NATES MINESHAFT CONFIRMED FOR SATURDAY’S STEPHEN FOSTER – Trainer Austin Smith has confirmed Tuesday that Windy Hill Farm’s Nates Mineshaft, a 7 ¼-length winner of both the Lone Star Park Handicap (Grade III) in his most recent start and the New Orleans Handicap (GII) earlier at Fair Grounds, will compete in Saturday night’s 31st running of the $400,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs.
Nates Mineshaft, a 5-year-old ridgling by Mineshaft, also was under consideration for the Firecracker Handicap (GII), which will be run on the Matt Winn Turf Course on July 1, the closing day of the 2012 Spring Meet. But Smith updated his star’s Stephen Foster status from “probable” to “definite” on Tuesday.
“It’s a Grade I and he doesn’t have to ship anywhere,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a tough race, but you have to find out what you’ve got.”
The 2012 Stephen Foster for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on the main track will make history as it will be the first renewal of the race run under the lights. It is the main event among four stakes races scheduled that evening as part of the “Downs After Dark” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka racing program.
After completing his 4-year-old campaign in a $25,000 claiming race at Fair Grounds in December, a race which he won by 4 ¾ lengths, Nates Mineshaft has established himself in the first half of 2012 as one of the top older horses in training. He has won four of his five starts this year, highlighted by victories in the Mineshaft (GIII), New Orleans Handicap (GII) and the aforementioned Lone Star Park Handicap.
“It took me a while to figure him out,” Smith said. “He’s a nice, quiet horse and I think he needed some TLC and I learned to train him differently. He’s really blossomed.”
Nates Mineshaft’s lone off-the-board performance this year came over the Churchill Downs track in the Alysheba Presented by Besilu Stables (GII) on Kentucky Oaks Day when he finished sixth of eight.
“That was more my fault than the horse’s,” Smith said. “There was some speed in the race and I told (jockey) Jesse (Campbell) to rate him. At Lone Star, we let him roll (on the lead) and it worked out a lot better.”
Smith said Campbell, who was aboard Nates Mineshaft for his last six races, will have the Foster mount.
Saturday’s Stephen Foster will mark the first time the race has been part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In" Challenge Series. The Stephen Foster winner will earn an automatic starting berth in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita, his entry fees to the Championships will be paid by the Breeders’ Cup and the winning stable will receive a $10,000 travel allowance.
ALTERNATION CONTINUES FOSTER PREP WITH FIVE-EIGHTHS BREEZE – Pin Oak Stable’s homebred Alternation, the top-ranked horse in the latest NTRA Poll, completed his major training preparations for Saturday’s Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs with an easy five-furlong breeze in 1:05.40 on the fast main track beneath the Twin Spires on Tuesday morning.
Working prior to the morning renovation break under regular exercise rider David Contreras, Alternation recorded fractions of :14.20, :28, :41.20, :53.60 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:18.20 and seven furlongs in 1:32.20.
Even though the work was the slowest of 12 at the distance, trainer Donnie Von Hemel was happy with the breeze.
“He started out slow, but then finished very nicely and galloped out very well,” Von Hemel said. “He came back to the barn full of himself.”
A 4-year-old dark by or brown son of Distorted Humor, Alternation is undefeated in four starts this year. He won the Essex Handicap, the Razorback Handicap (GIII) and Oaklawn Handicap (GII) – all at Oaklawn Park – prior to just getting his nose on the wire ahead of Zayat Stables LLC’s Nehro last time out in the Pimlico Special (GIII).
Overall, Alternation has a career record of 8-1-1 from 13 starts and earnings of $900,004.
Weighted at one pound lighter than the top weight Wise Dan, Alternation will carry 122 pounds in Saturday’s Stephen Foster and will be ridden by Luis Quinonez, who has been aboard the colt for nine of his career starts, including seven of his eight victories.
MISSION IMPAZIBLE GETS SETTLED IN FAMILIAR SURROUNDINGS – Twin Creeks Racing Stables LLC’s Mission Impazible has spent a good portion of his career at Churchill Downs and was doing well in that familiar setting Tuesday morning after arriving at the Louisville track Monday to continue his preparations for his second consecutive bid for the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI).
"He arrived in good shape,” said assistant trainer and Louisville-native Whit Beckman, who traveled with the horse from New York for trainer Todd Pletcher. “He jogged a mile this morning and he looked great.”
Mission Impazible, who is stabled in the stakes barn (Barn 17), will be making his sixth start at Churchill Downs in the Stephen Foster and, while he has yet to record a victory over the track, he has run very well beneath the Twin Spires. His five starts include a third in the Kentucky Juvenile (GIII) as a 2-year-old and runner-up finishes in both the Stephen Foster and Clark Handicap (GI) last year during his 4-year-old campaign.
“We feel like he has good form (at Churchill Downs) and this is a good opportunity to take a shot at a Grade I,” Pletcher said via phone from his barn at Belmont Park. “The horse is doing really well, so we’re giving it a try.”
A 5-year-old gray or roan son of Unbridled’s Song, Mission Impazible’s career record of 3-7-2 from 18 starts is highlighted by wins in the 2010 Louisiana Derby (GII) and 2011 New Orleans Handicap (GII) His bankroll stands at $1,251,903.
He will be ridden Saturday by Javier Castellano, who was aboard Mission Impazible in last year’s Clark and Stephen Foster, and will carry 116 pounds.
PROSPECTIVE FIELDS FOR STEPHEN FOSTER DAY STAKES RACES – The “Downs After Dark” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka racing program on Saturday, June 16 will be highlighted by the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI), the Fleur de Lis (GII), the Matt Winn (GIII) and the Regret (GIII).
