Stephen Foster Handicap

American Pharoah's Kentucky Derby Victory, Triple Crown Celebration Top Memorable 38-Day Spring Meet

A nearly meet-long racetrack celebration of the victory by Zayat StablesAmerican Pharoah in the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) and the colt’s subsequent sweep of racing’s elusive Triple Crown will be among its most delightful and lingering images, but there were ample reasons to smile for racing fans, horsemen and racetrack officials during Churchill Downs Racetrack’s (“CDRT”) Spring Meet that ended its 38-day run on Saturday, June 27 under the lights in a “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois & Finlandia Vodka” racing program.

The meet soared from the starting gate with a spectacular Kentucky Derby and Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) week which generated record attendance and wagering for both of Churchill Downs’ signature events, and record business levels for the six-day racing week. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert brought American Pharoah back to Churchill Downs following his Triple Crown sweep – which ended a 37-year stretch during which no 3-year-old Thoroughbred had won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes (GI) and Belmont Stakes (GI) – and paraded the sport’s newest superstar before nearly 29,000 adoring fans during the June 13 “Downs After Dark” celebration headed by the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI). Baffert and his staff shared their Triple Crown winner with countless fans and visitors at Barn 33 until the colt returned to California on June 18.

Other highlights of the track’s 141st Spring Meet included a very promising start for its new “Twilight Thursday” racing programs that featured a compact schedule of eight live races and a first-race post time of 5 p.m. (all times EDT); favorable business levels that combined with Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Week’s record results to allow a 10% increase in overnight purses during the meet’s last 11 days of competition; a positive reception for the new $4.2 million Winner’s Circle Suites and Courtyard seating and hospitality from the owners of Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses, and from fans who enjoyed races in those new venues throughout the Spring Meet; and a dramatic race for “Leading Jockey” that saw a contest between seven-time leading rider Corey Lanerie and nine-time Churchill Downs riding champion Julien Leparoux come down to final yards of the 38-day meet’s last race.

The meet provided good news for racing fans, horsemen and the track as the size of both the average field and average purse for races during the Spring Meet races rose above the levels from the previous year.

A total of 2,867 horses competed in 368 Spring Meet races, and the average number of horses-per-race was 7.79, an increase of 6.9% from the 2014 Spring Meet average of 7.29 horses-per-race. The Spring Meet of 2014, which also was a 38-day racing session, included 372 races that attracted 2,712 horses. The total number of horses that competed during the meet rose 5.7% although the 2015 meet featured four fewer races.

A race during the 2015 Spring Meet offered an average purse of $55,982, an increase of 0.5% from 2014. Total purses paid during the just-completed 38-day meet totaled $20,601,382, a decrease of 0.6% from the total of $20,728,293 in the spring of 2014, which featured four more races. Daily purses offered during a 2015 meet averaged $542,142, a slight decrease of 0.5% from average daily purses of $535,481 in the 2014 Spring Meet.

“While American Pharoah’s Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown heroics provided an emotional lift to all Churchill Downs racing fans, our team and the entire horse industry, the Spring Meet got off to a strong start with a record Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week schedule and continued with good news and solid business levels throughout the meet’s 38 days,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “Field size and purse levels remain major concerns for our daily racing product, but we offer our gratitude to our horsemen and racing fans in our region, those at simulcast outlets across North American and those who supported our racing through TwinSpires.com and other online wagering platforms. All helped Churchill Downs racing take small steps forward on a challenging competitive landscape during the just-completed meet and we appreciate that support.

“A special thank you goes out to our entire team at Churchill Downs. Tireless efforts from team members in each department and at every level of our operation were major contributors to a satisfying meet. We are encouraged by the positive response to our new ‘Twilight Thursdays’ and the ongoing success of ‘Downs After Dark’ night racing. And we offer a special thanks to Zayat Stables and trainer Bob Baffert and his team for sharing American Pharoah with our community for six unforgettable weeks. The Derby and Triple Crown winner intensified the spotlight on our sport and we pledge our best efforts to provide a wonderful experience at our track for fans who have been inspired to visit us by this magical spring for a new American sports hero.”

Both the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Longines Kentucky Oaks programs attracted record crowds and all-sources wagering. The Derby’s attendance reached a new high of 170,513 and the attendance record for the Kentucky Oaks improved to 123,763. All-sources wagering on the six racing days during Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week – from Opening Night, Saturday, April 25, through Derby Day, Saturday, May 2 – rose to a record $263.3 million, up 4% from 2014’s $253.8 million, and 2% over the record set in 2013.

While support for Churchill Downs’ “Downs After Dark” programs, which debuted in 2009, continued to be strong, it was the second of three night racing programs that provided the meet’s brightest post-Derby and Oaks Week highlights. The June 13 “Downs After Dark” headlined by the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) featured the added attraction of a public appearance by Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah just one week after he had completed the first sweep of racing’s Triple Crown since 1978 with his dominant victory in the Belmont Stakes on June 6 at New York’s Belmont Park.

Along with that evening’s popular on-track parade of American Pharoah, the members of his team continued recent Stephen Foster tradition when they accepted their engraved Kentucky Derby winner’s trophies in a ceremony in the new G.H. Mumm Winner’s Circle. Owner-breeder Ahmed Zayat and family were presented with the solid gold Kentucky Derby Winner’s Trophy and a smaller sterling silver replica presented to the winning breeder. Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza were presented with their sterling silver trophies for winning trainer and jockey. The trophies were the first for Zayat, the fourth for Baffert and the third for Espinoza.

Three of the evening’s races were featured in a two-hour live broadcast on NBCSN that kicked off the network’s coverage of the “Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.” The Stephen Foster Handicap and the Grade II Fleur De Lis Handicap are included on “Breeders’ Cup Win & You’re In Challenge Series” race schedule and their respective winners earned automatic starting berths in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) and the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) on Oct. 30-31 at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.

The combination of the on-track appearance of American Pharoah, the night’s strong roster of four stakes races and “Downs After Dark” entertainment attracted 28,968 on June 13 - the largest attendance figure of the meet outside of Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week. On either side of the Stephen Foster attendance number was the on-track crowd of 30,647 for Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week’s “Thurby” celebration on Thursday, April 30, and the closing night “Downs After Dark” program on Saturday, June 27 that drew 24,192 patrons through the admission gates.

The strong 2015 Derby and Oaks Week results combined with favorable business levels after that successful week enabled Churchill Downs Racetrack to raise purses levels for its overnight races for the first time since the Spring Meet of 2012. The higher purse levels started with racing on Thursday, June 11 and continued through the meet’s final 11 racing days. Races that benefited from the increase included allowance races, maiden special weight events, starter allowance and claiming and maiden claiming races. Purses for stakes races were not affected by the increase.

The Spring Meet’s new “Twilight Thursdays”, which debuted after Kentucky Derby Week, contributed to the favorable business results. “Twilight Thursdays” offered eight-race programs and a 5 p.m. first post and featured activities on the Plaza that included $1 12-ounce beers, food trucks, live music and a “Handicapping 101” fan education tent. Sales of general admission tickets, box seating and dining increased on Twilight Thursdays over sales for both Thursday and Friday programs in the 2014 Spring Meet to get the new concept off to a promising start.

While the triumph by wagering favorite and future Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby will reign as the most memorable equine performance and memory of the 2015 Spring Meet for many observers, there were many other outstanding efforts that merit being a part of “Best of the Spring Meet” conversations.

Foremost among those was the victory by Brereton Jones’ homebred Lovely Maria in the 141st running of the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) on Friday, May 1. The daughter of Majesticperfection provided a third Kentucky Oaks victory to both Brereton Jones, the former governor of Kentucky, and trainer and Hopkinsville, Ky. native Larry Jones. The Joneses had earlier won the 2008 Kentucky Oaks with Proud Spell and its 2012 running with Believe You Can. The Oaks triumph was the first for 56-year-old jockey Kerwin Clark, whose victory in America’s premier race for 3-year-old fillies capped what the Louisiana-born veteran called “the best day of my life.”

The Spring Meet’s strong schedule of stakes events include Grade I victories by Bill Cubbedge’s Molly Morgan, who took the $300,000 La Troienne Presented by TwinSpires.com for fillies and mares ages 4 & up for trainer Dale Romans in the final race of her career; Donegal Racing’s Finnegans Wake, who got up in the final strides to take the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Derby Day for trainer Peter Miller and jockey Victor Espinoza; and celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s Dame Dorothy, who edged 2014 Eclipse Award Filly & Mare Sprint champion Judy the Beauty and Moonlit Stroll in a dramatic finish to win the $300,000 Humana Distaff for fillies and mares ages 4 & up for trainer Todd Pletcher and rider Javier Castelleno.

John C. Oxley’s Noble Bird earned both his first Grade I victory and a guaranteed spot in the starting gate for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) on Oct. 31 at Keeneland when he held off Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Grade I-winner Lea to win the June 13 Stephen Foster Handicap. Noble Bird won the “Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In Classic Division” race by a head under jockey Joel Rosario for trainer Mark Casse, who earned his second Foster triumph.

Earning a Breeders’ Cup starting berth on the same evening was G. Watts Humphrey’s homered Frivolous, who took the $200,000 Fleur De Lis Handicap (GII) at odds of 32-1 under veteran jockey Jon Court. Trained by Vicki Oliver, the owner’s daughter, Frivolous earned a spot in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) on Oct. 30 at Keeneland with her surprise in the Fleur De Lis, which made its debut on the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In Distaff Division” race schedule. Frivolous had scored a 19-1 upset in winning Churchill Downs’s Falls City Handicap (GII) in November.

Departing provided Claiborne Farm with a milestone victory when the 6-year-old gelding won the the $200,000 Firecracker (GII) on the meet’s closing night. The victory in the one-mile grass race was the 33rd stakes victory by the Paris, Ky.-based breeding and racing icon and pulled the farm into a tie with Calumet Farm for the all-time lead in stakes wins by an owner at Churchill Downs.

Other notable stakes wins during a stellar Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week included a narrow triumph by Protonico over future Stephen Foster winner Noble Bird in the $400,000 Alysheba Presented by Big Fish Games (GII); a victory by Private Zone in the $500,000 Churchill Downs Presented by TwinSpires.com (GII); a front-running win by the Casse-trained Tepin in the $300,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Presented by Longines (GII); a late-running victory by Divisidero in the $250,000 American Turf Presented by Ram Trucks (GII); a romp by unbeaten Competitive Edge in the $200,000 Pat Day Mile Presented by LG&E and KU (GIII), a race formerly known as the Derby Trial; unbeaten Promise Me Silver’s easy victory in the $200,000 Eight Belles Presented by TwinSpires.com (GIII); a gritty win by Power Alert (AUS) over the late-charging Undrafted in the $150,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint Presented by TwinSpires.com; Feathered’s win in the $150,000 Edgewood Presented by Forcht Bank (GIII); and a victory by the Steve Asmussen-trained Cinco Charlie in the inaugural running of the $100,000 William Walker for 3-year-olds on the meet’s soggy “Opening Night” celebration on Saturday, April 26. The William Walker was named in honor of the African-American riding hero who guided Baden-Baden to victory in the 1877 Kentucky Derby.

Other Spring Meet stakes highlights included a narrow win by Carl Pollard’s homebred Kiss Moon in the $100,000 Old Forester Mint Julep (GIII) on turf; an upset of reigning Breeders’ Cup Sprint and Eclipse Award Sprint champion Work All Week by trainer Chris Hartman’s Alsvid in the $100,000 Aristides (GIII); Street Story’s win in the $100,000 Winning Colors (GIII); Xtra Luck’s victory for veteran trainer Neil Howard in the $100,000 Louisville Handicap (GIII) at 1 ½ miles on turf; an easy win by the Bret Calhoun-trained He’s Comin In Hot in the 114th running of the Bashford Manor (GIII) for 2-year-olds; Cosmic Evolution’s upset under popular jockey Calvin Borel in the 115th running of the $100,000 Debutante Presented by GE Appliances for 2-year-old fillies; Island Town’s hard-fought win over favored Fame and Power in the $100,000 Matt Winn; and overnight stakes wins by Katie’s Eyes in the Unbridled Sidney; Courtesan and Ceisteach in divisions of the Keertana; Viva Majorca in the Kelly’s Landing; and Fioretti’s 25-1 surprise in the Roxelana that gave jockey Sophie Doyle and trainer Anthony Hamilton Jr. their first North American stakes wins.

