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'Horse of the Year' Curlin Draws Rail, Odds-On Favorite Faces Nine In $1 Million Stephen Foster Handicap
Stonestreet Stables and Midnight Cry Stable’s reigning “Horse of the Year” Curlin is scheduled to make his first start since his emphatic Dubai World Cup (Grade I) victory on March 29 when he faces nine rivals in the 27th running of the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
The Stephen Foster, which will carry a record purse of $1 million, serves as the centerpiece of the “Stephen Foster Super Saturday” card that features six graded stakes races with total purses of $2,025,000. First post time for the 11-race card in 1:15 p.m. (all times EDT), with admission gates opening at 11:30 a.m.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Curlin will be ridden by Robby Albarado and carry 128 pounds. The 3-5 morning line favorite will concede between 10-15 pounds to his opposition in the 1 1/8-mile race under the historic Twin Spires. He will break from post position one. Albarado will bid for his second straight Foster victory after he guided Flashy Bull to victory in last year’s renewal, while Asmussen seeks his first Foster win.
Since achieving Grade I status in 2002, the Foster has produced two horses that went on to earn “Horse of the Year” titles: 2005 race winner Saint Liam and 2003 runner-up Mineshaft. In 1998, Awesome Again and Silver Charm ran 1-2 in the Grade II Foster and then came back in less than five months to duplicate the finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. In 1991, when the Stephen Foster was a Grade III event, Black Tie Affair won the race, the first of six consecutive victories in a “Horse of the Year” campaign that included a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Churchill Downs.
Saturday’s Stephen Foster will be Curlin’s second start at Churchill Downs. The 4-year-old son of Smart Strike ran third to Street Sense in last year’s Kentucky Derby. That setback was his first defeat after he had opened his career with three victories.
He followed his Derby effort with the first of his four Grade I wins by taking a memorable rematch with Street Sense in the Preakness before he closed out 2007 with victories in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (GI). He opened 2008 by winning the Jaguar Trophy in Dubai under 132 pounds before he romped by 7 ¾ lengths in the Dubai World Cup under 126 pounds.
Chief rivals to Curlin include three-time Grade I turf winner Einstein (Brz), Mineshaft Handicap (GIII) winner and Travers (GI) runner-up Grasshopper, and millionaire Brass Hat, who won the 2006 Donn Handicap (GI) at Gulfstream Park.
Einstein, owned by Patricia Cunningham and Melissa Green, Lessees, and trained by Helen Pitts, enters the Stephen Foster off victory in the May 3 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs. Slated to carry 118 pounds and be ridden by Julien Leparoux, Einstein ran sixth in the Grade I Donn Handicap in his lone main track start since 2006, but he notched his first career victory in only start over the main track at Churchill Downs.
W.S. Farish and E.J. Hudson Jr.’s Grasshopper will carry 117 pounds and be ridden by Garrett Gomez for trainer Neil Howard. The 4-year-old son of Dixie Union ran fifth in the mud as the favorite in the Pimlico Special (GI) in his most recent start. He has won two of three starts over the Churchill Downs main track.
Fred Bradley’s homebred Brass Hat returns to the main track after finishing fourth in the Louisville Handicap (GIII) on May 24 and third in the April 25 Elkhorn (GIII) at Keeneland, both 1 ½-mile events on grass. Trained by William “Buff” Bradley, Brass Hat will be ridden by Calvin Borel and carry 116 pounds. The 7-year-old gelding ran second in the 2007 Clark Handicap (GII), but finished fifth in his only previous Foster bid in 2006. Borel won the 2006 Stephen Foster aboard 91-1 longshot Seek Gold.
Also in the field is Starlight Stable, LLC and Donald Lucarelli’s Sam P., who finished ninth in last year’s Kentucky Derby but scored a recent victory in an allowance race at Churchill Downs. Sam P. will be ridden by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Kent Desormeaux, who took the 2000 Stephen Foster Handicap aboard Golden Missile.
The 27th Running of the $1 Million Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I)
Stonestreet Farm & Midnight Cry Stable
Delightful Kiss (114)
Sam. P. (113)
Starlight Stable, LLC & Donald Lucarelli
Cunningham & Green
Farish, Hudson, Edward and Inwood St.
High Blues (113)
Red Rock Creek (113)
J. Paul Reddam
Brass Hat (116)