06/09/2011 9:43AM

Churchill Downs: Snow Top Mountain faces evenly matched bunch

Barbara D. Livingston
Check the Label, a Grade 1 winner last year, is one of the prime contenders in Saturday's Mint Julep.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Tom Proctor said he thinks Graham Motion and Animal Kingdom probably will get the best of Dale Romans and Shackleford in the 143rd Belmont Stakes on Saturday in New York.

Proctor also has a stated opinion regarding the two trainers and their chances in the Grade 3 Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill Downs about an hour before the Belmont. Asked which trainer he prefers, Proctor answered neither one. That’s because Proctor will run Snow Top Mountain against Check the Label, trained by Motion, and Tapitsfly, trained by Romans, in the $100,000 Mint Julep, a 1 1/16-mile turf race that drew 11 fillies and mares.

“It should be one heck of a horse race,” Proctor said early Thursday from California, where he has a string of horses. “Graham’s filly and Dale’s filly both have awfully good numbers, and so does my filly.”

Two Saturdays back, Proctor sent out Keertana, an older half-sister to Snow Top Mountain, to become the first female runner to win the Louisville Handicap in 73 runnings, and she did so in a very close three-horse photo finish.

“If all three of those fillies run their best race, the Mint Julep might wind up that way, too,” said Proctor. “It should be exciting.”

Last September, Check the Label became a Grade 1 winner when she took the Garden City at Belmont. Snow Top Mountain, who was second in that race, appears to have improved since then, having won both of her starts this year at 4.

Meanwhile, Check the Label most likely needed her only start this year when she was a rallying second in the April 22 Doubledogdare over Polytrack at Keeneland.

For her part, Tapitsfly is a Breeders’ Cup winner, having taken the 2009 Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita. Whereas Snow Top Mountain and Check the Label do their running from the back, Tapitsfly is a speed type who, like her stablemate Shackleford in the Belmont, might very well attempt to maintain a safe distance between herself and her chasers throughout the running.

Tapitsfly, with Miguel Mena to ride, will break from post 7. Snow Top Mountain will have Robby Albarado aboard when breaking right alongside in post 8, while Check the Label, with Jeremy Rose subbing for Ramon Dominguez, will leave from the far outside post.

Fringe players in good form in the 35th running of the Mint Julep include Bella Medaglia (post 2, Jamie Theriot), in off a dominating allowance victory; Sweetest Song (post 6, Calvin Borel), a dangerous closer trained by Carl Nafzger; and Askbut I Won’ttell, winner of the Cardinal Handicap here last fall.

Ravi’s Song, Vivo Per Lei, Silver Belle, Abuela, and My Baby Baby complete the field.

The Mint Julep goes as the 10th of 11 Saturday races. First post is 12:45 p.m. Eastern, with the feature going at 5:25. The Belmont goes at 6:35 and will be shown on television monitors throughout the grounds.