The battle for “Leading Jockey” provided drama through the final seconds of the Spring Meet as Corey Lanerie won the meet’s final race aboard Love Your Humor to earn his eighth Churchill Downs title in the track’s last nine meets. Lanerie edged nine-time Churchill Downs leading jockey Julien Leparoux 40-39 for the 2015 crown. Lanerie, who also won Spring Meet titles in 2012 and 2014, started Saturday’s final day of racing in a 38-38 tie and each had 10 mounts on the 11-race card.

Robby Albarado finished third in the Spring Meet standings with 29 victories, and Shaun Bridgmohan and Brian Hernandez Jr. tied for fourth with 24 wins.

Mike Maker saddled 23 winners during the meet to earn his fifth “Leading Trainer” title and his second Spring Meet crown.  Steve Asmussen was the runner-up with 17 victories and was followed by Ian Wilkes (16), Dale Romans (13) and Mark Casse (12).

Ken and Sarah Ramsey earned another “Leading Owner” title during the Spring Meet to extend their record string of meet honors at Churchill Downs to 24. The Nicholasville, Ky. couple had 17 winners during the meet and cruised to their latest title over Gary and Mary West, the runner-up with seven Spring Meet winners, and Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc. of Richard and Karen Papiese and Maggi Moss, who tied for third with six wins apiece.

Festivities surrounding the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks continued to generate important funds for Churchill Downs’ partner charities. Checks totaling $222,705 in donations were presented on Saturday, June 27 to four of the track’s charitable partners:

A donation of $117,705 was presented to Chicago-based Bright Pink, the only national non-profit organization focused on the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women along with support for high-risk individuals. This was Bright Pink’s second year as a Kentucky Oaks’ women’s health partner, a focus that dates to 2009 when the event’s “Ladies First” theme was introduced. With the 2015 donation to Bright Pink, Churchill Downs has donated $174,705 to Bright Pink and a total of $706,705 to its Kentucky Oaks women’s health partners since 2009.

  • $30,000 was presented to Horses and Hope, the cancer outreach initiative in Kentucky’s horse industry launched by Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear. The donation represents $1 from each on-track sale of the “Oaks Lily,” the signature drink of the Kentucky Oaks, and will support Horses and Hope’s programs at racetracks and farms in Kentucky’s horse industry. With its 201 donation, Churchill Downs has donated $210,000 to Horses and Hope during its seven-year Kentucky Oaks partnership.
  • Louisville-based food bank Dare to Care received a donation of $50,000 from the from the fifth annual “Taste of Derby Presented by Stella Artois” celebration in the North Wing Lobby of Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center on Thursday, April 30. The celebration of racing cuisine, celebrity and style attracted more than 1,500 patrons. Since the inaugural “Taste of Derby” in 2010, Churchill Downs has donated $138,760 to Dare to Care. 
  • The Sullivan University Center for Hospitality Studies Culinary Arts Program was awarded a $25,000 donation for the program’s ongoing support and participation in “Taste of Derby.” Faculty and students in the Sullivan Culinary Arts Program play a major role in the important Derby Week charitable event as the program opens its kitchens to visiting chefs and Sullivan students gain valuable experience while they assist in the event. 

Business was brisk at the Churchill Downs claims box during the Spring Meet as a total of 243 horses were claimed during its 38 racing days, a 34% increase from the 181 claims registered during last year’s spring racing session. Those claims totaled $4,779,500 and generated $286,770 in sales tax revenue for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Churchill Downs racing resumes during its September Meet, which features 11 racing days (Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) from Sept. 11-27. The track’s Nov. 1-29 Fall Meet will offer 21 racing dates on a weekly Thursday-through-Sunday schedule.

Kentucky Derby And Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah Gets Well-Earned Day Off

After thrilling 28,968 adoring fans with a parade over Churchill Downs’ track and trips to the paddock and G.H. MUMM Winner’s Circle on Saturday night, Triple Crown champ American Pharoah got a day of rest and relaxation Sunday.

“He just walked this morning,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said. “He got a day off today. It was a long night for him, and there’s nothing pressing right now.”

Barnes said that the Zayat Stables’ homebred son of Pioneer of the Nile would resume galloping Monday and continue to do so through Wednesday before returning to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s base in Southern California on Thursday morning.

STEPHEN FOSTER FINSIHERS EXIT RACE IN GOOD ORDER – The top performers in Saturday night’s $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by GE (GI) exited the race in good order according to their connections.

Foster winner Noble Bird, owned by John C. Oxley, looked good on Sunday morning, according to assistant trainer Norman Casse, who oversees his father Mark Casse’s string at Churchill Downs.

“He looked good,” Casse said. “We just got done looking at him [and] he looks a little tired and a little jarred up, but he’s sound and we’ll give him a few days off. He looks like he put in a big effort last night and plus it was late last night so maybe he’s tired because he didn’t get any sleep last night. Most importantly he is sound and his legs looked clean.”

The 4-year-old son of Birdstone could make his start in the $1.25 million Whitney Handicap (GI) at Saratoga on Aug. 8.

“We’ll have to take a good look at where we’ll go next with him but we’re super proud,” Casse said. “We’re going to Saratoga this summer so I would say that’s where we’re leaning right now. But if he’s not doing well he won’t go. He’ll have to be training well to run in a race like that.”

The Stephen Foster was Noble Bird’s first graded stakes victory in five starts this year which included a well-beaten sixth in an allowance at Oaklawn, two allowance victories at Oaklawn and Keeneland, and a close second to Protonico in the Alysheba (GII) on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. Noble Bird has a guaranteed spot in the Oct. 31 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Keeneland because the Stephen Foster was a “Win and You’re In” event.

Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Lea, the 9-5 favorite, was a late-closing second behind Noble Bird and was making his first start since a game third-place effort behind Prince Bishop and last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) winner California Chrome in the Dubai World Cup (GI). The lightly-raced 6-year-old son of First Samurai came out of the race in good order.

"It looks like he came out just fine,” said Kenny McCarthy, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. “I think he ran his race. He was tired naturally, but he ate up last night. He was fine this morning.”

Lea is scheduled to leave for Saratoga on Monday afternoon where he will likely make a start in the Whitney.

Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman’s Hoppertunity was third in his first start since Feb. 7 San Antonio Invitational (GII) at Santa Anita.

“[Hoppertunity] came back in good shape,” trainer Bob Baffert’s assistant Jimmy Barnes said. “We got a race in him so we’ll look for something down the road for him. It was kind of a speed track. He was back a little ways and he made a move.”

Barnes said that Hoppertunity would ship back to California and likely make his next start out there.

WinStar Farm’s Commissioner was a well-beaten sixth in the Foster after winning the May 15 Pimlico Special (GIII) in his prior start. Trainer Todd Pletcher’s assistant Adele Bellinger reported that the 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy would likely get a week or two break at WinStar Farm before returning to his trainer’s base in New York.

ISLAND TOWN, FRIVOLOUS IN GOOD SHAPE AFTER VICTORIESSix Column StablesIsland Town exited his gutty performance against heavily-favored Fame and Power in good order, according to trainer Ian Wilkes.

“He looked good, no problems at all,” Wilkes said.

The 3-year-old son of Hard Spun was a horse that Wilkes was always confident about even as a 2-year-old when the horse was still a bit green.

“He’s always shown that talent; he’s just taken a long time to come around,” Wilkes said. “I think he’s a seriously-talented horse and he’s shown a lot of maturity. He just wasn’t ready this winter. I thought I had a horse that could be a campaigner in the classics but he just didn’t come so I waited on him and he came. Hard work pays off.”

Following the race on Saturday night, Wilkes stated that the $500,000 Indiana Derby (GII) would be a “logical spot” for the horse, but is open to all options.

“That [Indiana Derby] is an option,” he said. “But the good thing about a good 3-year-old is that you have plenty of options.”

G. Watts Humphrey’s Frivolous came out of the $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap Presented by Thorntons (GII) in good shape according to trainer Vicki Oliver.

“She came out very well and she looked really good this morning,” Oliver said via telephone.

The $750,000 Delaware Handicap on July 18 at Delaware Park and the $750,000 Personal Ensign Handicap (GI) on Aug. 29 at Saratoga are two potential spots for the 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker’s next start.

“We haven’t really decided on anything yet,” Oliver said. “[We’ll] probably nominate to both of them and see how each race comes up.”

BIG NIGHTS FOR BRIDGMOHAN, LEPAROUX – Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan had a big night Saturday winning three races on Churchill Downs 11-race card, including the featured event, the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) aboard John C. Oxley’s Noble Bird ($11.40). Bridgmohan’s other two victories came aboard Awesome Sky ($3.40) and Top Clearance ($3). On Sunday morning, Bridgmohan boarded a plane for Toronto where he was named to three horses at Woodbine, all for trainer Mark Casse, including Conquest StablesConquest Curlinate in the $150,000 Plate Trial.

Saturday also was a big night for jockey Julien Leparoux, who was victorious in two of the four stakes races. The 31-year-old native of Senlis, France triumphed aboard Prado’s Sweet Ride ($21) and Island Town ($13.60) in the Regret and Matt Winn, respectively. Like Bridgmohan, Leparoux also is headed to Canada to ride Danzig Moon, fifth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), in the Plate Trial for Casse. Leparoux began Sunday with 30 winners at the Spring Meet and was second to Corey Lanerie who had 34 victories to lead all riders.

Noble Bird Holds Off Favored Lea In Stephen Foster Handicap Surprise

Noble Bird took the lead from pace-setter Paganol on the far turn and fought hard under jockey Shaun Bridgmohan to hold off favored Lea by a diminishing head to win the 34th running of the $500,000, Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by GE at Churchill Downs and secured a spot in the starting gate for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at nearby Keeneland Race Course on Saturday, Oct. 31.

The 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up was one of four stakes events on the track’s “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka” night racing program and the main racing event shared the evening’s spotlight with a public appearance by Zayat Stable’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) winner American Pharoah, the first 3-year-old Thoroughbred to win the American Triple Crown since1978.  A crowd of 28,968 looked on as American Pharoah was paraded on the track just before owner and breeder Ahmed Zayat, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza were presented with their engraved Kentucky Derby winner’s trophies.

Noble Bird completed 1 1/8 miles in over a fast track in 1:47.94 in the evening’s racing highlight.

John C. Oxley’s chestnut son of 2004 Belmont Stakes (GI) winner Birdstone was the 9-2 fourth betting choice in the field of seven and paid $11.40, $5 and $3.20. Lea, who made up almost all of a 1 ½-length deficit in the final eighth of a mile under jockey Joel Rosario, paid $3.40 and $2.40. Hoppertunity, with Mike Smith up, rallied from sixth to finish third and returned $3 to show.

With his victory in the Stephen Foster Handicap, which is part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In Classic Division” series, the Mark Casse-trained Noble Bird is guaranteed a spot in the field for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and also earned a travel stipend for the journey to Lexington, Ky.’s Keeneland Race Course for the racing highlight the two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

The Stephen Foster was the first stakes victory for Noble Bird, who lost by a head to Protonico in Churchill Downs’ $400,000 Alysheba Stakes (GII) in his stakes debut on the May 1 Kentucky Oaks Day program. Casse’s improving colt won for the third time in five 2015 races improved his career record to 4-3-0 in 10 starts and the winner’s prize of $303,000 more than doubled his career bankroll to $531,278.

“I’ve been around a lot of good horses and he’s been working about as good as I have seen a horse train – just week after week,” said Norman Casse, the trainer’s son and the assistant who oversees his father’s stable at Churchill Downs.  “He just ran in the Alysheba and ran a really big race in that, and he’s just gotten better from there and he rewarded our confidence.”

“We just couldn’t get there,” said trainer Bill Mott of the narrow loss by the favored Lea. “It looked like if they’d gone three more jumps we could have had him, but the race was a mile and an eighth. It wasn’t a mile and an eighth and three or four jumps.”

Paganol shot from the starting gate to grab a two-length advantage and carried the field through early fractions of :23.39 for the first quarter, a half-mile in :46.81 and six furlongs in 1:10.93. Noble Bird stalked the leader three wide and the favored Lea was just behind him. Bridgmohan moved Noble Bird to the lead on the far turn and opened a clear advantage in the stretch as Lea swung outside and launched his late charge and Hoppertunity launched a charge from the back. Lea slowly chipped away at Noble Bird’s advantage in the final eighth of a mile, but the latter managed to hold on to win by a head. Hoppertunity could not threaten the top pair and finished 5 ½ lengths farther back in third.

