The 31st running of the Stephen Foster for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on the main track will make history as it will be run under the lights for the first time as part of the “Downs After Dark” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka racing program. For the first time, the Stephen Foster Handicap is part of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships’ “Win and You’re In" series and its winner will earn an automatic starting berth in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita.
Trainer Charles Lopresti has listed Wise Dan, winner of last fall’s Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) at Churchill Downs and a dazzling 10 ½-length winner on Polytrack in Keeneland’s Ben Ali (GIII) in his only start of 2012, as “definite” for the Stephen Foster. Successful Dan, on the other hand, is listed as “possible” for the race after overcoming traffic problems to score a one-length victory in the $200,000-added Alysheba Presented by Besilu Stables (GII) on Kentucky Derby Day.
Lopresti’s stars are half-brothers who have earned more than $1.5 million between them. A three-race winning streak for Wise Dan, a 5-year-old gelding by Wiseman’s Ferry, has boosted his career record to 9-0-0 in 15 races with earnings of $1,009,601. Successful Dan, a 6-year-old gelding by Successful Appeal, has won both of his 2012 races after he returned from 18 months on the sidelines He was disqualified and placed third in the 2010 Clark Handicap at the end of his 2010 campaign and did not race in 2011 because of a tendon injury. Successful Dan’s career record stands 7-1-1 in 10 races and he has earned $596,608.
Pin Oak Stable LLC’s Alternation and Nehro were nominated to the Stephen Foster Handicap following a memorable showdown in the Pimlico Special on the eve of the Preakness at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course.
Alternation, a winner of a string of four consecutives stakes races that also includes the Oaklawn Handicap (GII) and Razorback (GIII) at Oaklawn Park, held on to win by a nose over Zayat Stables LLC’s Nehro, the runner-up to Team Valor’s Animal Kingdom in the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).
All 16 horses nominated to the Stephen Foster Handicap are stakes winners, and all but one has earned graded stakes victories during their careers. Three nominees are Grade I winners, but their status in regard to the Foster is unknown. That group includes Michael Lauffer and W.D. Cubbedge’s Shackleford, the Dale Romans-trained winner of the Metropolitan Handicap (GI) and Churchill Downs (GII) in 2012, along with the 2011 Preakness (GI); Live Oak Plantation’s To Honor and Serve, winner of the 2011 Cigar Mile (GI) and this year’s running of the Westchester (GIII) for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott; and Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable and Jack T. Hammer’s Ron the Greek, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap (GI) and runner-up in the Oaklawn Handicap.
Other distinguished nominees include Windy Hill Farm’s Nates Mineshaft, winner of the New Orleans Handicap (GIII) at Fair Grounds and the recent Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII); Janis R. Whitham’s Fort Larned, runner-up in the Alysheba and winner of Gulfstream Park’s Skip Away (GIII); Casner Racing LP’s Endorsement, third in the Pimlico Special and winner of the 2012 Lone Star Derby (GIII); C R K Stable’s Gladding, winner of the 2011 San Antonio (GII) for trainer John Sadler; Twin Creeks Racing Stables LLC’s Mission Impazible, runner-up in both the 2011 Stephen Foster and Clark Handicaps at Churchill Downs and the 2010 Louisiana Derby (GII) for trainer Todd Pletcher; Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton’s Astrology, winner of the 2010 Iroquois (GIII) at Churchill Downs and third in last year’s Preakness; Catesby W. Clay’s homebred Rogue Romance, winner of the 2010 Bourbon (GIII) at Keeneland and a recent allowance winner at Churchill Downs; Frank Calabrese’s Where’s Sterling, winner of the 2011 Philip Iselin (GIII) at Monmouth Park; and Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s homebred Cease, winner of the Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park.
Last year’s running of the Stephen Foster Handicap was won by William S. Farish Jr.’s Canadian-bred Pool Play, who rallied from last in a field of 11 at odds of 36-1 to win by a neck for trainer Mark Casse.
The 2010 Stephen Foster Handicap was won by Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Blame, who returned to Churchill Downs later that year to defeat eventual Horse of the Year Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Blame was the fourth horse to take the Stephen Foster and the Classic in the same year. Others to complete the Stephen Foster-Breeders’ Cup Classic double were Black Tie Affair (1991), Awesome Again (1998) and Saint Liam (2005).
Black Tie Affair and Saint Liam won their respective renewals of the Stephen Foster on their way to Horse of the Year honors. Two other horses competed in the race during their respective Horse of the Year campaigns. They were 2003 champion Mineshaft, who finished second to Perfect Drift in that year’s Foster, and Curlin, who won the Foster his second consecutive Horse of the Year campaign in 2008, but did not win the Classic.
