The Virginia H Tarra Trust’s Giant Oak, winner of Churchill Downs’ $500,000 Clark Handicap (GI) in 2010 and this year’s Donn Handicap (GI) at Gulfstream Park, and Spendthrift Farm LLC’s Crown of Thorns, winner of the recent Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (GIII) at Hollywood Park, head a roster of 31 horses nominated to compete in the 30th running of the $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) on June 18.

The 2010 Stephen Foster Handicap was won by Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Blame, who would return to Churchill Downs in November to down previously unbeaten Zenyatta in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Blame was the fourth horse to take the Stephen Foster and the Classic in the same year.  Others who completed that sweep were Black Tie Affair (1991), Awesome Again (1998) andSaint Liam (2005).  Black Tie Affair and Saint Liam also won their respective renewals of the Stephen Foster on their way to Horse of the Year honors.  Two other horses competed in the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up on their way to being honored with the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year: Mineshaft, who finished second toPerfect Drift in the 2003 Stephen Foster, and Curlin, who won the race as a 4-year-old in 2008 on his way to his second consecutive Horse of the Year award.

Churchill Downs also released nomination lists Monday for the three other graded stakes races set for Stephen Foster Handicap Day.  Those races are the $125,000-added Matt Winn (GIII), formerly known as the Northern Dancer, for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the main track; the $125,000-added Regret (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course; and the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (GIII) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Giant Oak, a 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway trained Chris Block, is expected to make his second bid for the Foster after finishing fourth to Blame in the 2010 renewal.  He returned to Churchill Downs in the fall to win the 136th running of the Clark Handicap via the disqualification of Successful Dan, and then kicked off his 2011 campaign with an impressive two-length victory in the Donn.  The Illinois-bred Giant Oak would bring a two-race losing streak into the Foster after finishing third in the New Orleans Handicap (GII) at Fair Grounds and a close fifth in the Alysheba (GIII) on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs.

His career record stands at 5-5-4 in 26 races with earnings of $1,307,001.                       

Crown of Thorns, a 6-year-old son of Repent trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, was headed to Churchill Downs for a run in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) last fall, but was sidelined by injury.  He returned to the winner’s circle last month with his victory over Sidney’s Candy in the Mervyn Leroy on Hollywood Park’s synthetic Cushion Track surface.  The lightly-raced Crown of Thorns won the Robert B. Lewis (GII) at Santa Anita at three, but injury knocked him out of consideration for that year’sKentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).  On his return to racing more than a year later, Crown of Thorns notched four consecutive runner-up finishes in Grade I races.  The string included the Ancient Title and Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita at four, and last year’s Pat O’Brien and Goodwood at Santa Anita.

Crown of Thorns has a career record of 3-4-1 in 10 races with earnings of $777,080.

Other nominees considered possible for Foster include: Adele Dilschneider’s Apart, winner of Pimlico’s William Donald Schaefer Memorial (GIII) – a race won last year by stablemate Blame prior to his Foster triumph; Alex and Joann Lieblong, Marilyn McMaster and Fawkes Racing, Inc.’s Duke of Mischief, winner of the $1 million Charles Town Classic and career earner of $1,662,546; Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable’s Equestrio, a narrowly beaten third in his stakes debut in Churchill Downs’ Alysheba; Donald Dizney’s Alysheba winner First Dude, runner-up in the 2010 Preakness (GI) and third-place finisher in the Belmont Stakes (GI) who has earned $1,142,140; Preston Stables LLC’s Flat Out, runner-up in the recent Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII);  Twin Creeks Racing Stable’s Mission Impazible, winner of the New Orleans Handicap and the 2009 Louisiana Derby (GII), but seventh as the Alysheba favorite; William S. Farish Jr.’s Pool Play, winner of the Dominion Day (GIII) at Woodbine and runner-up in the recent Elkhorn (GII) on the Keeneland turf; Godolphin’s Regal Ransom, the Alysheba runner-up, winner of 2009’s UAE Derby (GII) and Super Derby (GII) and a career earner of $1,887,972; and Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Headache and Jay Em Ess Stable’s Worldly, impressive recent winners of allowance races at Churchill Downs.

With the Triple Crown series set to conclude on Saturday with the running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes (GI), the second half of the racing season for 3-year-olds kicks off in the Matt Winn, formerly known as the Northern Dancer but now named in honor of Churchill Downs’ legendary president and general manager.  Col. Matt Winn, who arrived at Churchill Downs in 1902 and led the track until his death in 1949, is credited with lifting both the Kentucky Derby and its historic home to their status as world-renowned sports icons.