Majestic Harbor finished fourth, and was followed past the finish by Cat Burglar, Commissioner and the early leader Paganol faded to last in the field of seven.

STEPHEN FOSTER HANDICAP QUOTES

NORMAN CASSE, assistant trainer of NOBLE BIRD (winner): “I’ve been around a lot of good horses and he’s been working about as good as I have seen a horse train – just week after week. He just ran in the Alysheba and ran a really big race in that, and he’s just gotten better from there and he rewarded our confidence. Last summer we had him here before we went out to Del Mar and I told Dad (trainer Mark Casse) back then that I thought that he was a very talented dirt horse. Things just didn’t happen that way and then he went to Oaklawn and he had to run on the dirt obviously. I just think that’s a testament to how gutsy this horse is. He’s trained extremely well and he wanted to win just as bad as we did. We’d probably have to look at the older horse races at Saratoga. I think he deserves to be in that discussion.

SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN, jockey of NOBLE BIRD (winner): “He had been training very well and obviously he showed it tonight. He won three out of his last four races. He’s getting better. He’s been working like this in the morning so this performance was expected. That [Lea] is why I didn’t turn my stick over; I just kind of gave him a little reminder because he was trying and giving me everything he had. He’s been training very well and he’s a horse that is on the improve. He just ran lights out tonight. He’s been maturing and I think he’s going to be a horse to watch for. I think in every race he’s improved and he’s not lacking any talent. He’s a very talented horse.”

BILL MOTT, trainer of LEA (runner-up): “He had a good trip and he ran well. We just couldn’t get there. It looked like if they’d gone three more jumps we could have had him, but the race was a mile and an eighth. It wasn’t a mile and an eighth and three or four jumps.”

Q: Will he run in New York next? “He’ll run in the Whitney.”

JOEL ROSARIO, jockey on LEA (runner-up): “Every time I came to that horse (Noble Bird), he just kept on going. My horse ran well and he did everything well, but every time I began to get to the winner, he would respond. For a second I thought I would get there, but every time I came to him he would just keep on going.”

BOB BAFFERT, trainer of HOPPERTUNITY (third) and CAT BURGLAR (fifth): “I cannot believe I only won one race this meet. I ran all these good horses and I can only muster one win (laughs).

            “Hoppertunity ran well. They were running, so ultimately I think he ran well.”

MIKE SMITH, jockey on HOPPERTUNITY (third): “He broke okay and I felt pretty good because the pace was pretty honest. They were moving right along. I thought I was in a great spot, but they just kept running. I had no excuse.

            “The air’s a bit thick tonight for these California horses, but he warmed up really good. I secured third but he just didn’t gain any ground. There wasn’t any use to urge him any more to get a half-length closer.”

COREY LANERIE, fourth on MAJESTIC HARBOR (fourth): “He was good. I tried to come through on the fence. I was trying to do the best I could because I didn’t feel like I was on the best horse, so I tried every angle.”


JAVIER CASTELLANO, jockey on COMMISSIONER (sixth): “He had a good trip. I saved all the ground, but they went pretty quick. I didn’t expect that kind of pace. Unfortunately they didn’t come back to me. They went pretty quick and they kept rollin.’”

ELLIOTT WALDEN, President of WinStar Farm, owner of COMMISSIONER (sixth): “He didn’t break great and he doesn’t seem to be quite the same horse when he’s not up close. He just doesn’t seem to have the fight in him when he’s five or six back.”

 

 

American Pharoah Back To Work With Easy Jog; Parades Before 'Downs After Dark' Fans

Zayat Stables’ champion American Pharoah jogged on Churchill Downs’ main track Friday morning for the first time since his triumph in the June 6 Belmont Stakes (GI) where he became racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. The homebred son of Pioneerof the Nile went to the track at approximately 6:45 am ET with exercise rider Jorge Alvarez in the irons.

“He went great,” Alvarez said. “He still feels the same. It’s amazing how this horse does it.”

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert flew in from California on Thursday night with his wife Jill and son Bode to oversee the horse’s training, and liked what he saw from racing’s newest Triple Crown winner.

“It’s amazing what he’s been through and it looks like he’s starting to get even better now,” Baffert said. “I can tell that during the past 60 days he’s grown and is starting to fill out. I’m just happy to see that he’s still happy an enjoying what he’s doing. He’s just an incredible animal. I guess you have to be incredible to do what he has accomplished.

“I still can’t believe the sign on this wall,” he said in reference to the new ‘American Pharoah 2015 Triple Crown Winner’ sign posted outside his Barn 33 at Churchill Downs. “It’s just been really special. He did it with authority and everyone that I’ve talked to, I think people felt different about this horse. I felt that it was time. (Assistant trainer) Jimmy Barnes and I felt that if we’re ever going to do it, it would be with this horse. We had never gone to the Belmont really feeling it; we were nervous but it was a good nervous. The way he travelled to Belmont and the way he was breezing here, he doesn’t have to take his racetrack with him. He can overcome any obstacle you throw at him.”

Baffert relived the moment that American Pharoah made history in last Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.

“When he turned for home, the best feeling was probably watching Victor [Espinoza] sitting on him with so much. He’s got a mile-and-a-quarter and he’s just breezing. I’m thinking ‘Wow, look at this horse,’ and then I see Frosted coming at him and then Victor just still hasn’t asked him. It was like Frank Mirahmadi’s call at Oaklawn where he said, ‘Victor hasn’t asked him, but we all know the answer.’ He just turned them loose and I sat back and took in the crowd noise.

“He’s a baby and a beast at the same time. You have a horse that is this sweet and kind, but then when he gets to the track he wants to dominate. For the horse, I was so happy for him and when they hit the wire he was still just so full of horse. I told Victor before the race, ‘I think he’s really, really good.’ Once Victor got on his back he looked at me like he could feel it.”

Baffert went on to discuss the future of American Pharoah and named some potential spots where the Triple Crown winner could make his next start.

“My goal is to bring him back to Kentucky and I’m sure you all want to see him run in the (Oct. 31) Breeders’ Cup (Classic),” Baffert said. “I just want to keep him on that level. There are some obvious spots. You got the Haskell, the Jim Dandy, Saratoga, Del Mar. I don’t want to get ahead of myself but I’ve talked to (racing manager) Justin Zayat; they have their ideas and I have my ideas so we’re basically just going to sit down and I have to see how this horse responds. Sometimes it takes as much as two weeks to see what kind of affect a race has on him. If you see him show up, then he’s really going to perform in a big way.

“To me, I feel more pressure training him now. I feel like wrapping him in bubble wrap. What I want to do is just want to share him with everyone. When we go back to California they’ll probably have something for him there and then when we go to Del Mar, they’ll have something for him there. I wish I was around Secretariat. As a kid, I would have loved to pet him and touch him and get close to him. I got to go up to him and touch him and I’ll always remember greatness like that. I’m his trainer but at the same time I’m like a little kid. I knew he was great but he really had to show it.”

Later that morning, Baffert was greeted by 98-year-old Dr. William McGee, one of the founders of Haygard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, who has seen and treated several Triple Crown winners. Baffert brought American Pharoah out of his stall at 8:15 a.m. so that the retired veterinarian could get a glimpse of yet another Triple Crown champion.

“I think his temperament is outstanding,” McGee commented. “I’ve never seen one that had the calm attitude that he had. He’s a people’s kind of horse. A lot of people think that the Triple Crown should be broken up, but it’s a supreme test of ability and endurance. I don’t have the authority to judge whether it should be changed, but it seems to be doing pretty well. I’m enthusiastic about this horse. He’s come a long so well and I attribute a lot to the handling he’s gotten. He takes good care of him and they’ve given him rest when he needed him. I’m looking for [him to have] a great stud career, too.”

AMERICAN PHAROAH SCHEDULED TO GALLOP SATURDAY MORNING AT 8:30 A.M. – After consultation with assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes and exercise rider George Alvarez, trainer Bob Baffert plans to gallop American Pharoah on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. after the renovation break. “He’s ready to gallop, boss,” Alvarez said.

AMERICAN PHAROAH TO BE PARADED SATURDAY NIGHT AT CHURCHILL DOWNS – While the barn area remains secured and closed to the public, fans will get their chance to salute horse racing’s newest rock star Saturday night when American Pharoah will be paraded on the main track after the fifth race around 8 p.m. (all times Eastern) during Churchill Downs’ 11-race “Downs After Dark” presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka.

Owner/breeder Ahmed Zayat and his family, Baffert and his family and jockey Victor Espinoza will be on hand to accept their engraved Kentucky Derby 141 trophies in a G.H. MUMM Winner’s Circle ceremony scheduled immediately after Race 6 at 8:32 p.m.

General admission is $10 and gates open Saturday at 5 p.m. with the first race scheduled for 6 p.m. The evening’s theme is “White Party,” so guests are encouraged to wear their best summer whites.

American Pharoah is scheduled to return to his Southern California base on Thursday.

FREE AMERICAN PHAROAH TRIPLE CROWN PRINT TO FIRST 5,000 FANS ON SATURDAY – Thanks to a partnership between Churchill Downs Racetrack and Courier-Journal, the first 5,000 fans in attendance Saturday night will receive a free commemorative print of American Pharoah that celebrates his Triple Crown achievement. The stirring photo of the print was taken by Courier-Journal photographer Michael Clevenger. The shot was taken from underneath the inside rail and depicts jockey Victor Espinoza looking back at his seven rivals following his 5 ½-length Belmont Stakes triumph with a ravenous crowd in the background. Churchill Downs admission gates open Saturday at 5 p.m. and the first of 11 races is 6 p.m.

GET YOUR PHOTO WITH THE KENTUCKY DERBY TROPHIES AND TRIPLE CROWN TROPHY – Fans in attendance at Churchill Downs on Saturday will be able to take pictures with American Pharoah’s engraved Kentucky Derby 141 trophies as well as the soon-to-be-engraved Triple Crown trophy. The trophies will be on display on the north side of the paddock in the Plaza area from 5-7 p.m. for guests to take their own pictures.

NBCSN, HRRN TO BROADCAST LIVE FROM CHURCHILL DOWNS SATURDAY FROM 8-10 P.M. NBCSN, which airs on Time Warner Cable channels 549 and 971 (HD) in Louisville, AT&T U-verse channels 640 and 1640 (HD) and DISH Network channel 159, will be onsite Saturday for a live “Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In” broadcast from 8-10 p.m. ET. The two-hour telecast will showcase Triple Crown winner American Pharoah being paraded on-track and three stakes races: the Regret, Fleur de Lis Handicap and Stephen Foster Handicap. Laffit Pincay III, Randy Moss, Jerry Bailey, Donna Brothers and Kenny Rice comprise the on-air talent team.               

Additionally, Mike Penna and Ellis Star of Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will air coverage of the three stakes races from 8-10 p.m. ET on 93.9 The Ville in Louisville as well as Sirius 92 and online at www.horseracingradio.net.

LEA FAVORED IN FOSTER, BUT COULD BE LONELY IN WINNER’S CIRCLE – A victory by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Lea in Saturday’s $500,000 Stephen Foser Handicap Presented by GE (Grade I) would be among the most notable moments at Churchill Downs in the history of the Paris, Ky. farm that is an icon in both American breeding and racing.

But should Lea make it to the winner’s circle for the 34th running of the Grade I race and Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In Classic Division” event, the 6-year-old homebred son of First Samurai could glance around the G.H. Mumm Winner’s Circle and feel a little lonely.

That’s because the Hancock family that has guided Claiborne Farm for more than a century will also be focused on another celebration that evening. Allison Hancock, the daughter of longtime Claiborne President Seth Hancock and wife Debbie, will be married Saturday evening in the Bourbon County city. Among others attending the wedding will be the bride’s 25-year-old brother, Walker, who succeeded his father as Claiborne’s president in early 2014 and represents the fourth generation of the Hancock family to run the farm.

“The wedding was planned a good while back, well before we hand any thoughts that Lea might run in the Foster,” the younger Hancock said. “So we’ll enjoy the wedding and hope for good news at Churchill.”

It’s probably a safe bet that a few seconds after the bride says “I do,” members of the family will at least glance at their smartphones.

