Hronis Racing LLC’s Santa Anita Handicap (Grade I) winner Gift Box will invade from the West Coast to take on Charles Fipke’s 2017 Clark Handicap (GI) hero Seeking the Soul and China Horse Club International, WinStar Farm and Head of Plains Partners’ multiple Grade I-winner Yoshida (JPN) in Saturday night’s 38th running of the $600,000 Stephen Foster Presented by GE Appliances (GII) – the centerpiece of an action-packed, prime-time program at Churchill Downs billed as “Downs After Dark Presented by Budweiser.”
The 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster is the richest of six graded stakes races on Saturday’s special 11-race night racing card that begins at 6 p.m. (all times Eastern). Total purses on the evening are more than $1.8 million, which makes it the most lucrative racing day for horsemen at Churchill Downs outside of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks programs.
Other stakes events scheduled on the night are the $250,000 Fleur de Lis Presented by Budweiser (GII) for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles headlined by La Troienne (GI) winner She’s a Julie along with multiple Grade I-winners Elate and Blue Prize (ARG); the $250,000 Wise Dan (GII) for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles on turf with an over-subscribed field of 15 horses including seven-time Grade II winner Itsinthepost (FR); the $150,000 Matt Winn (GIII) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles featuring Pat Day Mile (GIII) hero Mr. Money; a well-matched cast of 11 3-year-old fillies in the $150,000 Regret (GIII) at 1 1/8 miles on grass; and the $100,000 President of the UAE Cup Sponsored by the UAE Ministry of Presidential Affairs (GI) for Arabian 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles.
The Stephen Foster has been carded as Race 8 at 9:47 p.m. NBCSN will televise the race from 8:30-10 p.m. as part of its 2019 “Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In presented by America’s Best Racing” television schedule. Also, Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will air live coverage on SiriusXM 156 from 8-10 p.m. and TVG will provide live on-site updates throughout the evening.
After the third race winner’s circle presentation is complete, there will be a special ceremony in the Woodford Reserve Winner’s Circle for Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Country House’s connections – owners Mrs. J. V. Shields Jr., E.J.M. McFadden Jr. and LNJ Foxwoods and trainer Bill Mott – to receive their engraved Kentucky Derby 145 trophies. Jockey Flavien Prat has commitments to ride at Santa Anita and will not make the evening’s presentation.
All guests Saturday will be able to take pictures with the engraved Kentucky Derby trophies beforehand as they’ll be on display just inside the Paddock Gate from 5-6:30 p.m.
Combined, the Stephen Foster field has won 60 of their 184 starts (32.6%), including 25 stakes events, and earned more than $11.4 million.
Gift Box (16-5-6-2—$979,160), who won the $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap by a scant nose over McKinzie on April 6, arrived at Churchill Downs on Tuesday for trainer John Sadler to begin preparing for Saturday’s Stephen Foster. The 6-year-old son of Tapit was transferred to Sadler’s care in mid-2018 from trainer Chad Brown. Since Sadler began training Gift Box, he’s reeled off a half-length score in the $300,000 San Antonio (GII) on Dec. 26 and, most recently, finished second to Vino Rosso in the $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (GI) on May 27.
Recent Belmont Stakes (GI)-winning jockey Joel Rosario is scheduled to fly into Kentucky to ride Gift Box, who drew post No. 6 in the field of 12 older horses. Rosario has been the regular rider of Gift Box since he was transferred to Sadler’s care.
Morning line odds maker Mike Battaglia has installed Gift Box as the 3-1 morning line favorite.
Among Gift Box’s chief rivals is two-time grade I-winner Yoshida (14-5-3-0—$2,179,770). The 5-year-old son of Heart’s Cry won the 2018 Old Forester Turf Classic (GI) over the Matt Winn Turf Course prior to switching to the dirt and winning the Woodward (GI) at Saratoga. Yoshida enters the Stephen Foster after finishing sixth in the $12 million Dubai World Cup (GI) in late March.