Several prominent 3-year-olds are listed among the 33 nominees to the Matt Winn, including Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro; Astrology, third in the Preakness; andPrime Cut and Santiva, Derby runners scheduled to compete in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.  But this year’s renewal is setting up as launching pad for under-the-radar 3-year-olds that could prove to be important horses during the second half of 2011.

Horses considered likely to run in the Matt Winn at this early stage include Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Bind, a highly regarded son of Pulpit who would make his stakes debut after he suffered a narrow loss to older rival Worldly in a Kentucky Derby Day allowance race; George Bolton, Stonestreet Stables LLC andSpendthrift Farm LLC’s Dominus, a narrow runner-up to Machen in the $200,000-added The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (GIII) on April 30; and Mike Pegram’s unbeaten C J Russell, a homebred son of El Corredor who has scored a pair of dazzling wins during the Spring Meet at Churchill Downs.

Bobby Flay’s More Than Real, winner of the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf (GII);  Five D Thoroughbreds and Wind River Stables’ Kathmanblu, winner of Churchill Downs’ Golden Rod (GII) and the Rachel Alexandra (GIII) at Fair Grounds; andZayat Stable LLC’s Edgewood winner Diva Ash top a list of 25 3-year-old fillies nominated to the 42nd running of the $125,000-added Regret (GIII) at 1 1/16 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course.

Trainer Todd Pletcher’s More Than Real, a daughter of More Than Ready who has won two of three starts, has not competed since her Breeders’ Cup victory, but has returned to serious training at Belmont Park.  The Ken McPeek-trained Kathmanblu has not competed since a disappointing eighth-place run behind Plum Pretty in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI).  She displayed her turf prowess in a victory in last year’s Jessamine on the Keeneland grass, a troubled third-place run behind More Than Real in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and a win in Gulfstream Park’s Sweetest Chant earlier this year.

Other Regret nominees include Right Time Racing LLC’s Bouquet Booth and Street Storm, who finished fifth and eighth, respectively, in the Kentucky Oaks for trainerSteve Margolis.

The nomination roster for the 36th running of the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup for 3-year-olds at a mile and a sixteenth on turf is headed by Glen Hill Farm’s homebredBanned, who romped to a 4 ½-length victory in the American Turf (GII) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day.

Banned has scored three victories in six career races, but the American Turf was his breakthrough win in stakes competition.  The Tom Proctor-trained son of turf champion Kitten’s Joy, fifth to Pluck in last fall’s Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GII) at Churchill Downs, now has career earnings of $231,186.

The Jefferson Cup nominees include a pair of horses that competed in the Kentucky Derby won by Animal Kingdom: Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s homebred Derby Kitten, who finished 13th in the Run for the Roses, and  Alpha Stables, Skychai Racing LLCand Sand Dollar Stable LLC’s Twinspired, who ran 17th.

Derby Kitten has already competed since his run in the May 7 Derby, finishing third in the Lone Star Derby at Lone Star Park on May 30.  The Kitten’s Joy colt has competed eight times on grass and notched his first career win on that surface in a 7 ½ furlong maiden race for $75,000 claiming horses at Gulfstream Park.  He ran second in the Alligator Alley Stakes on the Tampa Bay Downs turf before he earned his spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate with his upset victory on synthetic Polytrack in the Coolmore Lexington.

Twinspired earned his Kentucky Derby shot when he was caught in the final stride byBrilliant Speed in his runner-up finish the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass (GI) at Keeneland.  The son of Harlan’s Holiday has run twice on grass, but has yet to finish better than fourth on the surface.

Other 3-year-olds nominated to the Jefferson Cup include William S. Farish and Skara Glen Stable’s American Turf runner-up Close Ally, who also ran second on dirt in last week’s Lone Star Derby; Millennium Farm’s Great Mills, winner of Fair Grounds’ Grindstone, runner-up in the Transylvania (GIII) at Keeneland and fourth in the American Turf; Get Away Farm Racing Stable’s Master Dunker, winner via disqualification in the Hallandale Beach at Gulfstream Park; Gary and Mary West Stables’ Beachcombing, runner-up in Monmouth Park’s Lamplighter; and Team Valor International and Gary Barber’s Meistersinger, an allowance winner on dirt on Sunday, June 5 at Churchill Downs.

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