A talented and accomplished field of nine older horses headed by Will Take Charge, winner of Churchill Downs’ Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade I) and the champion 3-year-old of 2013, and multiple graded stakes-winners Revolutionary and Departing has been entered to compete in Saturday’s 33rd running of the $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (GI), the featured event on a spectacular “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka” night racing program at Churchill Downs on Saturday, June 14.
The 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster is the marquee event among five graded stakes races scheduled for the evening that include the $200,000-added Fleur De Lis Presented by Etihad Airways (GII) for fillies and mares 3 & up; the $100,000-added Matt Winn (GIII) for 3-year-olds; the $100,000-added Regret (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies on the turf; and the $100,000 President of the United Arab Emirates Cup (GI) for purebred Arabian horses. The Stephen Foster is scheduled as the eighth race with a post time of 9:39 p.m. (all times EDT). Admission gates open for Saturday’s “Downs After Dark” program, which will carry a “White Party” theme for a fourth consecutive year, at 4 p.m. and post time for the evening’s first race is 6 p.m.
For the second consecutive year the Stephen Foster Handicap is part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Classic Division series and the winner will be guaranteed a spot in the starting gate for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Santa Anita on Nov. 1. Starting fees also will be paid for the Stephen Foster winner, who will also earn a $10,000 travel stipend to help with shipping costs to the Breeders’ Cup Championships.
Churchill Downs handicapper Mike Battaglia installed Revolutionary as a narrow 2-1 favorite in his morning line odds for the Foster over Will Take Charge, who listed as he second choice at 5-2. Departing is the 9-2 third choice.
Will Take Charge, a 4-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song owned by Willis D. Horton and Three Chimneys Farm LLC, rallied late in 2013 to earn the Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old with victories in the Travers (GI), Pennsylvania Derby (GII) and Clark, along with an impressive showing in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), in which he lost by a nose to Mucho Macho Man.
The D. Wayne Lukas trainee, who will carry high weight of 123 pounds in the Stephen Foster, has a record of 1-2-0 in four races in 2014 that include a win over Stephen Foster rival Revolutionary in the Oaklawn Handicap (GII) and runner-up finishes to Game On Dude, whom he defeated in last fall’s Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, in the Santa Anita Handicap (GI) and Lea in the Donn Handicap (GI) at Gulfstream Park. He enters the Foster off an uncharacteristically poor sixth-place finish in the $300,000-added Alysheba (GII) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day.
The poor run by Will Take Charge in the Alysheba mystified Lukas, who seeks his second Foster victory. But he has been pleased with the colt’s training in recent days and the Hall of Fame trainer believes Will Take Charge is ready to make amends.
“I think we’ll just forget it happened and go on to the next one,” Lukas said. “I think we’re sitting right on a big one, hopefully. He’s had a really good month.”
Will Take Charge is the top money-earner in the Stephen Foster field that includes five millionaires. He brings a career bankroll $3,668,568 into the race with a lifetime record of 7-5-0 in 19 races. Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens will ride from post four.
Will Take Charge and Revolutionary are two of three Stephen Foster entrants that ran in the 2013 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) won by Stuart Janney III and Phipps’ Stable’s Orb. Revolutionary, owned by WinStar Farm, closed for third, while Will Take Charge ran eighth. GoldMark Farm LLC and Whisper Hill Farm LLC’s Mylute, the other Derby veteran, ran fifth.
His Kentucky Derby run and victories in the Louisiana Derby (GII) and Withers (GIII) were 2013 highlights for the favored Revolutionary, who comes into in the Stephen Foster off of four 2014 races highlighted by late-charging win in the $300,000 Pimlico Special (GIII) last time out and a narrow loss to Will Take Charge in the Oaklawn Handicap (GII). Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith was in the saddle for both of those races and will ride the Todd Pletcher-trained son of War Pass, who drew the inside post and will carry 118 pounds. Revolutionary has a career record of 5-2-3 in 12 races with total earnings of $1,347,600.
Departing, a 4-year-old War Pass gelding, is owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, who teamed to win the 2010 Stephen Foster with the 4-year-old Blame, who would return to Churchill Downs later that year to hand eventual Horse of the Year Zenyatta her only career loss in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Trained by Al Stall Jr., who also conditioned Blame, Departing tuned up for the Foster with a stylish victory in a one-mile Kentucky Derby Week allowance race at Churchill Downs.
