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 Stables’ Kentucky 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.