The lightly-raced Lea, who is trained by Hall of Famer and all-time Churchill Downs win leader Bill Mott, will look to follow a path similar to the one taken in 2010 by Claiborne and Dilschneider’s Blame. He won the Stephen Foster and returned to Churchill Downs later in the year to hold off the previously unbeaten Zenyatta and win the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. Should Lea win on Saturday, a run in this year’s Classic at Keeneland would seem a logical goal.

Lea will be ridden by Joel Rosario, who has been in the saddle for his last four races. He will carry 120 pounds, one fewer than high weight and 2014 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) winner Hoppertunity, and will start from post two.

The Stephen Foster will be Lea’s first since a third-place run behind Prince Bishop and 2014 Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year California Chrome in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (GI) at Meydan Race Course in late March. Prior to his Dubai journey, Lea had run second to Constitution in the Donn Handicap (GI) after earning second consecutive victory in the Grade III Hal’s Hope, both at Gulfstream Park. Lea secured his most notable career triumph in the 2013 Donn, where he downed 2013 3-year-old champion and Clark Handicap winner Will Take Charge, but various illnesses kept him out of action for the rest of that year.

Several U.S. stars of the Dubai Gold Cup have returned to action at home in the Stephen Foster. Victory Gallop (1999), Street Cry (2002) and Curlin (2008) won the Foster following runs in Dubai, with Street Cry and Curlin winning both races.

Hancock would be thrilled if Lea could follow Victory Gallop’s path of a third-place finish in Dubai followed by a Foster victory in which the 4-year-old colt the current Churchill Downs record for 1 1/8 miles. Victory Gallop’s foes that day included 1997 Kentucky Derby winner and 1998 Dubai World Cup winner Silver Charm, who finished fourth in what would be the final race of his Hall of Fame career.

“There are plenty of horses that have run well there and have come back to run well here,” Hancock said. “We’re pleased with the way he’s come back from Dubai. There’s never really an ‘easy spot’ for a horse to come back in when you have a horse like Lea.  Much will be expected of him, but we hope we’ve put him in a good spot and hopefully he’ll run to his ability.”

Although his career record includes only 16 races and a record of 7-3-3, Lea has made the most of that limited action over five seasons and has earned $1,898,618. His win total includes a Churchill Downs allowance race on the main track and a victory in the 2012 Commonwealth Turf (GIII) over the Matt Winn Turf Course. He also ran second to two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the 2013 Firecracker Handicap (GII) on the Churchill Downs grass.

Claiborne’s ultimate hope is that Lea will have done enough this year and throughout his racings days to become a prominent member of the farm’s stallion roster.

“We’re looking forward to having him here as a stallion and we’re just trying to win as many Grade Is as we possibly can,” Hancock said. “Our choices [for Lea’s return race] were the Foster or the Met Mile, but we think a mile-and-an-eighth is probably a better distance for him and that played heavily in our decision.

“He’s got an enticing pedigree with Galileo on the bottom and Giant’s Causeway, through First Samurai, on top. He’s very versatile and runs on turf or dirt, and it looks like he could probably run at any distance, too.”

So a Grade I win in the Stephen Foster would mean much to Lea’s racing career and his future as a stallion, but a win on Saturday would also carry historical significance for Claiborne Farm. It would be the farm’s 32nd stakes win at Churchill Downs, which would lift it into a tie with Calumet Farm, another Kentucky racing legend, for the most stakes wins at the Louisville track.

STEPHEN FOSTER UPDATESClaiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Lea galloped 1 ¼ miles Friday morning under exercise rider Penny Gardiner in preparation for Saturday’s $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) where he is the 7-5 morning line favorite. The son of First Samurai is trained by Churchill Downs all-time leading trainer Bill Mott who was pleased with the way the horse trained.

“Seemed to be moving well and seemed to be happy,” Mott said. “His works have been good. He’s been training at Saratoga and his works, we think, have been very good and steady.”

The Stephen Foster will be Lea’s first race back since his third-place effort in the Dubai World Cup (GI) behind eventual winner Prince Bishop and last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) winner California Chrome.

“The timing and distance for this race worked out well and he’s won over this racetrack before so hopefully that’s a good indicator that he’ll run well,” Mott said.

Lea’s only start over the Churchill Downs main track was in June 2013 when he won an allowance optional claiming event that came off the turf. Mott isn’t the least bit concerned about how Lea will bounce back off his performance in Dubai.

“I’ve had three of the horses that I have taken to Dubai who have come back and become champions,” Mott said. “Cigar came back and was champion at the end of the year. Royal Delta went to Dubai twice and didn’t win but she became champion both years. If you’ve got a tired, worn out, old horse then it’s going to be too much but I don’t think we can make a general statement that they can’t come back.”

Mott is not thinking much about the rest of the year with Lea, but would likely run the horse in the $1.25 million Whitney Handicap (GI) on Aug. 8 at Saratoga if he performs well.

“I’m not planning too far ahead, I’m taking things race by race,” he said. “Naturally if we run well here, I’d like to go up to Saratoga and run in the Whitney and then just take things from there.”

Also on the track this morning was WinStar Farm’s Commissioner, the 3-1 morning line second-choice who is coming off a victory in the Pimlico Special (GIII). The 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy galloped 1 3/8 miles on the main track this morning with Adele Bellinger in the irons.

“He felt awesome this morning,” Bellinger said.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sent out his pair of Stephen Foster contenders: Michael Pegram’s Hoppertunity, winner of last year’s Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) and Michael Lund Petersen’s Cat Burglar for training this morning at 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., respectively. Exercise rider Jorge Alvarez was in the irons for both horses.

John C. Oxley’s Noble Bird, second last time out in the Alysheba (GII) on May 1, galloped one mile this morning under exercise rider Will Cano for trainer Mark Casse.

Gallant StablesMajestic Harbor galloped 1 ¼ miles on the main track with Luis Rodriguez for trainer Paul McGee.

James and Ywachetta Driver’s Paganol galloped one mile at Churchill Downs’ Trackside on Friday morning.

The field for the 2015 Stephen Foster Handicap (from the rail out with jockey, assigned weight and morning line odds): Commissioner (Javier Castellano, 120, 3-1), Lea (Joel Rosario, 120, 7-5), Paganol (Robby Albarado, 114, 20-1), Noble Bird (Shaun Bridgmohan, 116, 10-1), Hoppertunity (Martin Garcia, 121, 5-2), Majestic Harbor (Corey Lanerie, 115, 12-1) and Cat Burglar (Victor Espinoza, 116, 8-1).

TAKE CHARGE BRANDI AND MR. Z ON COMEBACK TRAILWillis Horton’s Champion Two-Year-Old Filly Take Charge Brandi galloped on the main track Friday morning for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. A non-displaced bone chip in her right knee was found before last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner was scheduled to start in the Rebel (GII) in March at Oaklawn, which forced her to miss 60 days of training.

"She’s doing fine,” Lukas said. “We’ve got a routine getting her fit and everything but were just moving her along to get her fit enough for some serious works.”

Lukas is targeting the $500,000 Test (GI) on Aug. 8 at Saratoga for Take Charge Brandi’s return. The daughter of Giant’s Causeway last raced when she won the Martha Washington at Oaklawn on Jan. 31.

“We’d like to make the Test, it’s on our radar,” Lukas said. “It’d be a nice starting point. It’s a Grade I and it’s seven-eighths (of a mile). She’s filled out and she really looks good right now. It’s just like with American Pharoah, sometimes they get hurt but it helps them in the long run.”

Also for Lukas, Calumet Farm’s Mr. Z will run in the $500,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown on June 20.

“He’s such a tough horse,” Lukas said. “People say he’s raced a lot but hell, he really wants to train and he’s dragging us around.”

Lukas likes the race for the son of Malibu Moon mainly because of the distance.

“This is a good spot for him, it’s a mile-and-a-sixteenth,” Lukas said. “I think he’s going be a real top miler by the fall. I want to try him on the grass. He can get a mile-and-sixteenth and a mile-and-an-eighth, but I think that a flat mile is his preferred distance.”

Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah To Return To Track For Jog On Friday; Foster Hopes Gallop

Triple Crown winner American Pharoah has been walking the shed row of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s Barn 33 daily since returning to Churchill Downs on Sunday, but he’s scheduled to return to the track Friday around 6:45 a.m. for a clockwise job around the one-mile oval.

“He’s absolutely fine – solid,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said of American Pharoah. “He’s the same as he’s always been.”

American Pharoah has been greeted by numerous horsemen and barn area guests daily looking for a picture and a chance to visit with horseracing’s 12th Triple Crown winner and first since 1978.

“The people love him,” Barnes said. “They’ve been coming by and we’ve been friendly to everyone who’s wanted to visit him. This goes right to the top of all of our achievements and accomplishments and we’re just glad that we finally got it done.”

While the barn area remains secured and closed to the public, fans will be able to salute horse racing’s newest rock star Saturday night when American Pharoah will be paraded on the main track after the fifth race around 8 p.m. (all times Eastern) during Churchill Downs’ 11-race “Downs After Dark” presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka. Owner/breeder Ahmed Zayat and his family, Baffert and his family and jockey Victor Espinoza will be on hand to accept their engraved Kentucky Derby 141 trophies in a G.H. MUMM Winner’s Circle ceremony scheduled immediately after Race 6 at 8:32 p.m.

Admission gates open Saturday at 5 p.m. and the first race is 6 p.m. The evening’s theme is “White Party,” so guests are encouraged to wear their best summer whites.

Baffert is scheduled to return to Louisville on Thursday night and will be at the barn Friday morning. American Pharoah is scheduled to return to his Southern California base on Thursday, June 18.

FREE AMERICAN PHAROAH TRIPLE CROWN PRINT TO FIRST 5,000 FANS ON SATURDAY – Thanks to a partnership between Churchill Downs Racetrack and Courier-Journal, the first 5,000 fans in attendance Saturday night will receive a free commemorative print of American Pharoah that celebrates his Triple Crown achievement. The stirring photo of the print was taken by Courier-Journal photographer Michael Clevenger. The shot was taken from underneath the inside rail and depicts jockey Victor Espinoza looking back at his seven rivals following his 5 ½-length Belmont Stakes triumph with a ravenous crowd in the background. Churchill Downs admission gates open Saturday at 5 p.m. and the first of 11 races is 6 p.m.

GET YOUR PHOTO WITH THE KENTUCKY DERBY TROPHIES AND TRIPLE CROWN TROPHY – Fans in attendance at Churchill Downs on Saturday will be able to take pictures with American Pharoah’s engraved Kentucky Derby 141 trophies as well as the soon-to-be-engraved Triple Crown trophy. The trophies will be on display on the north side of the paddock in the Plaza area from 5-7 p.m. for guests to take their own pictures.

BAFFERT’S HOPPERTUNITY, CAT BURGLAR READY FOR STEPHEN FOSTER –    Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sends out two of his best older horses in Saturday’s $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI). Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman’s Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) winner Hoppertunity and Michael Lund Petersen’s Cat Burglar will look to give the four-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer his first Stephen Foster victory. Baffert has finished second in this race twice with Captain Steve in 2001 and Kentucky Derby-winner Silver Charm in 1998.

Cat Burglar and Hoppertunity went to the track Thursday around 6:30 a.m., galloped one mile and schooled in the starting gate under the supervision of Baffert’s chief assistant Jimmy Barnes. The original plans were not to run Hoppertunity in the Foster, but Baffert decided to give the race a shot.

“He’s coming into the race really well,” Barnes said. “We were very pleased with his last work so Bob said, ‘You know what? Let’s run him’ so we’re ready to go.”

The son of Any Given Saturday breezed a five-furlong bullet in :58.20 on Monday. He will be making his first start since a distant third-place finish behind Shared Belief and last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) winner California Chrome in the San Antonio Invitational (GII) at Santa Anita on Feb. 7.

Baffert’s other contender Cat Burglar is coming off of a third-place finish behind fellow Stephen Foster contender Commissioner in the Pimlico Special (GIII) on May 15.

“With Cat Burglar, we didn’t go to New York and this was the next best place to run,” Barnes said. “We’re leaving here next week so we figured that we might as well run what we have here before we go back out to California.”

Exercise rider Jorge Alvarez was aboard Hoppertunity and Cat Burglar during their gallop.

“They went really good this morning,” Alvarez said. “We schooled them in the gate and they went did everything really well.”

