Wise Dan, the winner of last fall’s Clark Handicap (Grade I) at Churchill Downs who recently broke a track record at Keeneland in his 10 ½-length romp in the Ben Ali (GIII), was reported to be full of himself Thursday morning and trainer Charlie Lopresti said his star is ready for Saturday’s $400,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI).
The 31st running of the Stephen Foster for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on the main track is the main event on the “Downs After Dark” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka racing program that also will feature the $150,000-added Fleur de Lis (GII), $100,000-added Matt Winn (GIII) and $100,000-added Regret (GIII).
“Wise Dan is spot on,” Lopresti said via phone from his barn at Keeneland. “He was even rearing up when we were grazing him this morning.”
Morton Fink’s homebred Wise Dan is coupled in the Stephen Foster wagering with Successful Dan, another Fink homebred trained by Lopresti. Wise Dan’s older half-brother who broke the track record at Churchill Downs in his win in the Alysheba Presented by Besilu Stables (GII) on Kentucky Oaks Day. The Fink entry is the morning-line favorite at 8-5, but Lopresti has said Successful Dan is only entered as a back-up plan in case Wise Dan must scratch.
“Wise Dan will ship to Churchill Downs the morning of the race, like we do with all the horses we run there,” Lopresti said. “I don’t think I’ll bring Successful Dan (on the van to Louisville), but I’ll have to think about it. I guess something could happen to Wise Dan on the van. Right now, I would say I’m not going to bring Successful Dan.
“Successful Dan is doing really well, but Wise Dan is doing equally as well. I could run either of them, but Wise Dan has only run once this year and Successful Dan has run twice, so Wise Dan gets this assignment.”
Lopresti said Successful Dan is being pointed to the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (GIII on June 30) or the Suburban (GII at Belmont Park on July 7).
Even with the scratch of Successful Dan, Wise Dan is still expected to be the favorite when horses break from the gate in the Stephen Foster o Saturday at 9:39 p.m. (all times Eastern). A 5-year-old gelded son of Wiseman’s Ferry, Wise Dan has made four previous starts in graded stakes events beneath the Twin Spires, but, while he was victorious in two of those races, he was never favored. Lopresti said he’s not completely comfortable being the one with the target on his back.
“It’s different. I don’t like all the hype,” Lopresti said. “I don’t want the pressure on my horses. I’m a little bit nervous because there’s a lot on the line. Everyone is expecting him to run the same kind of race he ran in the Ben Ali, but this is a lot tougher spot.”
Wise Dan’s recent race in the Ben Ali not only brought hype, but that performance, along with his victory in the Clark Handicap, prompted Churchill Downs Racing Secretary Ben Huffman to assign him high weight of 123 pounds among the field of nine entered for the Stephen Foster.
Wise Dan will break from post three in Saturday’s race under jockey John Velazquez.
“The main thing is that he runs well and comes back in good shape and we have a horse for the rest of the year,” Lopresti said. “It’s still early in the year, especially for him with it just being his second start.”
Lopresti noted the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) as a possible year-end goal for Wise Dan, who would earn an automatic berth in that race on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita with a win in the Stephen Foster. As a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race, the Stephen Foster winner also will have their entry fees to the Championships paid by the Breeders’ Cup and will receive a $10,000 travel allowance.
CASSE HOPES STEALCASE WILL PROVE HIMSELF AS BEST IN THE BARN – One might think John Oxley’s Prospective would have held the title of top 3-year-old in the Mark Casse barn off his Tampa Bay Derby (GII) victory and participation in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI). But that honor in the Casse barn belongs to Stealcase, who will seek to solidify himself as the best in the barn in Saturday’s $100,000-added Matt Winn (GIII).
The 15th running of the Matt Winn for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the main track at Churchill Downs is scheduled to go as Race 5 on the Stephen Foster Handicap ‘Downs After Dark” program at 7:57 p.m.
“From day one, Stealcase has outworked everyone and he’s shown more natural ability,” assistant trainer Norman Casse said. “We respect Prospective as well, but we always thought Stealcase was our Derby horse. I just don’t think he was mentally ready for those types of races, but now he’s putting it all together.”
A chestnut son of Lawyer Ron, Stealcase broke his maiden in his first start this year and then had two off-the-board finishes in the Gotham (GIII) and Vinery Racing Spiral (GIII). After disappointing in those races, he was taken off the Derby trail and aimed for The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (GIII) at Churchill Downs, where he ran well to finish third behind Hierro and eventual Belmont (GI) runner-up Paynter.
Following his run in The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial, Stealcase won a one-mile allowance on May 31 at Churchill Downs by a widening four lengths as the 3-5 favorite.
