Keertana Battles Boys in 74th Louisville 'Cap

May 25, 2011 John Asher

LOUISVILLE, KY (Wednesday, May 25, 2011) – Churchill Downs’ $100,000-added Louisville Handicap (Grade III) has been contested over a variety of distances and track surfaces since its inaugural running in 1895, but one thing about the race has never changed: the Louisville has strictly been a male domain and has never been won by a filly or mare.

            That could change Saturday when Barbara Hunter’s Keertana, a 5-year-old mare who won Keeneland’s Bewitch (GIII) last time out and finished a fast-closing third to Shared Account in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (GI) at Churchill Downs, takes on nine male rivals in her historic bid to win the 2011 renewal of the 1 ½-mile test on the Matt Winn Turf Course.

            The Louisville Handicap is the featured event on Saturday’s 11-race program at Churchill Downs and a highlight of an extended holiday weekend of racing that will run through Monday’s special Memorial Day program. Post time for the Saturday, Sunday and Monday holiday racing programs is 12:45 p.m. (all times Eastern), and the Louisville Handicap is set for a 5:29 p.m. start.

            Keertana, a homebred daughter of Johar trained by Tom Proctor, will carry 117 pounds and breaks from post four under jockey Jose Lezcano. Her only loss in four 2011 races came in a third-place finish to Denomination in the Grade III Hillsborough on March 12 at Tampa Bay Downs.

            The consistent Keertana brings a career record of 10-5-6 in 25 races and earnings of $914,371 into the Louisville, which will be run over a Churchill Downs turf course on which she has compiled a 3-2-2 record in eight outings. Nearly half of her career earnings ($430,295) have been amassed on the grass at Churchill Downs, where Keertana’s record includes a victory in her stakes debut in the 2009 running of the $150,000 Regret (GIII) and a pair of allowance wins. She was also runner-up in the 2009 Mrs. Revere (GII); third to Hot Cha Cha and Acoma in the 2010 Early Times Mint Julep (GIII); and fifth, beaten only a half-length by Danzon, in last year’s Locust Grove (GIII).

            The last filly or mare to contest the Louisville Handicap was Louve des Reves (Ire), who finished eighth of 11 in 2007 – the renewal won by Drilling for Oil.

            Major opposition to Keertana’s bid for Louisville Handicap history could come from Stella Perdomo’s Musketier, a German-bred Canadian invader trained by Roger Attfield and the Louisville Handicap’s high weight at 122 pounds. Musketier has won the last two renewals of Keeneland’s Elkhorn Handicap (GII) for Attfield, who will also saddle Simmard, a 6-year-old son of Dixieland Band the trainer co-owns with William WernerJesus Castanon, who won last week’s $1 million Preakness (GI) aboard the Churchill Downs-based Shackleford, will ride Musketier from the outside post, while Shaun Bridgmohan has the riding call on Simmard, who drew post number two.

            Other major players include Frank Mancari’s defending winner Free Fighter, who has failed to win in eight races since his 12-1 upset in the 2010 Louisville; Michael Bruder’s Guys Reward, a recent allowance winner at Churchill Downs who finished second for trainer Dale Romans at odds of 40-1 in last year’s Commonwealth Turf (GIII) won by Yankee Fourtune; and Lothenbach Stable’s Bearpath, runner-up to Free Fighter in last year’s Louisville Handicap and second to Telling in the 2010 Sword Dancer Invitational (GI) at Saratoga.

            The field for the 74th Louisville Handicap, from the rail out (with jockey, weight), includes: Memorial Maniac (Jon Court, 116); Simmard (Bridgmohan, 116), Guys Reward (Miguel Mena, 115), Keertana (Lezcano, 117), Dark Cove (Manoel Cruz, 114), El Crespo, 113), Free Fighter (Calvin Borel, 113), Formulaforsuccess (Constantino Roman, 113), Bearpath (Freddie Lenclud, 116) and Musketier (Castanon, 122).

            The stakes record for the 1 ½-mile distance on turf is 2:28.44, set by the recently-retired Brass Hat during his popular victory in the 2009 Louisville Handicap.

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