Also going to the track this morning was WinStar Farm’s Commissioner and Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Lea, the 7-5 morning line Foster favorite. The former of the two galloped 1 3/8 miles under Adele Bellinger, who has been overseeing the son of A.P. Indy’s training for trainer Todd Pletcher since arriving at Churchill Downs on Sunday afternoon.

“He went out good and held the track well,” Bellinger said. “He’s a blessing of a horse. He just goes out there really relaxed and does his thing. The first day, they had only scratched the surface because they knew that rain was coming. He didn’t struggle over the surface at all but he’s doing a lot better since they had it fully open.”

Commissioner looks to give Pletcher his first Stephen Foster victory and is aiming for a third consecutive win. The 4-year-old colt is coming off of two Grade III victories in the Skip Away at Gulfstream Park and the Pimlico Special, respectively.

Lea galloped 1 ½ miles on the main track under Bill Mott’s exercise rider Penny Gardiner.

“He felt really good” Gardiner said. “He’s such a nice horse was all class. He’s wanting to do something and I think he’ll run a big race on Saturday. We have big expectations. He always shows up.”

The son of First Samurai will make his first start since racing halfway across the world in the Dubai World Cup (GI) at Meydan Race Course, where he finished behind eventual winner Prince Bishop and California Chrome. He is the only one in the field, other than Hoppertunity, with a graded stakes win at Churchill Downs, which he got in the Commonwealth Turf (GIII) in the fall of 2012. Lea looks to give Churchill Downs’ all-time leading trainer Mott his second Stephen Foster victory, his first being with Ron the Greek in 2012.

John C. Oxley’s Noble Bird galloped one mile at 7:30 a.m. with Will Cano in the irons for trainer Mark Casse. The son of Birdstone comes into the race off of a close second-place finish behind Protonico in the Alysheba (GII) on May 1. He was originally scheduled to make a trip to New York for the Metropolitan Handicap (GI) on the Belmont Stakes undercard, but opted to run in the Stephen Foster instead.

“I think the Met Mile was coming up a little tougher than the Foster,” said Norman Casse, assistant trainer to his father. “But more importantly, his best race was run over this track, and he’s been training extremely well over the track as well.”

Noble Bird breezed a half-mile Saturday in :47.40.

“We think he can run well like he did in his last race,” Casse said. “Since the Alysheba, he’s been working extremely well.”

Mark Casse looks for his second victory in the Stephen Foster. He won the race in 2011 with 36-1 longshot Pool Play.

Gallant StablesMajestic Harbor galloped 1 ½ miles Thursday morning with exercise rider Luis Rodriguez in the irons for trainer Paul McGee. The son of Rockport Harbor’s last start was a well-beaten ninth in the Louisville Handicap (GIII) on May 23, which was the 7-year-old horse’s third start on grass.

“We’re throwing out the turf race,” McGee said. “He is 0-for-3 on the turf so we’re just going to draw a line through that one. I thought he looked really good, since he’s coming out of a mile-and-a-half race I didn’t breeze him in between races but that was by design to have him relatively fresh and ready to go. It’s a tough race for a seven-horse field. It’s a very solid seven.”

James and Ywachetta Driver’s Paganol was out for exercise Thursday at 7 a.m. at Churchill Downs’ Trackside training center. Robby Albarado will be aboard the son of Tiz Wonderful and is seeking his fourth Stephen Foster victory. Albarado won three editions of the Stephen Foster in a row from 2007-09 with Flashy Bull, Curlin and Macho Again, respectively.

The field for the 2015 Stephen Foster Handicap (from the rail out with jockey, assigned weight and morning line odds): Commissioner (Castelllano, 120, 3-1), Lea (Rosario, 120, 7-5), Paganol (Robby Albarado, 114, 20-1), Noble Bird (Shaun Bridgmohan, 116, 10-1), Hoppertunity (Garcia, 121, 5-2), Majestic Harbor (Lanerie, 115, 12-1) and Cat Burglar (Espinoza, 116, 8-1).

The Stephen Foster goes as Race 8 at 9:42 on Churchill Downs’ 11-race card for Saturday night.

SHEER DRAMA BACK AT CHURCHILL DOWNS FOR FLEUR DE LISHarold Queen’s Sheer Drama returns to Churchill Downs for Saturday’s $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII) to redeem herself after a runner-up effort in the La Troienne (GI) on May 1 where she was beaten three-quarters of a length by recently retired Molly Morgan. David Fawkes trains the 5-year-old daughter of Burning Roma, who is a half-sister to 2010 Champion Sprinter Big Drama.

"She’s coming into the race really well,” Fawkes said via telephone. “She got a nice breeze last week and is coming in excellent.”

Sheer Drama tuned up for the race with a five-furlong breeze in 1:00.03 on June 4 at Gulfstream Park. Fawkes likes the Fleur de Lis for the Florida-bred mare mainly because of the distance of the race. The Fleur de Lis is a sixteenth-of-a-mile longer than the La Troienne.

“This seems to be the most logical spot for her,” he said. “It’s a ‘Win and You’re In’ race and it’s also a further distance and that should suit us well. It’s a mile-and-an-eighth and I think she’s a lot better going further.”

Four other fillies and mares also came out of the La Troienne. Pin Oak Stable’s Gold Medal Dancer, Jim Tafel’s Tiz Windy, Bobby Flay’s America, and G. Watts Humphrey’s Frivolous, ran third, fourth, seventh and ninth, respectively.

The field for the Fleur De Lis from the rail out (with jockey, weight and morning line odds): America (Joel Rosario, 116, 10-1), Tiz Windy (Julien Leparoux, 116, 8-1), Pearl Turn (Jesus Castanon, 115, 15-1), Yahilwa (James Graham, 117, 15-1), Glory’s Last Chance (Ricardo Santana Jr., 113, 30-1), Frivolous (Jon Court, 116, 20-1), Sheer Drama (Bravo, 120, 2-1), My Sweet Addiction (Mike Smith, 121, 5-2) and Gold Medal Dancer (Luis Quinonez, 118, 3-1).

The Fleur de Lis goes as Race 7 at 9:08 on Churchill Downs’ 11-race card for Saturday night.

RETURN TO GRACE READY FOR REGRET TESTCalumet Farm’s Return to Grace will be making her first start against graded-stakes company in Saturday’s $100,000 Regret (GIII) run at 1 1/8 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course for 3-year-old fillies. While the daughter of English Channel is just fresh off breaking her maiden, she is the only filly in the seven-horse field with a victory on the Matt Winn Turf Course and at the 1 1/8-mile distance. Norman Casse, assistant to his father Mark, feels good about the direction the filly is going.

“We think she’s a good horse,” Casse said. “Looking at the race, we’re the only one in there to win at a mile-and-an-eighth and plus we’ve ran over this turf course. She’s been doing well since we ran so we just think the horse is doing well and we think she has a chance to run a big race.”

Return to Grace schooled in the gate Thursday morning and galloped 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Nikki Bernstein. She will be ridden by Corey Lanerie, who looks for his first victory in the Regret.

Pin Oak Farm’s Don’t Leave Me is the 3-1 morning line favorite for the Regret and comes into the race off a runner-up effort in the Selene (GIII) at Woodbine on May 24 after her victory in the Bourbonette (GIII) at Turfway on March 21. Trainer Malcolm Pierce says that the filly is coming into the race in good order.

“She’s doing very well,” Pierce said via telephone Thursday morning. “She put in her final breeze on Friday and we haven’t done much with her since then.”

Pierce likes this spot for the homebred daughter of Lemon Drop Kid stating that other races came up a little too tough to enter.

“There really wasn’t a whole lot else,” Pierce said. “The 3-year-old filly race at Belmont [The Wonder Again] was very tough with that filly [Lady Eli] of Chad Brown’s running in it, so we just felt like this race at Churchill was the best spot for her.”

Don’t Leave Me will be ridden by Javier Castellano, who seeks his second victory in this race after winning the 2012 edition of the Regret aboard Centre Court.

The Regret field from the rail out (with jockey and morning line odds): Don’t Leave Me (Javier Castellano, 3-1); Return to Grace (Corey Lanerie, 7-2); Lady Zuzu (Robby Albarado, 7-2); America Mon Amie (Rosemary Homeister Jr., 10-1); Cristina’s Journey (Miguel Mena, 8-1); Prado’s Sweet Ride (Florent Geroux, 4-1); and Urtheoneeyelove (Joel Rosario, 5-1).


The Regret goes as Race 6 at 8:28 p.m. on Churchill Downs’ 11-race card for Saturday night.

PHENOMENAL PHOENIX RETURNS IN MATT WINN FOR NEW OWNER, TRAINERHarlow StablesPhenomenal Phoenix will be making his first start for his new owner Harlow Stables as well as trainer Ron Moquett in Saturday’s $100,000 Matt Winn (GIII) for 3-year-olds going a 1 1/16 miles over the Churchill Downs main track. The homebred son of Summer Bird was privately purchased following his third-place finish in the Illinois Derby (GII) at Hawthorne on April 18.

“He’s very happy and he’s telling us that he wants to run,” Moquett said. “The people we bought him off of did a real good job with him so we’re just looking to carry that on. We’re still trying to figure him out, but we expect to run well.”

Phenomenal Phoenix was formerly owned by Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch and trained by Donnie Von Hemel. Moquett was on the fence between a few races. Other than the Matt Winn, Moquett was considering running in the $250,000 Iowa Derby (GIII) on June17 at Prairie Meadows or the $150,000 Easy Goer on the Belmont Stakes undercard, but felt the horse would be better off staying at Churchill.

“I didn’t like the way the track was playing at Prairie Meadows,” he said. “It was favoring speed and I didn’t want him to be forced to be in a speed set so I decided between those two races that I would lean toward here. I also looked at the Easy Goer on Belmont Day, but this race looks like it’s turning out to be a lot harder than that race. I chose the safest spot, but it turned out to not be the easiest spot. But a good horse bails us out every time.”

Juddmonte FarmsFame and Power is the 6-5 morning line favorite and is coming off a victory in the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico run on the Preakness Stakes undercard, where he beat fellow Matt Winn entrant Bold Conquest. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert trains the son of First Defense who galloped one mile on the Churchill Downs main track this morning.

“He’s been doing very well,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said. “He’s here and we’re here until next week so we figured that this race would be a good fit for him.”

The Matt Winn field from the rail out (with jockey and morning line odds): Phenomenal Phoenix (Joel Rosario, 8-1); Island Town (Julien Leparoux, 6-1); Nileator (Javier Castellano, 8-1); Private Prospect (Channing Hill, 20-1); Fame and Power (Espinoza, 6-5); Henry Jones (Mike Smith, 12-1); Bold Conquest (Ricardo Santana Jr., 5-2); and Alabaster (James Graham, 15-1).

The Matt Winn goes as Race 9 at 10:13 on Churchill Downs’ 11-race card for Saturday night.

NBCSN, HRRN TO BROADCAST LIVE FROM CHURCHILL DOWNS SATURDAY FROM 8-10 P.M. NBCSN, which airs on Time Warner Cable channels 549 and 971 (HD) in Louisville, AT&T U-verse channels 640 and 1640 (HD) and DISH Network channel 159, will be onsite Saturday for a live “Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In” broadcast from 8-10 p.m. ET. The two-hour telecast will showcase Triple Crown winner American Pharoah being paraded on-track and three stakes races: the Regret, Fleur de Lis Handicap and Stephen Foster Handicap. Laffit Pincay III, Randy Moss, Jerry Bailey, Donna Brothers and Kenny Rice comprise the on-air talent team.  Additionally, Mike Penna and Ellis Star of Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will air coverage of the three stakes races from 8-10 p.m. ET on 93.9 The Ville in Louisville as well as Sirius 92 and online at www.horseracingradio.net.

Grade I Winners Hoppertunity, Lea; Belmont Runner-Up Commissioner Top Stephen Foster; American Pharoah Set For On-Track Appearance

Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman’s Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) winner Hoppertunity; Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s globe-trotting Lea, third to Prince Bishop in his most recent start in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (Grade I), and WinStar Farm LLC’s Commissioner, runner-up to Tonalist in the 2014 Belmont Stakes (GI) and winner of the recent Pimlico Special (GIII), head a field of seven 3-year-olds and up entered to compete in Saturday’s 34th running of the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by GE (GI), the racing highlight of a special “Downs After Dark” program that also features a public appearance by Zayat StablesKentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

The 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster Handicap is part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In Classic Division” and the winner of the race will earn a guaranteed spot in the starting gate for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), the biggest event in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships that will be held at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. on Oct. 31.