Besilu Stables’ Royal Delta heads a list of 18 fillies and mares ages three and up nominated to the $150,000-added Fleur De Lis Handicap, which returns to the 2012 stakes schedule after a one-year hiatus. The Mott-trained daughter of Empire Maker also won the Alabama (GI) during her championship season, but has not competed since a troubled ninth-place run against males in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (GI) at Meydan Race Course on March 31. Mott also nominated Carolyn Wilson’s Arena Elvira, winner of Churchill Downs’ 2011 Falls City Handicap (GII).
Other Fleur De Lis nominees include Dede McGehee’s St. John’s River, runner-up in the 2011 Kentucky Oaks and the 2012 La Troienne (GII); William S. and Graydon Patterson’s La Troienne winner Juanita; Flaxman Holdings Ltd.’s Pachattack, winner of Keeneland’s Doubledogdare (GIII); Cresran LLC’s Tiz Miz Sue, winner of Oaklawn’s Azeri (GIII); and Lauffer and Cubbedge’s Afleeting Lady, the Romans-trained 2012 Falls City runner-up.
Dr. Kendall Hansen and Sky Chai Racing’s Hansen tops 21 3-year-olds nominated to compete in the Matt Winn, a race named in honor of Col. Matt Winn, the legendary president of Churchill Downs regarded as the architect of the Kentucky Derby’s status as America’s greatest race and one of the world’s top sports and entertainment events.
The reigning 2-year-old champion finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) behind I’ll Have Another. Prior to the Derby, Mike Maker’s Tapit colt won the Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct, finished second to both Dullahan in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) at Keeneland and Algorithms the Holy Bull (GIII) at Gulfstream Park. Hansen’s Kentucky Derby run was the only time in Hansen’s seven-race career in which he finished worse than second. He has earned $1,623,305 while compiling a 4-2-0 record.
Other possible contenders for the Matt Winn include Stonestreet Stables LLC’s Hierro, the Steve Asmussen-trained winner of The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (GIII) for his second victory in as many starts at Churchill Downs; John C. Oxley’s Stealcase, third in the Derby Trial and winner of a recent Churchill Downs allowance race for trainer Mark Casse; Casner Racing LP and Sam B. Pollock’s Right to Vote, runner-up in Belmont Park’s Peter Pan (GII); F. Thomas Conway, Jack Conway, Trey Thornton and Gary Carter’s Illinois Derby (GIII) runner-up Morgan’s Guerrilla; Bourbon Lane Stable and Wayne Lynn’s Bourbon Courage, who suffered his first loss in three races in a fourth-place run in the Derby Trial; Fred Seitz’s Rushaway Stakes winner Flashy Dresser; A. Steven Miles Jr.’s Neck and Neck, winner of a recent allowance race at Churchill Downs; and Preston Madden’s Whiskey Rebellion, third for trainer Akiko Gothard against older rivals in last week’s Aristides (GIII) at Churchill Downs.
Multiple stakes winners Stephanie’s Kitten, Karlovy Vary and On Fire Baby top 32 3-year-old fillies nominated to the Regret, a race named in honor of the filly who in 1915 became the first of only three members of her gender to defeat males in the Kentucky Derby.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s hombred Stephanie’s Kitten is unbeaten in two starts over Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course and would likely be the Regret favorite if she were to run. But the Ramsey filly is being pointed toward a run in the Coronation Stakes (Group I) on June 22 at Britain’s Royal Ascot. Stephanie’s Kitten won last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (GII) at Churchill Downs for trainer Wayne Catalano and returned on Kentucky Oaks Day to win the 1 1/16-mile Edgewood on the grass in stakes-record time.
Alex G. Campbell Jr.’s Karlovy Vary, a homebred daughter of Dynaformer, failed to threaten when she ran 12th among 14 starters in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI), but prior to that she won the Ashland (GI) over synthetic Polytrack at Keeneland. Anita Cauley’s homebred On Fire Baby won the Golden Rod (GII) and Pocahontas (GII) last fall at Churchill Downs and earlier this year won the Honeybee (GIII) at Oaklawn Park for trainer Gary Hartlage, but disappointed in the Kentucky Oaks, where she finished fifth, and Belmont Park’s Acorn (GI), where she ran fourth.
Other Regret nominees include Augustin Stable’s Coup, winner of Pimlico’s Hilltop for trainer Graham Motion; Judy the Beauty, who has not raced since a runner-up finish to Grace Hall in Saratoga’s Spinaway (GI) for owner-trainer Wesley Ward; John C. Oxley’s Churchill Downs allowance winner Funny Proposition; Hurstland Farm Inc. and James H. Greene Jr.’s Heart of Destiny, runner-up to Stephanie’s Kitten in last fall’s Alcibiades (GI) at Keeneland; and William J. Butler’s Valdale and Cincinnati Trophy winner Lotta Lovin.