The favorites for Saturday's $150,000-added Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs should have no problem in finding each other during the running of the 1 1/16-mile grass test.
William S. Farish's Quick Tip, installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite, and Bitteroot Investments' Cellars Shiraz, the 7-2 second choice, have drawn the outside posts in a field of nine fillies and mares entered in the main event, which kicks off the three-day Memorial Day weekend at Churchill, which includes Monday's Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) for 2-year-olds.
Quick Tip, trained by Neil Howard and ridden by Robby Albarado, drew post nine. Cellars Shiraz, an invader from Florida's Calder Race Course trained by Bill Cesare and ridden by Pat Day, will start one gate to her inside.
A victory by Quick Tip in the Early Times Mint Julep would continue a remarkable week for Farish, Howard and Albarado. The trio combined to win last week's $600,000 Pimlico Special (gr. I) with Mineshaft and then sent Midway Road out to a runner-up finish to Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Funny Cide in the Preakness (gr. I), the second jewel of racing's Visa Triple Crown.
Quick Tip won the Cardinal Handicap (gr. III) last fall at Churchill Downs and also took the $150,000 Bayou Breeders' Cup earlier this year at the Fair Grounds. Howard has always thought the physically imposing 5-year-old daughter of Unaccounted For was at her best at distances of 1 1/8 mile and beyond. But a strong runner-up finish to Heat Haze in the Citgo Distaff Turf Mile (gr. III) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day encouraged the conditioner to run Quick Tip back in the Mint Julep.
"The way she ran Derby Day gave us some encouragement," Howard said. "That's what kind of solidified to me what a nice filly she is -- and maybe a little better filly than I thought she was because of the way she ran at a mile against that field."
That effort improved Quick Tip's record to 8-6-2 in 27 races, which includes graded stakes wins on both turf and dirt, and she has amassed career earnings of $585,587.
Cellars Shiraz, a 4-year-old daughter of Kissin Kris, is also a versatile stakes winner on turf and dirt. But she is a monster on grass, where she has a 6-5-0 record in 12 races including a victory in the $200,000 Calder Oaks. She has compiled a record of 10-7-3 in 26 races and has earned $703,580.
Other major contenders include David Mounts' San Dare, a two-time grade III turf winner at Gulfstream; The Thoroughbred Corporation's Stylish, winner of the 2002 Citgo Distaff Turf Mile (gr. III); Carl Pollard's Kiss The Devil, winner of the 2002 Dade Turf Classic at Ellis; and Guana, winner of the 2002 Flawlessly at Arlington Park. $150,000 Early Times Mint Julep (gr. IIIT), fillies & mares 3 & up, 1 1/16 mile on turf
PP. Horse (Weight), Jockey, ML Odds
1. Desert Gold (113), Shane Sellers, 8-1
2. Crystal Sea (114), Calvin Borel, 10-1
3. Salzurita (112), Brice Blanc, 20-1
4. Kiss The Devil (115), Lonnie Meche, 10-1
5. Stylish (117), Cornelio Velasquez, 9-2
6. San Dare (119), Mark Guidry, 4-1
7. Guana (114), Larry Melancon, 12-1
8. Cellars Shiraz (120), Pat Day, 7-2
9. Quick Tip (119), Robby Albarado, 5-2
Morning Line odds by Mike Battaglia