It’s back to the main track for Gallant Stables’ Majestic 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. Stables’ Protonico, 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.