“In his last two races we got to see the talent we thought he had all along,” Casse said. “We wanted to run him in the allowance to get him some confidence, but didn’t want to leave it all on the track because we knew we wanted to run in the Matt Winn.”
Stealcase will break from post two in the Matt Winn under Shaun Bridgmohan and, while he will only face four rivals, it is a very competitive field.
“It’s a pretty good race,” Casse said. “You can make a case for every horse. Whoever wins will come out of the race as a well-respected horse.”
Stealcase’s main rival Saturday night could be Casner Racing Stable and Sam Pollock’s Right to Vote, the runner-up to Mark Valeski in the Peter Pan (GII) at Belmont Park. A gelded son of Political Force, Right to Vote will break from post four under Javier Castellano.
CENTRE COURT SEEKS REGRET WIN OFF MAIDEN VICTORY – Centre Court, a G. Watts Humphrey and Louise Ireland Humphrey Revocable Trust 2008 homebred, will be seeking both her second career win and first graded stakes triumph in the 43rd running of the $100,000-added Regret (GIII) at Churchill Downs on Saturday night.
The Regret for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course is scheduled as Race 6 on Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
The Rusty Arnold-trained Centre Court debuted on the dirt at Churchill Downs last spring and did not show much, finishing fifth in the field of 10 in what was her only start of her 2-year-old season.
She began her 3-year-old campaign in March on the turf at Gulfstream Park and finished second by a head to Kitty Wine. After another runner-up finish on the grass at Keeneland in April, Centre Court crossed the line first in a 1 1/8-mile maiden special on the Matt Winn Turf Course, 4 ¾ lengths ahead of the other 10 fillies and mares in the field.
“She’s doing really well and we like her a lot,” Arnold said. “Hopefully she’s an improving filly. It’s a big jump to go from a maiden race to a Grade III, but sometimes you have to get aggressive when spotting 3-year-olds. Also, we’re big supporters of Churchill Downs and try to run our horses there.
“There are some nice fillies in there that all have some experience on her, but she’s run really well in all three of her turf starts and she’s probably been unfortunate to only have one win.”
A dark bay or brown filly by Smart Strike out of the A. P. Indy mare Let, who won the Churchill Downs Distaff (GII now known as the Chilukki) beneath the Twin Spires in 1999, Centre Court will break from post two in the field of 11 under Javier Castellano.
“We’re excited with her,” Arnold said. “If things go the right way, she would go to California for the American Oaks (GI at 1 ¼ miles on the turf at Hollywood Park on July 14).”
Arnold said Centre Court has been training at Keeneland for Saturday’s Regret and will van to Louisville tomorrow.
BARN TALK – Nominations for the 111th running of the Bashford Manor (GIII) and the 22nd running of the Firecracker Handicap (GII) close Saturday, June 16. The $100,000-added Bashford Manor for 2-year-olds will be run at six furlongs on the main track on June 30 and the $150,000-added Firecracker for 3-year-olds and up at one mile on the Matt Winn Turf Course will be run on July 1, closing day of the 2012 Spring Meet. …
Churchill Downs has added additional Pick 4 and Pick 5 wagers to its betting menu for Saturday’s star-studded Stephen Foster Handicap “Downs After Dark” racing program. There will be four Pick 4 wagers that evening and second is an all-stakes Pick 4 that concludes with the Grade I Foster, which is scheduled as the 8th event on the 11-race program. All Pick 4 wagers at Churchill Downs are 50-cent minimum bets and the Foster Night Pick 4 wagers will begin in the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 8th races. The program will feature a pair of Pick 5 bets, both 50-cent minimum wagers. The first begins in the 4th race, includes all four stakes events and will conclude with the Foster. The regular Pick 5 will cover races 7-11.
WORKTAB – In preparation for Saturday’s 43rd running of the $100,000-added Regret (GIII) at Churchill Downs, Glen Hill Farm’s Left a Message breezed three furlongs around the dogs on the firm Matt Winn Turf Course on Thursday morning in :36.40 for trainer Tom Proctor. …
Bert, Elaine and Richard Klein’s Good Deed, runner-up in the Eight Belles Presented by Xerox (GIII) on Kentucky Oaks Day and most recently fifth in the Winning Colors (GIII), breezed four furlongs on the fast main track at Churchill Downs in :49.80 for trainer Steve Margolis. It was the 17th fastest of 38 at the distance. …
Michael Tabor and Mrs. John Magnier’s Battle Hardened, winner of the Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay, breezed four furlongs in :48.60 for trainer Eddie Kenneally. The work was the sixth fastest of 38 at the distance. Battle Hardened has not raced since finishing sixth in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII).
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