to try, even if it is against the boys.”

Keertana won the Bewitch Stakes at Keeneland last month and enters in good form, but when doesn’t she? From 25 starts, Keertana has 10 wins, 5 seconds, and 6 thirds, most of them while competing against her gender in the upper stakes ranks.

Musketier, trained by Canadian icon Roger Attfield, won the counterpart to the Bewitch, the Elkhorn, both in 2010 and 2011. Like many fans, Proctor feels Musketier is definitely the one to beat. “He looks like the best horse in the race,” said Proctor.

Jesus Castanon has the mount on Musketier, an earner of $771,430 from 38 starts.

Among the rest of the field is Free Fighter, who has gone winless in eight starts since he upset the 2010 Louisville at 12-1; Simmard, fourth for Attfield in the Elkhorn; Guys Reward, a sharp last-out allowance winner for Dale Romans; and Bearpath, runner-up in the 2010 Louisville.

The Louisville is the first of two stakes to be run here this weekend. The $100,000 Winning Colors for female sprinters is set for Monday, Memorial Day. Because of the holiday card being run on what normally is a dark day, there will be no racing here next Thursday, June 2.

◗ Churchill will host a brief ceremony to honor Brass Hat between races Saturday. Brass Hat, an earner of nearly $2.2 million for owner-breeder Fred Bradley, was retired earlier this week at age 10.

◗ Several top Churchill regulars will be absent Saturday to ride instead at Arlington Park: Robby Albarado, Kent Desormeaux, and Julien Leparoux.