05/20/2011 4:59PM

Churchill Downs: Santiva works half-mile, on track for Belmont Stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
Santiva closed from midpack to finish sixth in the Kentucky Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – After working a half-mile in 49.80 seconds Friday at Churchill Downs, Santiva appears on track to start in the Belmont Stakes on June 11, trainer Eddie Kenneally said.

The move was little more than a maintenance breeze, coming less than two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, a race in which he closed from midpack to be sixth, beaten 5 1/2 lengths.

Having had a couple weeks to reflect on Santiva’s Derby performance, Kenneally said he was pleased.

“He didn’t have the ideal preparation,” he said, referring to a Blue Grass start three weeks prior to the Derby in which Santiva was blocked in traffic and ran ninth.

The Blue Grass also followed a layoff of eight weeks, coming after a runner-up finish to Mucho Macho Man in the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Feb. 19.

Also working Friday morning at Churchill Downs was Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty, who went a half-mile in 49 seconds.

Like Santiva, it was an easy breeze, her first since her last race.

Trainer Bob Baffert, at Pimlico readying Midnight Interlude for the Preakness, said her next objective is the Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont on June 25.

“We’re going to pick our spots, maybe the Alabama this summer, and we’re hoping the Breeders’ Cup,” he said.

She will return this weekend to Baffert’s base in Southern California, along with the majority of the top horses Baffert brought to Kentucky this spring.

Keertana may take on boys

Tom Proctor likes to joke that he gets scared when people call him a turf trainer, joking that when you get called that, “it’s a sign you’re going out of business.” The implication is that owners don’t want turf trainers; they want those that win 2-year-old and 3-year-old races on dirt.

Churchill Downs had better hope the going-out-of-business trend isn’t true, because Proctor is planning a turf stakes assault here in the weeks ahead.

First up is the May 28 Louisville Handicap, a 1 1/2-mile, Grade 3 turf race in which Proctor aims to run Keertana against the boys.

“That’s not really my deal,” he said of running a mare against males. “But if you’ve got one that’s fast enough and good enough, you do it. Horses can make you look good.”

On Friday, Keertana worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 over the Churchill main track in preparation, though he cautioned her participation in the Louisville Handicap is dependent on how fairly she is weighted in the race. Weights were to be released Saturday.

A close third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf last fall, she is 3 for 4 this year and coming off an easy victory in the Grade 3, 1 1/2-mile Bewitch at Keeneland on April 28.

Other Proctor-trainees pointing to upcoming turf stakes include Keertana’s half-sister, Snow Top Mountain, who is being pointed to the Grade 3 Mint Julep on June 11, and Banned, who is shooting for the Grade 3 Jefferson Cup on June 18.

Snow Top Mountain is 2 for 2 in allowances this year, while Banned comes off a 4 1/2-length victory in the Grade 2 American Turf on May 6. That performance earned him a 97 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest turf Beyer posted by a 3-year-old this year.

Sassy Image eyeing Winning Colors

In addition to the Louisville Handicap, next weekend’s action includes the Grade 3 Winning Colors Stakes on Memorial Day, Monday, May 30.

Beat the Blues, Indian Ink, Jocata, My New Lady, and Wind Caper are among the horses considered probable for the race by stakes coordinator Allison DeLuca.

Dubai Majesty won the race last year and went on to take the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Churchill later in the year. She was later voted champion female sprinter.

Also being considered for this year’s race is Sassy Image, upset winner of the Grade 1 Humana Distaff over Hilda’s Passion on Derby Day. Trainer Dale Romans said she is 60 percent likely to start, but given the quick turnaround from the Humana Distaff, he wants to evaluate her further before committing fully to the race.

Brass Hat to miss Louisville Handicap

Absent from the Louisville Handicap for the first time since 2008 will be 10-year-old veteran and $2.1 million earner Brass Hat. He got a later start to training this year and isn’t ready, trainer Buff Bradley said.

He was fourth in the 2008 Louisville Handicap, first in 2009, and third last year.

Plans for a return start are undetermined. He is in training but has not yet recorded a work this year.

He last raced Nov. 26, finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill. That followed a victory in the Oct. 21 Elkorn Stakes at Keeneland, his lone win of 2010.

◗ A single allowance is carded on Sunday’s 10-race card – the ninth race, a $51,000 entry-level contest going five furlongs on turf. Galientos, second in a similar race last fall at Churchill Downs, may hold a slight edge over Kitty’s Turn, Enclosure, and Skylord.