06/06/2013 2:19PM

Churchill Downs: Soft Whisper should be heard from in Mint Julep

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Barbara D. Livingston
Soft Whisper aims for her first stakes win in Saturday's Grade 3 Mint Julep Handicap.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Soft Whisper is not yet a stakes winner, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t seen the big time.

A third-level allowance victory by Soft Whisper came before a huge crowd on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs and strongly suggested that the 4-year-old filly is ready to be a major player at a higher level.

That opportunity comes Saturday at Churchill Downs, where Soft Whisper will start from the outside post in a well-matched field of six fillies and mares in the Grade 3, $100,000 Mint Julep Handicap.

Soft Whisper, with Jesus Castanon aboard, will carry 115 pounds, getting five pounds from the race highweight, Daisy Devine. Owned by Carl Pollard and Earl Reed, the filly earned a career-high 96 Beyer Speed Figure in her Oaks Day triumph May 3.

“I know she’s a better mare than she was last year, but she’s got to prove it,” trainer David Vance said. “She’s good enough to win. Daisy Devine is awfully tough, so we probably have to beat her. I just know our mare is doing really good.”

Daisy Devine (post 5, Brian Hernandez Jr.) surely will be favored, given her 10-for-20 career record and earnings of almost $1.1 million. The 5-year-old mare is seeking her first graded stakes victory since narrowly capturing the Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap here last fall. She ran third in her last start, the Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

“In her last race, she was a little out of her style, and I think she labored a little over that ground,” trainer Andrew McKeever said. “I’m not making excuses, though, for losing to Stephanie’s Kitten and Hungry Island.”

Other Mint Julep contenders include Colonial Flag (post 1, Joe Rocco Jr., 118), returning from a layoff of almost seven months after making a fine impression last season for trainer Michael Matz, and the second and third finishers in a key allowance prep, Miz Ida (post 3, Shaun Bridgmohan, 117), and Heavenly Landing (post 4, Corey Lanerie, 117).

Run a Risk (post 2, Victor Lebron, 114) figures as the outsider while still eligible for second-level allowance conditions.

The Saturday program starts at 12:45 p.m. Eastern, with the Mint Julep going at 4:59. The card concludes with a terrific second-level turf allowance, a 1 1/8-mile race that drew an oversubscribed field. It is set for 6 p.m., with the Belmont Stakes simulcast following about 30 minutes later.