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No Derby rush for Blue Grass favorite Santiva

Tom Walters knows he has been somewhat spoiled by what Santiva has achieved, and the last thing the Indiana-based owner wants to do is take his colt for granted.

In his five career starts, Santiva has already started over three different surfaces, been in three trainers' barns, and has yet to finish off the board.

Considering Santiva is the lone horse Walters has in training, he wants to make sure the talented son of Giant's Causeway is around for more than just the first Saturday in May.

So Walters wants to be in the winner's circle at the conclusion of Saturday's Grade I, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, but he isn't looking at the track's premier Kentucky Derby prep as a deal breaker.

Despite living about an hour and 15 minutes from Louisville, Walters says he isn't going to let Derby fever cloud his judgment.

Santiva was deemed the 3-1 morning-line favorite for the 11⁄8-mile Blue Grass and is already considered a top Kentucky Derby contender off the strength of his win in last fall's Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs, but the only thing Walters will commit to regardless of what transpires Saturday is his desire to have a healthy, happy horse.

"Obviously, everyone would love to run in the Kentucky Derby. That's a dream," Walters said. "But the most important thing we want to do is to do what is right for the horse.

"The objective for him was never the Kentucky Derby. The objective for him is to have him around this summer, this fall and as a 4-year-old because we think he's going to be a better 4-year-old than he is now. When you only have one horse, you want to make sure you are doing the right thing by him so (a Derby trip) depends on how quickly he bounces back."

After making starts for trainers Ken McPeek and Todd Pletcher, Santiva was transferred to the barn of Eddie Kenneally following his runner-up effort in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keene land last October.

In his first try over dirt, Santiva — who was still a maiden at that point — deliver ed his breakthrough effort when he won the 11⁄16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club last Nov. 27 by half a length over Astrology.

It might have taken four tries for the colt to get a win. But considering that Santiva comes from a sire line more known for its late development, Walters said his horse is already ahead of the curve.

"A lot of Giant's Causeways don't mature until later on," Walters said. "So we feel what we got with Santiva as a 2-year-old was a blessing; it was a bonus."

Santiva was beaten by Mucho Macho Man during his 2011 debut in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, but that loss has looked a lot better lately. Pants On Fire was sixth in the Risen Star and bounced back to win the Louisiana Derby, while Mucho Macho Man still managed third in that race despite losing a shoe.

"He ran a very good race, considering he'd been off for a while," Kenneally said of Santiva's Risen Star effort. "I think he ran awesome, and the form has worked out well.

"He's a lightly raced horse; he's ready to go. One of the reasons I believe this horse is successful on any surface (is) because he is just such a talented horse."

Walters might not be making any commitments yet. But of the 12 horses slated to start in the Blue Grass Stakes, Santiva arguably has the best profile for handling the Derby strains.

He is one of just two horses in the field, along with Lecomte Stakes winners Wilkinson, who have a graded stakes win on the dirt and the fact that he already has a two-turn victory over the Churchill Downs surface is no small matter.

Ever since Keeneland switched to Polytrack in 2006, the Blue Grass winners — including Stately Victor last year — have typically been horses with little to no dirt experience, and that is the case for several of this year's entrants.

Although morning-line 5-1 second choice, King Congie, a stakes winner on turf, has the kind of style that could be perfectly suited to deliver a Blue Grass win, Santiva's connections have the advantage of knowing that if he succeeds on Saturday, it's not just due to a preferred surface.

"The fact he has run well (at Churchill), too, is reason to definitely think about (the Kentucky Derby), no doubt about it," Kenneally said. "Also, I think he's a much better horse at 3 than he was at 2. He was a little immature last year, but I think he's really, really developed and is a much better horse this year than he was last year."

Added Walters, "The Blue Grass) is not the end-all, be-all for us. It's just a steppingstone. We want to leave something in the tank so that regardless what race he has after that, we've stepped it up a bit."

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