LOUISVILLE — Owner Tom Walters knows the odds should be against him.
Each year for the last handful of seasons, Walters' son Chris chooses a single horse for his father to purchase and add to his racing stable, picking the prospects when they are just weanlings no less.
Two years ago, the colt that caught Chris' eye was a bay son of Giant's Causeway now known as Santiva. On Saturday, the 2-year-old colt not only became the latest example of Walters' improbable success, but he also gained the title of Kentucky Derby contender.
Santiva, the lone horse currently in training owned by Walters, broke his maiden in impressive fashion when he outfought runner-up Astrology and Major Gain in a three-horse battle to the wire to win the Grade II, $165,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs by half a length.
Last year's winner of the 11⁄16-mile Jockey Club was Super Saver, who went on to claim the roses in May.
While the odds of owning the one horse who becomes a Kentucky Derby winner are astronomical enough, Walters and his clan know a thing or two about defying the numbers.
Santiva is the third horse the 30-year-old Chris Walters had picked out for his father. The previous two? Graded stakes winners Elite Squadron and the recently retired Pretty Prolific.
"I have to give the credit to Chris, my son," Tom Walters said. "Since Chris has been involved, we've had three horses and three graded stakes winners. He's a genius when it comes to Thoroughbreds."
The depth of Santiva's on-track aptitude is still being determined. But his outing under the Twin Spires on Saturday inspired tons of lofty thoughts.
Under patient handling from Shaun Bridgmohan — who won Friday's Grade I Clark Handicap aboard Giant Oak — Santiva sat just off pacesetter Prideofthechapter through a tepid half-mile in 49.03 seconds.
Santiva shifted to the outside path approaching the final turn to take over the lead in the seven-horse field, but he was quickly joined by Major Gain challenging along the rail and 3-5 favorite Astrology making a bid to his outside.
The three juveniles showed poise by racing stride-for-stride to the wire with Santiva edging clear between the two in the final strides to stop the teletimer in 1:45.31 over a fast track.
"He dug in and was courageous," Santiva trainer Eddie Kenneally said. "They came to him at the eighth pole and looked like they might even go by him. He had running on his mind and got the job done.
"There is all the stamina in the world in his pedigree," Kenneally continued. "He's got the profile for the race here in May."
In four races, Santiva has already demonstrated an abundance of versatility.
The bay colt has run over all three surfaces, finishing second on the Keeneland Polytrack in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity in October after running second and third, respectively, in maiden races on the turf and dirt at Saratoga this summer.
After making his first two starts under trainer Ken McPeek, Santiva was moved to the barn of Todd Pletcher for the Breeders' Futurity before ending up with Kenneally.
"We're small and we just felt it was a better fit," Walters said of the trainer switch.
Just as Santiva's people have good reason to think ahead to what might be six months from now, McPeek can do the same after the way his charge Kathmanblu performed in the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes for 2-year-old fillies Saturday.
With Julien Leparoux up, Kathmanblu destroyed her six rivals and established herself as a Kentucky Oaks contender when she got the lead in early stretch and opened up for an 81/2-length victory in the 11⁄16-mile test. The margin of victory was the largest in the race since Silverbulletday triumphed by 10 lengths in 1998.
Kathmanblu was making her second start on the dirt. The bay daughter of Bluegrass Cat won the Jessamine Stakes on the turf at Keeneland on Oct. 14 and was a fast-closing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on Nov. 5.
"She's just plain fast. In hindsight, I wish I had run her in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies," McPeek said. "She's been pretty special and she keeps getting better. It looks like she's better on the dirt. She's got Oaks potential."
Sent off as the 6-5 favorite, Kathmanblu covered the distance in 1:44.48. Miss youlikecrazy was second while 8-5 second choice Aide — a 193/4-length winner at Churchill on Oct. 31 — never got running and finished fourth.