Tom R. Walters' SANTIVA (Giant's Causeway), who had finished second as a maiden in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, opened his account in tenacious fashion in Saturday's $165,000 Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) at Churchill Downs. Making his first start for trainer Eddie Kenneally, the bay juvenile turned back challenges from 3-5 favorite Astrology (A.P. Indy) on the outside and 7-2 second choice Major Gain (More Than Ready) to his inside to grind out a workmanlike half-length decision.
Santiva was well placed in second by new rider Shaun Bridgmohan, watching 40-1 longshot Prideofthechapter (Strong Hope) carve out splits of :24 1/5 and :49. Bridgmohan decided to put the rank outsider away on the far turn, and Santiva responded on cue to strike the front through six furlongs in 1:14 1/5.
Meanwhile, Astrology had advanced from his stalking spot into second on the outside. On the rail, Major Gain was mounting a bold rally, unflinchingly, despite being in tight for several strides. Confronted on both sides down the stretch, Santiva dug down gamely under pressure and proved too tough for his Grade 3-winning opponents to pass. Santiva completed 1 1/16 miles on the fast track in 1:45 1/5, paying $11.60, $4.20 and $2.80 as the 9-2 third choice.
"He showed effort today," Bridgmohan said. "I have known he is a nice little horse. He just ran a phenomenal race today. Every time I asked him for a little more, he just gave it to me. He kept grinding it out and fighting all the way to the wire. The more I asked, the more he fought. It has been a very nice weekend."
"He dug in and was courageous," Kenneally said. "He ran awesome, really. They came to him at the eighth-pole and looked like they might even go by him. They put him in a little tight, and that's when he really fought back and he regained momentum and was drawing away from them at the wire."
Astrology, hero of the Iroquois S. (G3) last time out, garnered runner-up honors by a head and returned $2.60 and $2.10. Arlington-Washington Futurity (G3) victor Major Gain, coming off a fifth in the Breeders' Futurity, got much closer to Santiva this time and yielded $2.40 to show. The exotics were worth $26.60 (exacta), $95.20 (trifecta) and $275.60 (2-5-4-7 superfecta) with the 12-1 Halo's Thunder (Thunder Gulch) another 4 1/2 lengths back in fourth. Cane Garden Bay (Rockport Harbor), Enable (A. P. Warrior) and a tailed-off Prideofthechapter rounded out the order of finish.
Steve Asmussen, the trainer of Astrology, commented on his colt's effort.
"We're disappointed he didn't win under those circumstances, but he's learning," Asmussen said. "He's distracted so easily by stuff."
Santiva, who more than doubled his bankroll to $195,454 from his 4-1-2-1 line, has had nearly as many trainers as starts. He raced twice at Saratoga for Ken McPeek. In his July 24 debut going 5 1/2 furlongs, he finished a green and troubled third to Wine Police (Speightstown), the subsequent Hopeful S. (G1) third, and Soldat (War Front), the eventual With Anticipation S. (G3) winner and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2) runner-up. Next time out in a 1 1/16-mile turf maiden, Santiva reported home second to J. B.'s Thunder (Thunder Gulch). Transferred to Todd Pletcher, Santiva tried the Breeders' Futurity, where he was compromised by a bad start, yet closed well to play second fiddle to J. B.'s Thunder once again.
Bred by Paget Bloodstock in Kentucky, Santiva is a full brother to Her Majesty and a half-brother to Take Arms (Honour and Glory), both Grade 2-placed as juveniles. They are out of the unraced Smarten mare Slide, who is a half-sister to champion sprinter and $2.1 million earner Safely Kept (Horatius), herself the dam of stakes winners Peace Chant (War Chant) and Contrast (Unbridled). Another half-sibling is Grade 2-winning sire Partner's Hero (Danzig).
With this victory at Churchill, has Santiva naturally put himself on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail?
"Oh sure, he's got the pedigree," Kenneally responded. "There's all the stamina in the world in his pedigree. He's got the profile for the race here in May.
"There some races in Florida with him this winter, so we'll look at some of those and take it from there. We'll just give him a little break now and get him back to the races in January or February. We'll give him an easy time in December and focus on next year then."