Thomas McCarthy’s General Quarters will be aiming for a slice of horse racing history, but rising stars Battle Plan and Blame will likely occupy the roles of favorites Saturday when 11 horses enter the starting gate for the 29th running of the $600,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I) at Churchill Downs.
The Stephen Foster, run at 1 1/8 miles on the main track, serves as the centerpiece of the 11-race Kentucky Derby Alumni Day program that also four others graded stakes. The day’s other major attraction is the $200,000-added Fleur De Lis (GII) for fillies and mares 3-year-olds and up, which has attracted reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra as the favorite in a field of five. First post time is 12:45 p.m. (all times EDT) with the Stephen Foster going as the day’s 10th race with a post time of 5:29 p.m.
Three previous Stephen Foster winners have gone on to win Horse of the Year honors in the year of their victory with the most recent being Curlin in 2008. Others were Saint Liam (2005) and Black Tie Affair (1991).
General Quarters, the 4-1 third choice in Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia’s morning line odds for the Stephen Foster, will be attempting to join Lava Man as the only horse to win Grade I races on dirt, grass and a synthetic surface. General Quarters, who won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) in his most recent start, won the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in 2009 over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface.
General Quarters returns to the dirt Saturday, a surface he raced on during the Fair Grounds meet as he returned from seven months away from the races after having a small chip removed from his right front knee. The 4-year-old gray colt had four runner-up finishes in four starts in New Orleans with the last coming in the New Orleans Handicap (GII) on March 27 to Overbrook Farm’s Battle Plan, the 5-2 morning line favorite in the Stephen Foster.
Alex Solis will have the mount on General Quarters, who will share the starting high weight of 120 pounds with Arson Squad and Blame. General Quarters will break from post position six.
The 5-year-old Battle Plan, a regally bred son of Empire Maker out of champion Flanders, is unraced since winning the New Orleans Handicap. The Todd Pletcher trainee picks up two pounds from his Fair Grounds triumph and will carry 119 pounds in the Stephen Foster. Javier Castellano will ride Battle Plan, who has won his past four starts. Battle Plan will break from post position two.
Blame, owned by Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm, enters the Stephen Foster on a three-race win streak and is the 3-1 second choice in Battaglia’s morning line.. Trained by Al Stall Jr., the 4-year-old Blame opened his 2010 campaign with a victory in the W.D. Schaefer Stakes (GIII) at Pimlico after closing 2009 with scores in the Clark Handicap (GII) at Churchill Downs and the Fayette (GII) at Keeneland.
Garrett Gomez, who was aboard Blame for the first time in the victory at Pimlico, has the riding assignment Saturday. Blame will break from post position 11.
Jay Em Ess Stable’s Arson Squad is the veteran of the group at age seven. One of three millionaires in the race – General Quarters and Macho Again are the others – Arson Squad has won his past two starts in the Alysheba (GIII) here on April 30 and the Skip Away (GIII) at Gulfstream Park on April 3.
A five-time graded stakes winner, Arson Squad is trained by Rick Dutrow and will be ridden by Paco Lopez. Arson Squad will break from post position five.
One other Stephen Foster starter comes into Saturday’s race off a graded stakes victory: Duke of Mischief, owned by Alex and Joann Lieblong, Marilyn McMaster and trainer David Fawkes. Duke of Mischief, who will carry 116 pounds and be ridden by Eibar Coa, won the Oaklawn Handicap (GII) on April 3 in his most recent start. Duke of Mischief will break from post position four.
Back to defend his title in the Stephen Foster is West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again, trained by Dallas Stewart. The 5-year-old gray will attempt to join Vodika Collins (1982-83) and Recoup The Cash (1994-95) as the only repeat winners of the race. Macho Again, a well-beaten seventh to Arson Squad in the Alysheba in his only start of the year, is an 8-1 morning line risk as he defends his Foster title.
Macho Again will carry 116 pounds, break from post position nine and be ridden by Robby Albarado. Albarado, who has won the last three runnings of the Stephen Foster with Flashy Bull (2007), Curlin (’08) and Macho Again is attempting to become the first rider in Churchill Downs history to win the same Grade I race in four consecutive years. Pat Day won the Humana Distaff five consecutive years, but that was before the race attained Grade I status.
The field for the Stephen Foster (with jockey, weight and morning line odds), from the rail out, is as follows: A.U. Miner (Francisco Torres, 113 pounds, 30-1), Battle Plan (Castellano, 119, 5-2), Giant Oak (Shaun Bridgmohan, 115, 20-1), Duke of Mischief (Coa, 116, 6-1), Arson Squad (Lopez, 120, 8-1), General Quarters (Solis, 120, 4-1), Honest Man (Jose Lezcano, 115, 15-1), No Advantage (Calvin Borel, 117, 30-1), Macho Again (Albarado, 116, 8-1), Demarcation (Miguel Mena, 115, 30-1) and Blame (Gomez, 120, 3-1).