The evening includes three other stakes races, the most prominent being the 40th running of the $200,000 Fleur De Lis Handicap Presented by Thorntons (GII) for fillies and mares 3 and up, which is part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In Distaff Division.” The Fleur De Lis winner will, for the first time, earn a spot in the field for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Longines Distaff (GI) on Oct. 30 at Keeneland.

Completing Saturday’s “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka” stakes events under the Churchill Downs lights are the 46th running of the $100,000 Regret Stakes (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on turf and the 18th running of the $100,000 Matt Winn (GIII) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.

American Pharoah – the first 3-year-old to sweep racing’s Triple Crown of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes (GI) and Belmont Stakes since 1978 and only the 12th horse overall to win all three classic races – will parade before the crowd at Churchill Downs prior to the sixth race, which will be the Regret, and will be in the track’s paddock during that race. After the Regret, the Kentucky Derby’s solid gold winner’s trophy and smaller sterling silver replicas that go to the winning trainer, jockey and breeder will be presented in the G.H. Mumm Winner’s Circle to owner and breeder Ahmed Zayat, Hall of Fame trainer and four-time Kentucky Derby-winner Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza, a three-time Kentucky Derby winner.

Post time for the first “Downs After Dark” race is 6 p.m. (all times EDT), and the Stephen Foster is scheduled as the eighth of 11 races and has a scheduled post time of 9:42 p.m. The race is part of a two-hour live broadcast on NBCSN from 8-10 p.m.

After he accepts his Kentucky Derby trophy, Baffert will saddle both Hoppertunity and Michael Lund Petersen’s Cat Burglar in the Stephen Foster. Hoppertunity is the headliner of that duo off his Clark victory and a triumph earlier this year in the $200,000 San Pasqual (GII) at Santa Anita. As a 3-year-old the son of Any Given Saturday won the Rebel (GII) at Oaklawn Park and was runner-up to eventual Kentucky Derby-winner California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby (GI). He was among the top choices for last year’s Run for the Roses, but was knocked out of the race by injury two days before the big race.

Hoppertunity has been out of action since a third-place run behind Shared Belief and California Chrome in the Santa Anita Handicap (GI) on Feb. 7. He is one of two millionaires in the Foster field with a career record of 4-2-1 from nine races and earnings of $1,130,675. Baffert’s colt will carry high weight of 121 pounds and jockey Martin Garcia will ride from post five.

Cat Burglar has finished third in the past two runnings of the Pimlico Special and was third in the 2014 Brooklyn (GIII) at Belmont Park. He has won three of 10 races and will break from the outside post under Espinoza.

The versatile Lea, a 6-year-old homebred son of First Samurai trained by Hall of Famer and all-time Churchill Downs win leader Bill Mott, will attempt to become the latest horse to enjoy success in the Stephen Foster on the heels of a previous outing in the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest race run at Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse in late March. Lea won the Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in 2014 was runner-up to Constitution in this year’s renewal of that 1 1/8-mile race.

He has won the Grade III Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream the past two years and owns victories on both dirt and turf at Churchill Downs. Lea notched his first stakes win in the 2012 Commonwealth Turf (GIII) and was runner-up to eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the 2013 Firecracker Handicap (GII). He finished second in his 2012 career debut on Churchill Downs’ main track and won an off-the-turf allowance race over a sloppy surface last June.

Lea has a career record of 7-3-3 in 15 races and has earned $1,898,618. He will carry 120 pounds and will be ridden by jockey Joel Rosario from post two. The colt’s owners won the 2010 Stephen Foster with their homebred Blame, who returned to Churchill Downs later that year to hand eventual Horse of the Year Zenyatta the only loss of her career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Other Dubai World Cup runners that have competed in the Stephen Foster include Stonecrest Stables LLC’s two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, who won both races in 2008; Godolphin’s Street Cry, who swept both races in 2002; Victory Gallop, who was third in Dubai in 1999 before a Stephen Foster victory in which he set the current track record for 1 1/8 miles; Captain Steve, who won the Dubai World Cup but finished second to Guided Tour in the 2001 Foster; and Hall of Famer and 1997 Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm, who won the World Cup in 1998 and before a runner-up finish to eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Awesome Again in the 1998 Foster. Silver Charm returned to the World Cup the following year and finished sixth, and then ran fourth in Victory Gallop’s Foster in the final start of his career. Brass Hat was the runner-up in the 2006 Dubai World Cup, although he was later disqualified and placed 11th, and then finished in a dead-heat for fifth in the Stephen Foster.

Seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher will send Commissioner to the Foster post in search of the colt’s first Grade I victory and the trainer’s first triumph in the race. The 4-year-old son of A. P. Indy carries a two-race winning streak that includes a win in the May 15 Pimlico Special preceded by a victory in the Grade III Skip Away at Gulfstream Park. Commissioner is best-known for back-to-back runner-up finishes to Tonalist in the 2014 Belmont Stakes, a race in which he finished ahead of fourth-place Kentucky Derby-winner California Chrome, and in the Peter Pan (GII), both run at Belmont Park.

Javier Castellano will ride Commissioner from the rail post at 120 pounds. His career record stands at 4-3-2 in 12 races with earnings of $797,237. The winner’s share of the Foster purse would lift Pletcher’s colt to millionaire status.

Another Grade I winner in this year’s Stephen Foster lineup is Gallant Stable’s Majestic Harbor. Trained by Paul McGee,

The 7-year-old son of Rockport Harbor won the 2014 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (GI) by 6 ¼ lengths and this spring won back-to-back allowance races on dirt at Keeneland and Churchill Downs before he finished ninth to Xtra Luck in the Louisville Handicap (GIII) at 1 ½ miles on turf. Majestic Harbor’s career record stands at 8-6-4 in 32 races with earnings of $755,254 as he returns to the dirt under Corey Lanerie, the leading rider of Churchill Downs’ Spring Meet.

Completing the Stephen Foster field are John C. Oxley’s Noble Bird, a winner of three of his last five races who lost by a nose to Protonico in Churchill Downs’ Alysheba (GII) on Kentucky Oaks Day, and James and Ywachetta Driver’s Paganol, an impressive 4 ¾-length allowance winner on Kentucky Derby Day for trainer Chris Hartman.

The field for the 2015 Stephen Foster Handicap (from the rail out with jockey, assigned weight and morning line odds): Commissioner (Castelllano, 120, 3-1), Lea (Rosario, 120, 7-5), Paganol (Robby Albarado, 114, 20-1), Noble Bird (Shaun Bridgmohan, 116, 10-1), Hoppertunity (Garcia, 121, 5-2), Majestic Harbor (Lanerie, 115, 12-1) and Cat Burglar (Espinoza, 116, 8-1).

The Stephen Foster Handicap has had a strong influence on the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Horse of the Year honors in recent years. Along with the Stephen Foster-Classic sweeps by Blame and Awesome Again, Black Tie Affair won both races in 1991. Fort Larned won the Classic in 2012, and won the Foster the following year prior to a fourth-place run in his bid for a second Classic win.

Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan earned the first of those honors after he finished a narrowly-beaten second to Ron the Greek in the 2012 Stephen Foster. Curlin was named Horse of the Year for a second time following his 2008 campaign that included his Foster win, and Saint Liam scored a Foster win during his Horse of the Year season in 2005. Mineshaft, the 2003 Horse of the Year, suffered the only loss of his championship season in a runner-up finish to Perfect Drift in that year’s Stephen Foster.

Admission gates open Saturday at 4 p.m. and the “Downs After Dark” theme is the fifth annual “White Party” in which guests are encouraged to wear an all-white wardrobe.

Those attending “Downs After Dark” are encouraged to arrive early to secure on-site parking and avoid traffic delays. All on-property parking lots will open at 4 p.m. and space is available on a first-come, first-served basis (free in the Longfield Avenue lot). Once those lots fill up, Churchill Downs will offer free parking and shuttle service from the bronze lot at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium starting at 5 p.m. There will be free round-trip shuttle service throughout the evening.

STEPHEN FOSTER HANDICAP FAST FACTS

  • Combined, the seven Stephen Foster entrants have won 32 of their 94 starts (34.0%), including 11 graded stakes events, and $5.2 million. Four are stakes winners: Commissioner, Hoppertunity, Lea and Majestic Harbor. Three are Grade I winners: Hoppertunity (2014 Clark Handicap), Lea (2014 Donn Handicap) and Majestic Harbor (2014 Gold Cup at Santa Anita). Two are millionaires: Lea ($1,898,618) and Hoppertunity ($1,130,675).
  • Three horses used victories in the Stephen Foster as part of their résumés in Horse of the Year campaigns. The three are Black Tie Affair (1991), Saint Liam (2005) and Curlin (2008). In addition, two runner-ups were crowned Horse of the Year: Mineshaft (2003) and Wise Dan (2012).
  • Victory Gallop owns the stakes and track record for 1 1/8 miles of 1:47.28 established in 1999.
  • Pat Day and Robby Albarado have won the Stephen Foster three times to lead all riders. Day’s Foster victories came in 1985 (Vanlandingham), 1998 (Awesome Again) and 2003 (Perfect Drift). Albarado won the race three consecutive years in 2007 (Flashy Bull), 2008 (Curlin) and 2009 (Macho Again).
  • Two horses have won the Stephen Foster in consecutive years: Vodika Collins (1982-83) and Recoup The Cash (1994-95).
  • Three trainers have won the Stephen Foster twice and all did it in consecutive years: Forrest Kaelin (1982-83 with Vodika Collins), Jere Smith Jr. (1994-95 with Recoup The Cash) and Pat Byrne (1997-98 with City by Night and Awesome Again).
  • Three horses have won the Stephen Foster and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same year. Black Tie Affair (1991) and Awesome Again (1998) won both races at Churchill Downs. Saint Liam won his running of the Classic at Belmont Park.  The 2014 renewal of the $5 million Classic is scheduled for Nov. 1 at Santa Anita.
  • Curlin (2008) carried the highest impost of any Stephen Foster winner: 128 pounds.
  • Colonial Colony (2004) carried the lightest winning Foster impost at 111 pounds.
  • Seek Gold (2006) paid a record $185.40 to win; Vanlandingham (1985) was the shortest-priced winner at $2.20.
  • Honor Medal (1988) is the oldest Stephen Foster winner at age 7.
  • Favorites have a record of 34-7-10-4 (20.6%) in the Stephen Foster.
  • The Stephen Foster Handicap was elevated to Grade I status in 2002.

KENTUCKY DERBY TROPHY PRESENTATION SATURDAY AFTER RACE 6 AT 8:28 P.M. – Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s owner/breeder Ahmed Zayat, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza will be on hand Saturday night at Churchill Downs to accept their engraved Kentucky Derby 141 trophies. The celebration, emceed by Churchill Downs’ John Asher, will take place in the Trackside Winner’s Circle immediately after Race 6, which has an approximate post time of 8:28 p.m. ET.

NBCSN, HRRN TO BROADCAST LIVE FROM CHURCHILL DOWNS SATURDAY FROM 8-10 P.M. NBCSN, which airs on Time Warner Cable channels 549 and 971 (HD) in Louisville, AT&T U-verse channels 640 and 1640 (HD) and DISH Network channel 159, will be onsite Saturday for a live “Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In” broadcast from 8-10 p.m. ET. The two-hour telecast will showcase Triple Crown winner American Pharoah being paraded on-track and three stakes races: the Regret, Fleur de Lis Handicap and Stephen Foster Handicap. Laffit Pincay III, Randy Moss, Jerry Bailey, Donna Brothers and Kenny Rice comprise the on-air talent team.                Additionally, Mike Penna and Ellis Star of Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will air coverage of the three stakes races from 8-10 p.m. ET on 93.9 The Ville in Louisville as well as Sirius 92 and online at www.horseracingradio.net.

Triple Crown Champion American Pharoah Scheduled To Return To Churchill Downs On Sunday

Zayat Stables LLC’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, the first Thoroughbred since 1978 to sweep America’s series of classic races for 3-year-olds, is scheduled to return to Churchill Downs from New York’s Belmont Park on Sunday, June 7, and he will receive a welcome befitting his historic accomplishment completed with a victory in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes (GI).

