04/04/2012 12:54PM

Keeneland: Karlovy Vary looks like contender in seven-horse Ashland

Barbara D. Livingston
Stephanie’s Kitten will make her first start since the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf as the probable favorite in Saturday's Ashland Stakes.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Rusty Arnold nearly won the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes two years ago at Keeneland for owner Alex Campbell Jr. when It’s Tea Time, an 18-1 shot, came up a neck short of catching Evening Jewel.

This year, Arnold will send out an Ashland starter at considerably lower odds when Karlovy Vary breaks from the middle of the seven-filly pack Saturday. Like It’s Tea Time, Karlovy Vary is a Campbell homebred by Dynaformer entering the Ashland off a victory over the Gulfstream Park turf.

“I think Karlovy Vary is a better filly, but she still has to prove it,” said Arnold, 57, who perennially makes Keeneland a major focus for his stable.

After winning a Feb. 26 allowance at Gulfstream, “we came here early and pointed for this race,” Arnold added. “She has had two works here and is doing fabulous.”

Karlovy Vary, with Jimmy Graham to ride, figures as one of the secondary favorites behind Stephanie’s Kitten in the Grade 1, $500,000 Ashland, a 1 1/16-mile Polytrack race for which entries were drawn Wednesday. Stephanie’s Kitten, with Julien Leparoux named, was assigned the outside post.

Stephanie’s Kitten, bred and owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, has not raced since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last fall at Churchill Downs. Her early-season goal is not the Kentucky Oaks, but the Royal Ascot meet in England. Stephanie’s Kitten has been at Gulfstream Park in recent weeks and “has trained extremely well,” said trainer Wayne Catalano. “I expect a big comeback from her.”

From the rail, this is the entire Ashland field: Dixie Strike, Hard Not to Like, Heart of Destiny, Karlovy Vary, Goldrush Girl, Lotta Lovin, and Stephanie’s Kitten.

The Ashland, the eighth of 10 Saturday races, will be televised on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series (4:30-6 p.m. Eastern) on NBC with Mike Battaglia the on-site reporter. First post is 1:05, with the Ashland set for 4:45.

Four allowances also are carded for Saturday, including a $67,000 turf route (race 5) pitting such stakes-seasoned performers as Center Divider, Al Khali, and Air Support.