Other Sports

Santiva named 3-1 favorite for Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland

It doesn't bother trainer Eddie Kenneally in the least that sometimes Santiva's name is an also-ran when pundits start discussing Kentucky Derby contenders.

"We have a job to do and that is to do the very best with this particular horse and not worry about the hype," Kenneally said during a national teleconference Tuesday. "Being under the radar is good for us."

Comfortable as they may be in that role, Kenneally and his trainee are about to emerge from the background.

Tom Walters' graded stakes winner Santiva was officially deemed the standout for Saturday's Grade I, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes when he was installed as the 3-1 morning-line choice Wednesday in the 12-horse field for Keeneland's 11⁄8-mile Kentucky Derby prep race.

Santiva ended his juvenile season on a high note, winning the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs over the highly regarded Astrology.

The son of Giant's Causeway has raced just once this year, a runner-up effort in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 19. Santiva will break from post position No. 3 on Saturday.

"I think that's about as good as I could have expected, I think it's perfect right in the middle there," Kenneally said of the draw on Wednesday. "We wanted to make sure we had a fresh horse for the Blue Grass Stakes. He's only had one race this year, and it was a good race, so I think that sets him up pretty well. I feel very good about him."

Though Santiva ran the best race of his life over the Churchill Downs dirt — something that will be key three weeks from now — the versatile colt has proven he can deliver a top effort on just about any surface.

Santiva came home second in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity over the Keeneland Polytrack last October and obviously made the transition from synthetic to dirt with no problem.

In addition to Santiva's good prior form at Keene-land, Kenneally conceded one of the main reasons he and Walters opted for this spot for the bay colt is they knew most of this year's best 3-year-olds would be going elsewhere — specifically to tracks with dirt surfaces.

Sure enough, Santiva and Wilkinson are the only horses in the Blue Grass field with graded stakes wins on dirt while Sensational Slam — one of three Todd Pletcher trainees entered — is the only other horse in the Blue Grass lineup to have won a stakes on the dirt.

Joes Blazing Aaron, who will break from post No. 4, won the Grade III Palm Beach Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream Park on March 12.

"We thought it would be very important to try and knock out a Grade I win for him, and we felt as though the other major Derby horses, the legitimate Derby contenders, were not going to come and run in the Blue Grass," Kenneally said. "They're going to the Arkansas Derby, the Wood Memorial, the Florida Derby and so on. We thought let's just point to the Blue Grass and try and win a Grade I race against a field that might not be the best group of 3-year-olds so far."

Suspect as the quality of the Blue Grass field might be, the wide-open nature of the 3-year-old picture in the aftermath of champion Uncle Mo's loss in the Wood Memorial almost guarantees the winner Saturday will be given serious Derby consideration whether they have prior dirt form or not.

Wilkinson won the Grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds in his season debut on Jan. 22 and was most recently sixth in the Grade II Louisiana Derby on March 26.

Wilkinson has run at Keeneland previously, finishing second in a maiden race last October, and will break from post position No. 9 on Saturday.

West Point Thoroughbreds' King Congie, a stakes winner on turf, was deemed the 5-1 second choice in the morning line.

King Congie was scheduled to run in the Grade III Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on March 26 but was withdrawn because of a pulled hind muscle.

"I think because of the synthetic surface, (the Blue Grass) is always going to find bigger fields, and everyone is more willing to take a shot because there is a bit of an unknown there," said Pletcher, who also has Queen'splatekitten and maiden winner Praetereo entered in the Blue Grass. "You can't say it's not a legit prep when horses like (2007 Blue Grass runner-up) Street Sense went on to win the Kentucky Derby, but in some ways it's a less significant Derby prep if it's run on a surface that is different than what the Derby is run on."

Swift Warrior, winner of the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway on March 26, was not entered in the Blue Grass after he emerged from a breeze Wednesday morning with a lateral, non-displaced condylar fracture of the right front.

"He looked smooth on the track, but when we got back to the barn and unsaddled him, he took a couple of funny steps," trainer John Terranova said. "Then we noticed a little filling around the ankle and took X-rays. He is already on his way to Rood & Riddle (Equine Hospital)."

Related stories from Idaho Statesman