The Bob Baffert-trained American Pharoah, who launched his run to the first Triple Crown since 1978 five weeks ago with his win in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, will be among the horses traveling on a Sutton Forwarding Company flight from New York that is scheduled to arrive at Louisville International Airport at 1 p.m. (all times EDT).  The Triple Crown champion will be accompanied by a police escort during the short journey by van from the airport to Churchill Downs.

Racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner is expected to return to Barn 33 at Churchill Downs at approximately 1:30 p.m.

The historic track’s Twin Spires already reflect American Pharoah’s achievement as they are glowing in the turquoise and yellow racing colors of Zayat Stables and will continue to do so at least through the “Downs After Dark” Stephen Foster Handicap celebration on Saturday, June 13.

An annual part of that evening is the presentation of the engraved Kentucky Derby winner’s trophies to the winning owner, trainer, jockey and breeders.  It’s not known at this point how many members of the American Pharoah team will be at Churchill Downs to personally accept their engraved trophies.

The Stephen Foster Handicap festivities will be televised live on NBCSN.

Others returning to Churchill Downs on Sunday’s flight include Donegal Racing’s Keen Ice, third in the Belmont Stakes for trainer Dale Romans, and Charles E. Fipke’s Tale of Verve, the Preakness runner-up who finished seventh for trainer Dallas Stewart in the final jewel of the Triple Crown.

Fields For Next Week's Stephen Foster, Fleur De Lis Handicaps Begin To Take Shape

It’s back to the main track for Gallant StablesMajestic Harbor who looks to return to the winner’s circle in next Saturday’s $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI). Last time out, the 7-year-old veteran ran a well-beaten ninth in the Louisville Handicap (GIII) on May 23, his third start on turf.

“I don’t think he’ll ever see the turf ever again,” McGee said the morning after the race.

The Stephen Foster comes three weeks after his last race, but McGee says that the shorter amount of time between races shouldn’t bother the 7-year-old son of Rockport Harbor.

“He rebounded real good and came out of it fine – he’s just not a turf horse,” McGee said. “The Stephen Foster is right here at his home track and he’s a Grade I-winner and the race has a big purse. I think he’ll come back just fine. He’s been eating well and came out of the Louisville Handicap good. He’s relatively fresh.”

Also possible for the Stephen Foster are John Oxley’s Noble Bird, second last time out in the Alysheba (GII) and Sky Captain, fourth via disqualification last time out in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI). The latter breezed a bullet five furlongs Friday morning. Norman Casse, assistant to his father Mark, said that no decision would be made on which horse would run until Noble Bird breezes Saturday morning. He also said there is a possibility that both horses could run.

Trainer Todd Pletcher had planned to run a pair of horses in next week’s Stephen Foster Handicap in pursuit of his first victory in the race, but a virus in his Belmont Park barn has taken one of those hopes out of consideration for the race. Sumaya U.S. StablesProtonico, winner of Churchill Downs’ Alysheba (GII) and runner-up to Hoppertunity in the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI), spiked a fever and has been ruled out of the Stephen Foster.

That leaves WinStar Farm LLC’s Commissioner as Pletcher’s lone Foster candidate. The 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy comes into the race off back-to-back wins in the Pimlico Special (GI) and the Skip Away (GIII) at Gulfstream Park. He is best known for his runner-up finish in last year’s Belmont Stakes (GI), in which he finished a nose behind the victorious Tonalist and in front of fourth-place Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) winner California Chrome.

Also looming as major contender for the Stephen Foster is the Bill Mott-trained Lea, winner of the 2014 Donn Handicap (GI) on dirt at Gulfstream Park and runner-up to eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the 2013 Firecracker (GII) on Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course.

The 6-year-old son of First Samurai has not raced since a third-place finish behind Prince Bishop and California Chrome in the $10 million Dubai World Cup at Dubai’s Meydan Race Course. Earlier this year he scored a second consecutive victory in Gulfstream Park’s Hal’s Hope (GIII) and was runner-up to Constitution in the 2015 running of the Donn (GI).

Lea is owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, who won the 2010 Foster with eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Blame.

Lea would attempt to become the third horse to run in the Dubai World Cup and win the Stephen Foster. Godolphin Racing’s Street Cry won both races in 2002 and Prestonwood Farm’s Victory Gallop won the 1999 Foster following a third-place run in the World Cup. Mike Pegram’s Captain Steve won the 2001 Dubai World Cup, but was the runner-up to Mort Fink’s Guided Tour in his return to racing in the Stephen Foster.

Other possible starters for the Stephen Foster include Michael Lund Peterson’s Cat Burglar, third in the Pimlico Special (GI) for trainer Bob Baffert, and James and Ywanchetta Driver’s Paganol, an impressive allowance winner on Kentucky Derby Day for trainer Chris Hatrman.

The 34th running of the Stephen Foster is part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In Classic Division” and the winner will earn an automatic spot in the starting gate for October’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland.

The field also is taking shape for the 40th running of the $200,000 Fleur De Lis Handicap (GII) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles, one of four stakes races that will be part of the June 13 Stephen Foster Handicap nighttime racing card.

Leading Fleur De Lis candidates include Harold Owen’s La Troienne (GI) runner-up Sheer Drama, winner of Gulfstream’s Royal Delta (GII) for trainer David Fawkes; Pin Oak Stable’s Gold Medal Dancer, upset winner over reigning champion and 2014 Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner Untapable in Oaklawn Park’s Apple Blossom (GI) and third and the La Troienne for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel; G. Watts Humphrey Jr.’s Frivolous, winner of the 2014 Falls City Handicap (GI) for trainer Victoria Oliver; James C. Tafel LLC’s (Ida Mae Tafel) Tiz Windy, winner of the Indiana Oaks (GII) for trainer Carl Nafzger and Bobby Flay’s America, winner of the Affectionately at Aqueduct for trainer Bill Mott.

TRENDING – With the Spring Meet being past the halfway point, the jockey’s title still appears to be a close race between Corey Lanerie and Julien Leparoux who have 26 and 25 wins, respectively. Robby Albarado is not too far behind with 19 wins, followed by Shaun Bridgmohan and Francisco Torres with 16 and 15 wins, respectively. Lanerie is named the rider on five mounts Friday; Leparoux is named on six.

The training title also is close with Mike Maker leading all trainers with 13 victories this meet. He is two wins ahead of Steve Asmussen, who has 11. Dale Romans and Chris Hartman are both tied for third with nine wins apiece followed by Mark Casse and Ian Wilkes in fourth with eight wins each.

Churchill Downs Concludes Eventful, Challenging 2014 Spring Meet

Churchill Downs Racetrack (“CDRT”)concluded its 140th Spring Meet on Sunday, June 29 after 38 days of racing highlighted by spectacular renewals of the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I); the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI); the unveiling of the track’s spectacular $12 million Panasonic “Big Board” and $17 million Rooftop and Grandstand Terrace; and the continued success of its “Opening Night” and “Downs After Dark” night racing programs.

Along with near-record attendance and wagering levels for the 140th renewals of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) won by favored California Chrome and the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) that featured an emphatic victory by favored Untapable, the 2014 Spring Meet stakes program featured a total of six Grade I races and stirring performances by some of the brightest equine stars in American racing. Mort Fink’s two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan edged Seek Again to win a second consecutive running of the $500,000-added Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI); Anita Cauley’s local favorite On Fire Baby won the $300,000-added La Troienne Presented by World Series of Polo (GI); Midnight Lucky dazzled in a 4 ½-length romp in the $300,000-added Humana Distaff (GI); and Randy Patterson’s former claiming horse Moonshine Mullin completed a first-ever sweep of the $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (GI) and the $300,000-added Alysheba Presented by Besilu Stables (GII) for veteran trainer Randy Morse. Also, Valiant Boy, the 2012 Arabian Horse of the Year, returned to Churchill Downs on Stephen Foster night for a second straight triumph in the $100,000 President of the United Arab Emirates Cup (GI) for Arabian horses.

In the Spring Meet’s non-equine contests, jockeys Corey Lanerie, Julien Leparoux and Rosie Napravnik compiled numbers during the meet, as did record-setting leading trainer Steve Asmussen and top owner Maggi Moss.

But those successes shared the Spring Meet stage with concern over the declining size of daily racing fields during the April 26-June 29 racing session. The average field in the 372 races conducted during the meet was comprised of 7.29 horses, a decline from an average of 7.78 horses-per-race during the 2013 Spring Meet, which also consisted of 38 racing days. The decline in the horse population and competition for available horses, especially those in mid-to-lower level claiming races, prompted Churchill Downs to run 372 races during the Spring Meet, compared to 396 races run during the spring of 2013.

“Our Spring Meet was a success on many levels, headed by continued growth in Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week, the ongoing popularity of night racing, the excitement surrounding the introduction of our ‘Big Board’ and a range of new events and activities introduced in our new Grandstand Terrace and Pavilion venue and the Paddock Plaza, now in its second year,” Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery said. “Our four night racing programs – including our ‘Opening Night’ celebration and a trio of ‘Downs After Dark’ events – showed that our market continues to love the unique combination of racing, food, music and dancing under the lights. And a pair of new ‘Family Adventure Days’ introduced by our team this spring resulted in an impressive and enthusiastic response from families in the region and is a concept that displayed potential for growth in future meets.

“The smaller field sizes are the results of a combination of factors that include years of substantial decline in the North American foal crop and increased regional competition for horses from racetracks in Indiana and Ohio with purses fed by casino revenues. Churchill Downs race purses have remained basically flat in recent years. We deeply appreciate the efforts of owners and trainers who have supported us during this meet. We have a talented and dedicated team in our racing office and our entire team is working on ways to improve those field size numbers in our upcoming September and Fall racing meets and further down the road.”

Daily purses averaged $532,903 over the meet’s 38 days, a slight decrease from the 2013 average of $534,942. With 24 fewer races run this year, purses paid during the just-completed meet totaled $20,250,300, compared with total purses of $20,327,798 paid a year earlier.

The 2014 Spring Meet got off to an impressive start with a strong Kentucky Derby Week culminated by stirring victories by favorites in the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, the track’s signature races that have been run annually and without interruption since 1875.

Steve Coburn and Perry Martin’s homebred California Chrome, trained by 77-year-old Art Sherman and ridden by Victor Espinoza, won the famed “Run for the Roses” to provide the California-bred colt’s owners and trainer with their first successes in America’s greatest race. With the win, Sherman became the oldest trainer to saddle a winner of the Kentucky Derby. It was the second Kentucky Derby victory for Espinoza, who had won its 2002 running aboard War Emblem.

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred Untapable dominated the Longines Kentucky Oaks, providing her owner/breeder, trainer Steve Asmussen and Napravnik with their second victories in America’s premier race for 3-year-old fillies. Winchell and Asmussen had won the 2005 Oaks with Summerly, while the 26-year-old Napravnik – the only woman his history to ride a Kentucky Oaks winner – captured the race for the second time in three years.

Perfect weather on the first Saturday in May helped attract 164,906 Kentucky Derby Day patrons – the second largest crowd in history – and wagering was brisk on-track, via TwinSpires.com and other online wagering platforms and at satellite wagering centers across North America. On-track wagering on the Derby race totaled $11.9 million, an increase of 4 percent from the 2013 total. On-track wagering on the Derby program of $23.4 million was an 11 percent increase from 2013. Wagering from all-sources on the Kentucky Derby race card totaled $186.6 million, an increase of 1 percent over the 2013 total of $184.6 million.

One day earlier 113,071 fans – the third-largest attendance in the history of the event – gathered at Churchill Downs for the 140th running of the Kentucky Oaks. Wagering from all sources ranked as the second-highest all time on both the full 12-race Kentucky Oaks Day card and on the Kentucky Oaks race. All-sources wagering on the entire card totaled $43.2 million, a decrease of 5.7 percent from the 2013 total of $45.8 million. All-sources wagering on the Kentucky Oaks race dropped 1.9 percent to $14.1 million from 2013’s record $14.4 million. On-track wagering on the Oaks Day race card was the fourth-highest of all-time, coming in at $11.8 million, a 3 percent decrease from 2013’s near-record $12.2 million. On-track wagering on the Oaks race decreased 3 percent to $3 million from 2013’s record $3.1 million.

All-sources handle for Kentucky Derby Week – beginning with the “Opening Night” celebration on Saturday April 26, through Derby Day, Saturday, May 3, was $253.8 million. The total was down 2 percent from 2013’s $258.5 million. Attendance for those five days was up 5 percent to 348,530 from 331,922 in 2013.