The 3-year-old campaign for Departing was highlighted by wins in three Derbies – the Illinois Derby (GIII), the West Virginia Derby (GII) and the Super Derby (GII). He won five of seven races in 2013, with the only disappointments being a sixth-place run in the Preakness (GI), where he finished sixth to Calumet Farm’s Oxbow in the second jewel of the Triple Crown, and a fourth-place finish behind Broadway Empire as a heavy favorite in the $400,000 Oklahoma Derby (GIII) on Sept. 29. That was the last start of the season for Departing, who traveled to Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. after that race for a long rest on the farm and returned to training with Stall’s stable at Fair Grounds in New Orleans earlier in the year.
“I was very happy with that first race,” Stall said. “I thought he ran well and had a little adversity, which should help him for this race. We’re ready and we’re excited.”
Departing brings a record of 7-0-1 in 10 races into the Stephen Foster and has earned $1,438,300. Robby Albarado, who rode three consecutive Stephen Foster winners from 2007-2009 to tie retired Hall of Famer Pat Day for the lead in all-time victories in the race, will be aboard Departing. The Claiborne-Dilschneider colt will carry 118 pounds and will break from post six.
Mylute, a gray-roan 4-year-old son of Midnight Lute trained by Tom Amoss, will make his third start of the season in the Stephen Foster and bids to improve from his fourth-place finish behind Foster rivals Moonshine Mullin and Golden Ticket in his most recent start in the Alysheba. He opened 2014 with a March 27 victory in a Fair Grounds allowance race, his first since a disappointing eighth-place finish behind Palace Malice and Will Take Charge in Saratoga’s Jim Dandy (GII). Highlights of 2013 included a third-place run in the Preakness and a narrow loss to Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby. James Graham rides Mylute from post five.
Magic City Thoroughbred Partners’ Golden Ticket will attempt to improve on his effort in last year’s Stephen Foster, where he finished second to reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned. This year the 5-year-old son of Speightstown was a close second to Palace Malice in the Gulfstream Park Handicap and runner-up in the Alysheba. Golden Ticket, who won the Travers (GI) in 2012, has a record of 5-8-3 in 24 races for trainer Kenny McPeek and has earned $1,238,178. He was assigned 117 pounds for the Foster and will break from post seven under Julien Leparoux.
Louisville-born trainer Dale Romans will be looking for his first victory in the Stephen Foster Handicap when he saddles Zayat Stable’s veteran Prayer for Relief in the race. The runner-up to Revolutionary in the Pimlico Special and a multiple stakes winner is another millionaire in the Foster field with career earnings of $1,682,413. Hall of Famer John Velazquez will travel to Churchill Downs to ride Prayer for Relief, who will break from the outside post and carry 118 pounds.
Moonshine Mullin, who was claimed last year by owner Randy Patterson and trainer Randy Morse for $40,000 late last year, will attempt to make the Foster his second consecutive major stakes victory after his surprise triumph in the Alysheba. The son of Albert the Great carries a four-race winning streak and will break from post three under Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel.
Another Stephen Foster contender is Godolphin Racing’s Long River, who seeks his first graded stakes triumph after running a close second to Romansh in the Excelsior (GIII) at Aqueduct last time out. A Stephen Foster win by the son of A.P. Indy would be the second for both trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who took the race in 2007 with Flashy Bull, and Godolphin, which won the 2002 Foster with Street Cry. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. will ride Long River, who drew post eight and will carry 115 pounds.
Rounding out the field is John D. Gunther and Eurowest Bloodstock Services’ Jaguar Paw, who ran fifth to Will Take Charge in last fall’s Clark Handicap. The Stephen Lyster-trained son of Giant’s Causeway will break from post two under Shaun Bridgmohan and will carry 114 pounds.
The field for the Stephen Foster Handicap (with jockey, weight, morning line odds) from the rail out includes: Revolutionary (Smith, 118, 2-1), Jaguar Paw (Bridgmohan, 114, 30-1), Moonshine Mullin (Borel, 118. 10-1), Will Take Charge (Stevens, 123. 5-2), Mylute (Graham, 115, 12-1), Departing (Albarado, 118, 9-2), Golden Ticket (Leparoux, 117, 8-1), Long River (Ortiz Jr., 115. 15-1) and Prayer for Relief (Velazquez, 117, 8-1).