The following is a list of horses believed by Churchill Downs officials to be pointing to each stakes race.
The 31st running of the $400,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles: Wise Dan (trained by Charlie Lopresti, weighted at 123 pounds), Alternation (Donnie Von Hemel, 122), Ron the Greek (Bill Mott, 119), Nates Mineshaft (Austin Smith, 118), Fort Larned (Ian Wilkes, 117), Mission Impazible (Todd Pletcher, 116), Nehro (Steve Asmussen, 116), Astrology (Asmussen, 115) and Rogue Romance (Ken McPeek, 115).
Successful Dan, winner of the Alysheba Presented by Besilu Stables (GII), will likely be entered in the Stephen Foster, but only as a back-up plan in the event Wise Dan scratches. Lopresti said the Morton Fink homebreds would not run against each other.
The 37th running of the $150,000-added Fleur de Lis Presented by Finlandia Vodka for fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles: Royal Delta (trained by Bill Mott, weighted at 123 pounds), the reigning 3-year-old filly champion and winner of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI); 2011 Kentucky Oaks (GI) runner-up St. John’s River (Andy Leggio Jr., 118), Afleeting Lady (Dale Romans, 116) and It’s Tea Time (Rusty Arnold, 115). Absinthe Minded (Wayne Lukas, 116) and Distorted Love (Helen Pitts-Blasi, 114) are believed to be possible.
The 15th running of the $100,000-added Matt Winn for 3-year-olds and 1 1/16 miles: Macho Macho (trained by Steve Asmussen), Master Rick (Asmussen), Neck ’n Neck (Ian Wilkes), Right to Vote (Eoin Harty) and Stealcase (Mark Casse). Reigning American 2-year-old champion Hansen (Mike Maker) is listed as possible for the Matt Winn.
The 43rd running of the $100,000-added Regret for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on turf: Centre Court (trained by Rusty Arnold), Colonial Flag (Michael Matz), Coup (Graham Motion), Golden History (Mark Casse), Heart of Destiny (Jimmy Baker), Central Bank Ashland (GI) winner Karlovy Vary (Arnold), Left a Message (Tom Proctor), Silver Hustler (Grant Forster), Singn on Themoon (Mark Hubley), Treasured Up (Al Stall Jr.) and Zapper Belle (Dan Peitz). Funny Proposition (Casse) is considered possible.
BARN TALK – Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge’s Afleeting Lady, winner of a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Churchill Downs on May 19, will be entered in Saturday’s $150,000-added Fleur de Lis Presented by Finlandia Vodka (GII) according to Baldemar Bahena, assistant to trainer Dale Romans. Afleeting Lady is a half-sister to Metropolitan Mile (GI) and 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford.
“It’s going to be a tough race with (trainer Bill) Mott’s filly (Royal Delta) in the race, but Afleeting Lady is doing really well,” Bahena said. “She worked great on Sunday (bullet four furlongs in :47.20) and she loves this track.”
Bahena also reported that Donegal Racing’s Dullahan and Frank Jones Jr.’s Tapitsfly returned from New York to the Romans barn at Churchill Downs on Monday. Dullahan finished seventh in the Belmont (GI) as the 5-2 favorite and Tapitsfly won the Longines Just a Game (GI). Both horses shipped well and are reported to be in good order.
Lauffer and Cubbedge’s Shackleford, winner of the Met Mile (GI) at Belmont Park on May 28, also returned to the Romans barn at Churchill Downs on Monday. The 4-year-old chestnut son of Forestry was given a couple of weeks of R & R at WinStar Farm in Versailles, Ky. after his Met Mile victory. …
Bluegrass Hall LLC’s Optimizer, the only horse to compete in all three legs of this year’s Triple Crown, returned to the Wayne Lukas barn at Churchill Downs in good order on Sunday.
WORKTAB – Bob and Cathy Zollars’ Daddy Nose Best, winner of the El Camino Real Derby (GIII) and Sunland Derby (GIII) prior to finishing 10th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and ninth in the Preakness (GI), breezed five furlongs around the dogs on the firm Matt Winn Turf Course on Tuesday morning in 1:04. The Steve Asmussen-trained colt has a record of 2-1-1 from six career turf starts and earnings of $102,738. …
Fox Hill Farms Inc.’s Joyful Victory breezed three furlongs in :37.40 for trainer Larry Jones on the fast main track at Churchill Downs on Tuesday morning. It was the first published workout for the 4-year-old gray or roan daughter of Tapit since April 14 on the Polytrack at Keeneland. Joyful Victory was fourth as the favorite in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI) last year off her 8 ¾-length victory in the Honeybee (GIII) and seven-length victory in the Fantasy (GII) at Oaklawn Park. …
Dorothy Self and Berry King’s Blueeyesintherein recorded her first published work for trainer Garry Simms since breaking her maiden in her career debut at Churchill Downs by 3 ¾ lengths. The 2-year-old dark bay or brown filly by Magna Graduate breezed five furlongs in 1:03.20 on the fast main track. She is being pointed to the $100,000-added Debutante (GIII) at Churchill Downs on June 23. The Debutante was won last year by King’s Flashy Lassie for Simms. …
Silverton Hill LLC’s Havelock, a three-time graded stakes winner, breezed six furlongs on the main track in 1:15.40 for trainer Darrin Miller. A 5-year-old bay gelding by Great Notion, Havelock won the Hanshin Cup (GIII) on the Polytrack at Arlington Park in his most recent start.