Saturday’s $600,000 Stephen Foster Stakes (GII) at Churchill Downs marks the last major stakes at the Louisville oval for the spring meeting and the first time the nine-furlong feature for the older horse division will be run under stakes conditions after being held under handicap status since its first running in 1982. Also, the race received a downgrade to a grade 2 this year after having been a grade 1 since 2002, but that didn’t stop the connections of some of the best horses from the older route division from dropping their names into the entry box.
The Foster is one of six graded stakes on tap for Saturday night’s card at Churchill Downs.
This year a field of 12 will race the nine furlongs of the Foster, the winner earning one of eight guaranteed spots for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) on November 2 via the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win & You’re In” program.
The Stephen Foster was named for the famed composer called “the father of American music”, who penned the historic song “My Old Kentucky Home” which is played every year on the first Saturday in May as the Kentucky Derby (GI) horses make their way toward the starting gate. The list of winners of the Foster is impressive and includes four eventual Horse of the Year title winners and five Breeders’ Cup Classic champs. Names on the list even the casual fan will recognize include Gun Runner, Fort Larned, Blame, Curlin, Saint Liam, Perfect Drift, Street Cry, Victory Gallop, Awesome Again and Black Tie Affair.
Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day rode three winners during his storied career (1985, 1988 and 2003) and Robby Albarado, who perennially is a leading rider at Churchill Downs, also counts three wins. Four trainers – Patrick Byrne, Jere Smith, Mark Casse, and Forrest Kaelin — have saddled two winners each and none of the three who are still active will be represented with a runner this year.
Champion Victory Gallop still owns the stakes record of 1:47.28 set in 20 years ago.
Santa Anita Handicap (GI) winner Gift Box is the early 3-1 favorite in the field off his runner-up finish to Vino Rosso in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (GI) on Memorial Day, May 27. He has been trained by California-based John Sadler after being purchased privately from Will Farish by Kosta and Pete Hronis late last year. The gray son of Twirling Candy will again be piloted by Joel Rosario, who is fresh off his triumphant ride aboard Sir Winston in last week’s Belmont Stakes and the pair will break from post position six.
“He’s really taken to Churchill Downs well since he’s arrived,” former jockey Juan Leyva, who is now Sadler’s assistant, said. “I absolutely love coming here. With 12 horses entering the Stephen Foster it didn’t come up easy by any means but we’re confident our horse is ready to run a big effort. It’s been great getting him in the (Churchill Downs Stakes) barn. He shows so much grit and determination every time he runs.”
China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners and WinStar Farm’s Yoshida is a grade 1 winner on turf and dirt, having won the Turf Classic Stakes and Woodward Stakes last year, but unfortunately carries a pair of disappointing sixth-place finishes in the Pegasus World Cup Turf in January and the Dubai World Cup 2 ½ months ago. Trainer Bill Mott gave the Japanese-bred son of Heart’s Cry the entire month of April off and the 5-year-old has been training for this race at Saratoga for more than a month.
“Before we ran him in the Woodward, he never had a start on the dirt but always trained well over it,” Mott said. “He really showed us that day that he can run over it in the afternoon as well. It’s great to have options with him and knowing he’s won Grade I races on both surfaces doesn’t hurt either.”
Seeking the Soul has done some of his best runnings over Churchill’s main track, logging a record of 11-3-2-4 in Louisville, which includes the 2017 Clark Handicap (GI). He’s made nearly $3 million as racing’s most talented runner-up, including in this year’s Dubai World Cup, and he has been training well for this race off a third in the May 3 Alysheba Stakes (GIII) last out. Dallas Stewart trains the 6-year-old son of Perfect Soul for breeder Chuck Fipke and jockey John Velazquez will be back aboard. The pair were given morning line odds of 4-1.
“He’s really been bouncing around perfectly over this track,” Stewart said. “He was doing so well after the Dubai World Cup that we ran him in the Alysheba as a prep for the Stephen Foster. He ran good that day but I think he can do much better in the Foster.”
Alysheba Stakes runner-up Tom’s d’Etat also seems to like Churchill Downs’ main track, collecting two wins and two seconds from five career starts at the Louisville oval. Al Stall Jr. trains the son of Smart Strike and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan will be aboard once gain. Tom’s d’Etat drew post position 9 and 5-1 morning line odds from the oddsmaker.
“Looking at the race I’d expect him to be on the lead or close to the pace,” Bridgmohan said. “(Alkhaatam) has some speed but we can be right there with him early. I don’t expect the pace to be too quick, though.”
WinStar Farm and China Horse Club are represented by another runner (in partnership with SF Racing) in Quip, who will be ridden by Florent Geroux. The son of Distorted Humor got an eight-month break after the Preakness Last year and will make his third start of 2019 and his first since winning the Oaklawn Handicap (GII) in April.
“I think it was the best thing that could have happened to him, getting time off,” trainer Rodolphe Brisset said. “He came back so much stronger and mature. I think he can really make a name for himself in the older horse division this year.”
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tenfold won the Pimlico Special (GIII) six weeks ago and looks to give trainer Steve Asmussen his third Stephen Foster, having saddled Curlin to victory in 2007 and Gun Runner year before last. Regular jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. will be back aboard.
