06/05/2009 12:00AM

Pure Clan tops deep field in Mint Julep


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Shrink the grade and triple the purse - then things would look like they match. A power-packed field seems too good for the Grade 3, $100,000 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap, but as football coaches and horse trainers say, it is what it is.

Pure Clan, winner of the Grade 1 American Oaks last summer, makes her return to action in the Mint Julep, a 1 1/16-mile turf fixture that anchors an 11-race Saturday card at Churchill Downs. Until finishing 10th and last in her most recent start, the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf last October, Pure Clan had never been worse than third in her 10 prior starts, all but two of them graded races.

"She looks as good and she's training as good as I've ever seen her," said Bob Holthus, who trains Pure Clan for breeder-owner Lewis Lakin.

Pure Clan, with Shaun Bridgmohan to ride, will break from post 1 when she carries high weight of 122 pounds in a field of seven fillies and mares in the Mint Julep.

Her opposition is an accomplished group, some of them of virtually equal stature. Acoma, a four-time graded winner, looks particularly dangerous as she will be seeking to amend for a defeat as the 2-5 favorite in her last start, the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at dirt-only Oaklawn Park on April 4.

"The surface she runs on doesn't concern us nearly as much as how she's doing," trainer David Carroll said. "And she's training great."

Corey Lanerie will be aboard Acoma, 120, when she breaks from post 3.

Closeout, like Pure Clan, is a classy stretch-runner on the comeback trail, having last raced in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup in October. Despite the layoff, she figures as third choice off her solid 2008 form.

All three favorites stand to benefit from a pace scenario that figures to have Tizaqueena, winner of the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile on the May 2 Kentucky Derby undercard, chasing Northern California shipper In My Glory through swift fractions.

Sugar Baby Love and Day of Victory round out the cast.

The 33rd Mint Julep is carded as the 10th race. First post is 12:45 p.m. Eastern, with the Mint Julep going at 5:30 and the last race at 6:02. The simulcast of the Belmont Stakes is set for 6:27.