Festivities surrounding the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks continued to generate important funds for partner charities. Checks totaling $127,000 were presented on Saturday, June 13 to three charitable agencies:

  • $57,000 was presented to Bright Pink, a Chicago-based non-profit organization focused on the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women along with support for high-risk individuals. This was Bright Pink’s first year as the Kentucky Oaks’ women’s health partner, a focus that dates to 2009 when the event’s “Ladies First” theme was introduced. With the donation to Bright Pink, Churchill Downs has donated $589,000 to its Kentucky Oaks women’s health partners since 2009.
  • 30,000 was presented to Horses and Hope, the cancer outreach initiative in Kentucky’s horse industry launched by Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear. The donation represents $1 from each on-track sale of the “Oaks Lily,” the signature drink of the Kentucky Oaks, and will support Horses and Hope’s programs at racetracks and farms in Kentucky’s horse industry. With its 2014 donation, Churchill Downs has donated $180,000 to Horses and Hope during its six-year Kentucky Oaks partnership.
  • Louisville-based food bank Dare to Care received a donation of $40,000 from the from the fifth annual “Taste of Derby Presented by Stella Artois” celebration in the North Wing Lobby of Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center on Thursday, May 1. The celebration of racing cuisine, celebrity and style attracted more than 1,500 patrons. Since the inaugural “Taste of Derby” in 2010, Churchill Downs has donated nearly $350,000 to hunger relief organizations in its home region and around the world.

Night racing at Churchill Downs and its unique blend of music, food, entertainment and top quality racing – introduced in 2009 – continued to attract large and enthusiastic crowds as the entertainment concept entered its sixth year. Four night racing sessions – including “Opening Night,” the “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka”/Stephen Foster Handicap program on Saturday, June 14, and “Downs After Dark” Friday programs on June 20 and 27 – attracted a total attendance of 78,559.  The June 14 session included the introduction of the Terrace Lounge and VIP Cabanas, an outdoor venue for patrons 21-and-over located in the Clubhouse Terrace that attracted sellout crowds in each of its first three “Downs After Dark” sessions.

Jockey Corey Lanerie rode 57 winners during the Spring Meet to collect his third consecutive riding title and fifth overall at Churchill Downs, a total that includes two Spring Meet crowns. Highlights of the meet for the 39-year-old native of Lafayette, La. included a win in the Grade II Fleur De Lis Presented by Etihad Airways and his first Kentucky Derby mount. Lanerie finished 16th in Derby 140 aboard Harry’s Holiday.

Napravnik’s Spring Meet was cut short when she suffered a shoulder injury in a June 15 training mishap and missed the meet’s final nine racing days, but her 31 victories to that point earned her a tie with Julien Leparoux for second in the race for leading rider. She had set a record for wins by a female rider during a racing meet at Churchill Downs when she piloted 45 winners during the 2013 Spring Meet, a total that surpassed a standard established in the spring of 1996 by retired jockey and current NBC Sports analyst Donna Barton Brothers. Napravnik earned five stakes victories during the meet topped by her Grade I triumphs in the Kentucky Oaks and the Humana Distaff, and also established a Churchill Downs record for wins in a single day by a female rider when she guided five horses into the winner’s circle on May 25. The previous record of four wins on a single program had also been set by Barton Brothers in the 1996 Spring Meet.

Leparoux, a nine-time Churchill Downs riding leader, enjoyed his strong Spring Meet after he returned to Kentucky following two years of riding at Southern California racetracks.

A veteran of the Churchill Downs jockey colony and a fresh new face achieved milestones during the meet. Veteran Joe Johnson, a 46-year-old native of Knottsville, Ky., earned his 1,000th career victory aboard Silver Antelope in the 10th race on June 5. At the other end of the spectrum, 16-year-old apprentice jockey Juan Saez earned his first victories at Churchill Downs and in the United States when he won the opening two races on June 20. Saez, a native of Panama and the younger brother of New York-based jockey Luis Saez, arrived late in the Spring Meet and finished with five victories.

Apprentice Erin Walker, 29, also achieved a personal milestone when she rode her first Churchill Downs winner on June 19.

The Kentucky Oaks victory by Untapable was the marquee moment of the meet for trainer Steve Asmussen, who saddled 21 winners to earn a record-extending 14th title as leading trainer at Churchill Downs. Asmussen pulled away late in the final week to emerge with his seventh Spring Meet crown following a tight battle with Dale Romans (16 wins), Mike Maker (16) and Brad Cox (15). The 48-year-old Asmussen also earned stakes victories during the meet with Tapiture in the Matt Winn (GIII), Cinco Charlie in the Bashford Manor (GIII), Regally Ready in the Opening Verse and Speedinthruthecity in the Roxelana. Romans won major Spring Meet stakes events with Silver Max in the Firecracker (GII) and Molly Morgan in the Fleur De Lis (GII).

Maggi Moss sent seven horses into the winner’s circle during the Spring Meet to earn her third Churchill Downs “leading owner” title.  A meet highlight for the Des Moines, Iowa-based Moss came when she teamed with Napravnik and trainer Tom Amoss for a victory by Delaunay in the Aristides (GIII) on May 31. The 2014 title by Moss snapped a string of three consecutive leading owner titles by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who swept the Spring Meet, September and Fall Meet crowns in 2013 and have earned a record 21 career leading owner titles at the Louisville track. Six owners collected four wins during the meet to tie for second behind Moss, who earned her earlier crowns at Churchill Downs in the Spring Meets in 2007 and 2010.

The Spring Meet stakes schedule was launched with a victory in the “Opening Night” Derby Trial (GIII) by Embellishing Bob, who was awarded the victory by stewards following the disqualification of apparent winner Bayern. Other notable stakes victories were earned by Central Banker in the Churchill Downs (GII), Coffee Clique in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (GII), Global View in the American Turf (GII), Fiftyshadesofgold in the Eight Belles (GIII), Honey Hues in the Early Times Mint Julep (GIII), Southern Honey in the Winning Colors (GIII), War Dancer in the Louisville Handicap (GIII), Aurelia’s Belle in the Regret (GIII), Marchman in the Twin Spires Turf Sprint (GIII), Promise Me Silver in the Debutante, Good Lord in the Kelly’s Landing, A Little Bit Sassy in the Edgewood and Sweet Cassiopeia in the Unbridled Sidney.

Churchill Downs racing resumes in its September Meet, scheduled over 12 dates (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) from Sept. 5-28. The track’s 26-date Fall Meet is set for Oct. 26-Nov. 30.

'Downs After Dark' Stephen Foster Stars Reported in Good Shape on Sunday

Following an exhilarating night of first-class racing Saturday under the Twin Spires, the equine stars of Stephen Foster Handicap Night at Churchill Downs were reported by their connections to be in good order.

In one of the most impressive performances of the year, Randy Patterson’s Moonshine Mullin scored a 1 ¾-length victory in the $552,500 Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (Grade I) and trainer Randy Morse said he came out of the race well.

"He came out great, really great,” Morse said. “We’re just going to let this win sink in and we’ll see what happens next.”

Morse did mention he would probably take a string of horses back to Saratoga upon the completion of the Churchill Downs Spring Meet, but did not say if Moonshine Mullin was pointed to a specific race.

The two Grade I events for handicap horses this summer at Saratoga are the Aug. 2 Whitney Invitational Handicap and Aug. 30 Woodward, both run at 1 1/8 miles.

Moonshine Mullin was followed in order by Will Take Charge, Departing, Mylute, Golden Ticket, Revolutionary, Long River, Prayer for Relief and Jaguar Paw.

“He came out of the race fine,” Will Take Charge conditioner D. Wayne Lukas said. “We’ll take a very serious look at the Whitney. This horse has an affinity for the Saratoga track.”

“Departing is fine,” trainer Al Stall Jr. said. “We were pleased with his effort and we will talk to the owners to see what’s in store next.”

Molly Morgan, Tapiture and Aurelia’s Belle also captured graded stakes wins on the “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka” racing program that attracted a crowd of 21,671.

Bill Cubbedge’s Molly Morgan took the $216,200 Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII), starting the race in last of six through the first half-mile, while Ondine got out to an early lead. Molly Morgan passed Flashy American to get to fifth after six furlongs and gained ground by slipping through along the rail around the stretch to take the lead, and drew clear by four lengths at the wire with jockey Corey Lanerie at the reigns.

“We were very pleased with her effort and her trip last night,” Molly Morgan’s trainer Dale Romans said. “This opens the door to some interesting options for her in the future; I can’t say for sure what those might be yet, but she came out great.”

After finishing 15th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred Tapiture bounced back to take the $109,400 Matt Winn (GIII) by two lengths for trainer Steve Asmussen.

“He was pretty impressive last night,” Asmussen said. “But he came out of the race fine and everything is good here. The Aug. 2 West Virginia Derby (GII) is a possibility for where we might take him next.”

With a rough trip in the final stages of the $111,900 Regret (GIII), James F. Miller’s Aurelia’s Belle was placed first by a disqualification of A Little Bit Sassy for trainer Wayne Catalano. A Little Bit Sassy was disqualified from first and placed fourth for veering out and impeding Kiss Moon and Aurelia’s Belle.

“She’s a very nice horse,” Catalano’s assistant Miguel Hernandez said. “She walked this morning and is sound; everything’s good.”

Following last night’s race, Catalano was unsure what the next start for Aurelia’s Belle would be but that he would most likely keep her on the turf.

WELL-BRED TAKE CHARGE BRANDI HEADS LIST OF 23 DEBUTANTE NOMS

Of the 23 2-year-old fillies nominated for Saturday’s 114th running of the $100,000-added Debutante at Churchill Downs, perhaps one of the most intriguing is Take Charge Brandi, an unraced daughter of Giant’s Causeway whose dam is a half-sister to 3-year-old Champion Will Take Charge and multiple graded stakes winner Take Charge Indy; and granddam is multiple Grade I winner Take Charge Lady.

Take Charge Brandi is owned and trained by the same connections of Will Take Charge, Willis D. Horton and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who have some high expectations for the filly.

“She’s doing great,” Lukas said. “We’re not quite sure if she’s ready for that step forward, but we’re very high on her.”

Horton purchased Take Charge Brandi for $450,000 at the 2013 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, less than two weeks after Will Take Charge collected his first Grade I victory in the Travers.

"It’s pretty special to have one out of the same family and she’s been training really well,” Lukas said. “But like they always say, don’t tell me, show me.”

Take Charge Brandi breezed a half mile in :48 Sunday morning. Before that, she breezed three furlongs from the gate in :35.60, which was the fastest of 20 workers at the distance on June 7.

Likely Debutante starters include Little Bear Racing, Ingrid Mason and Melissa Wilkey’s Irish Nuggets for co-owner/trainer Mason; Robert G. Luttrell’s Promise Me Silver for trainer Bret Calhoun; David Ingordo’s Rousanne trained by Steve Asmussen; John C. Oxley’s Unbridled Reward for trainer Mark Casse; and Blue Checker Thoroughbreds LLC’s Zip It Kim trained by John Hancock.

The six-furlong Debutante is the first stakes test for 2-year-old fillies offered by Churchill Downs. Last year’s winner was Fiftyshadesofgold, who came back as a 3-year-old to win the 2014 Eight Belles (GIII) on Kentucky Oaks Day.

RESERVE YOUR SEATS FOR THE ‘TERRACE LOUNGE’ ON FRIDAY NIGHT

This Friday, June 21, Churchill Downs again will transform the new Grandstand Terrace into the “Terrace Lounge,” a 21-and-over lounge-style environment that features a live DJ, club/lounge style lighting and décor, premium food and cocktails and use of the grandstand terrace’s patio and stadium style seating.

Tickets to Downs After Dark in the lounge are $25 and can be reserved in advance with a limited total capacity. The Terrace Lounge will be available at all three Downs After Dark events this Spring, with the hopes of continuing it again in the future if successful.

For $99 per ticket, Churchill Downs is also offering Terrace Lounge VIP Cabana seating, which includes an open bar from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m., a premium buffet designed by Chef David Danielson and concierge wait service. These tickets reserve special plush seating for groups of any number within one of the four covered cabanas at the end of the Grandstand Terrace.

Click here for a PDF copy of Churchill Downs' Race Day Notes for Sunday, June 15 - packed with statistics and other special information.