The complete field for the Stephen Foster, with jockey, and morning line odds, will be: Thirstforlife (Miguel Mena,15-1); Rated R Superstar (Rodney Prescott, 20-1); Runaway Ghost (Julien Leparoux, 20-1); Seeking the Soul (John Velazquez, 4-1); Alkhaatam (Channing Hill, 30-1); Gift Box (Joel Rosario, 3-1); Tenfold (Ricardo Santana Jr., 12-1); King Zachary (Javier Castellano, 12-1); Tom’s d’Etat (Shaun Bridgmohan, 5-1); Quip (Florent Geroux, 10-1); Exulting (Tyler Gaffalione, 20-1); and Yoshida (JPN) (Jose Ortiz, 7-2).
The Stephen Foster has been carded as the 9th race with a post time of 9:47 p.m. ET.
Six For Fleur De Lis
In the 44th running of the $250,000 Fleur de Lis Stakes, Bradley Thoroughbreds, Whispering Oaks Farm, Team Hanley, Madakat Stables and Tim and Anna Cambron’s She’s a Julie, fresh off her stunning win in the La Troienne Stakes (GI) on Kentucky Derby Day, will face off with Adele Dilschneider’s multiple grade 1 winner Elate, who has yet to win in two starts in 2019, and four others.
The nine-furlong Fleur de Lis is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win & You’re In” qualifier for the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) on November 2.
She’s a Julie is trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen and is named for his wife, who is a cancer survivor. The daughter of Elusive Quality will have Ricardo Santana Jr. aboard on Saturday.
“I was so proud of her effort in the La Troienne,” Asmussen said. “It was a lot of fun winning that race with such a special filly to our barn and named after my wife.”
Elate is a 5-year-old mare by top sire Medaglia d’Oro, who was third in the Apple Blossom (GI) and second in the Azeri (GII) at Oaklawn Park over the winter. She won two grade 1s last year and was sent to the sidelines for the remainder of 2019 after a second-place finish in the Personal Ensign Stakes (GI) at Saratoga. Jose Ortiz will ride.
“She’s a horse that wants every bit of 1 1/8 miles,” trainer Bill Mott said. “Part of the reason why we wanted to run in the (Fleur de Lis) was because of the distance. I think she loves 1 1/8 miles and even up to 1 ¼ miles.”
The Fleur de Lis field, from the rail out with jockey and morning line odds: Skeptic (Brian Hernandez Jr., 10-1); She’s a Julie (Ricardo Santana Jr., 2-1); Elate (Jose Ortiz, 8-5); Go Google Yourself (Gabriel Saez, 12-1); Blue Prize (ARG) (Javier Castellano, 2-1); Auspicious Babe (Florent Geroux, 15-1).
Full Field For Wise Dan
Red Barron’s Barn’s multiple grade 2 winner Itsinthepost (FR) will make his 2019 debut against 13 rivals in the $250,000 Wise Dan Stakes (GIIT), a race previously known as the Firecracker but renamed in honor of two-time Horse of the Year. The Jeff Mullins trainee will have his work cut out for him as he takes on Amerman Racing’s Dixie Stakes (GIIT) runner-up Admission Office, Mark Detampel’s Opening Verse Sakes winner Siem Riep and Bourbon Lane Stables’ Ben Ali stakes (GIIIT) winner Bourbon Resolution.
Itsinthepost, a 7-year-old gelded son of American Post (GB), won the 2018 San Marcos Stakes (GIIT), San Luis Rey Stakes (GIIT) and Charles Whittingham Stakes (GIIT) at Santa Anita. Overall, he’s won seven Grade II events and the Wise Dan marks only his second trip outside of California since being imported in mid-2015. Itsinthepost drew post position seven and Tyler Baze will ride.
Admission Office, who was trained by Chad Brown until his last two starts, finished just a half-length behind multiple graded stakes winner Catholic Boy in the Dixie and seeks his initial career stakes victory here. Joel Rosario will ride the son of Point of Entry.
The field for Wise Dan field from the rail out (with jockey) is Get Western (Julien Leparoux); All Right (Adam Beschizza), First Premio (Brian Hernandez Jr.,), Hot Springs (Ricardo Santana Jr.), Holiday Stone (Florent Geroux) Siem Riep (James Graham), Itsinthepost (Tyler Baze,), Noble Commander (Gabriel Saez), Inspector Lynley (Jose Ortiz), El Picaro (CHI) (Javier Castellano), March to the Arch (Tyler Gaffalione), Admission Office (Joel Rosario), Cullum Road (John Velazquez) and Bourbon Resolution (Chris Landeros). Also Eligible: Parlor (Corey Lanerie).
The Wise Dan has been carded as the evening’s 6th and will break from the gate at 8:37 p.m. ET
NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) will televise the races from Churchill Downs from 8:30-10 p.m. ET as part of its 2019 “Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win & You’re In presented by America’s Best Racing” television schedule. Also, Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will air live coverage on SiriusXM 156 from 8:00-10:00 p.m. and TVG will provide live on-site updates throughout the evening.
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.
After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.
In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law known as the “Borell Law.”
Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, two Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.