“Before we ran him in the Woodward, he never had a start on the dirt but always trained well over it,” Mott said. “He really showed us that day that he can run over it in the afternoon as well. It’s great to have options with him and knowing he’s won Grade I races on both surfaces doesn’t hurt either.”
Mott, who ranks No. 2 behind Dale Romans in the all-time trainer standings at Churchill Downs with 713 wins, previously won the Stephen Foster in 2012 with Ron the Greek.
Jose Ortiz, who rode Tacitus to a second-place finish in last week’s Belmont Stakes for Mott, is scheduled to ride Yoshida in the Stephen Foster from post 12 at morning line odds of 7-2.
Charles Fipke’s 2017 Clark Handicap (GI) winner Seeking the Soul (26-6-6-7—$2,989,842) will attempt to avenge his Alysheba third-place finish behind McKinzie and Tom’s d’Etat in the Stephen Foster. Trained by Dallas Stewart, Seeking the Soul began his 2019 campaign with a runner-up finish behind City of Light in the $9 million Pegasus World Cup (GI) prior to finishing eighth in the Dubai World Cup.
“He’s really been bouncing around perfectly over this track,” Stewart said. “He was doing so well after the Dubai World Cup that we ran him in the Alysheba as a prep for the Stephen Foster. He ran good that day but I think he can do much better in the Foster.”
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will, once again, unite with Seeking the Soul from post 4 at morning line odds of 4-1.
G M B Racing’s Alysheba runner-up Tom’s d’Etat (11-6-2-0—$606,092) could be a pace-presence in the Stephen Foster for trainer Al Stall Jr. and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan.
“Looking at the race I’d expect him to be on the lead or close to the pace,” Bridgmohan said. “(Alkhaatam) has some speed but we can be right there with him early. I don’t expect the pace to be too quick, though.”
Tom’s d’Etat drew post 9 and is 5-1 on the morning line.
WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International and SF Racing’s Oaklawn Handicap (GII) winner Quip (8-4-1-1—$942,500) will attempt to give jockey Florent Geroux his second Stephen Foster victory in the last three years. Trained by Rodolphe Brisset, Quip was on the Triple Crown trail as a 3-year-old after winning the Tampa Bay Derby (GII). Following his enigmatic eighth-place effort in the Preakness, the connections opted to give the son of Distorted Humor time off from the races.
“I think it was the best thing that could have happened to him, getting time off,” Brisset said. “He came back so much stronger and mature. I think he can really make a name for himself in the older horse division this year.”
Quip began his 2019 campaign with a third-place effort in the Hal’s Hope (GIII) prior to his Oaklawn Handicap score. Geroux, who won the 2017 Stephen Foster aboard Gun Runner, has the call from post 10 at odds of 10-1.
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tenfold (10-4-0-1—$895,890) entered the Stephen Foster after what Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen described as a “breakthrough performance” after he won the $300,000 Pimlico Special (GIII) on May 17.
“We always knew he had the talent and he really fought hard to win the (Pimlico Speical),” Asmussen said. “He’s been one of those horses that always trained well and we knew he could put it together in his races but never quite got there. It was very satisfying when he crossed the wire in front in the Pimlico Special.”
Asmussen’s go-to rider Ricardo Santana Jr. has the call on Tenfold and will break from post 7 at odds of 12-1.
Tom Conway’s King Zachary (10-3-0-3—$303,650), who was transferred to trainer Graham Motion’s barn as a 4-year-old, drew post 8 and will be ridden by Javier Castellano at morning line odds of 12-1. King Zachary won last year’s Matt Winn (GIII) as a 3-year-old.
Owner/trainer Wes Hawley entered former $50,000 claim Thirstforlife (22-7-4-3—$393,170) in the Stephen Foster following his narrow victory over American Anthem and fellow Stephen Foster entrant King Zachary in a conditioned allowance race on Derby Day.
“He really impressed me on Derby Day,” Hawley said. “He beat some good horses in that race including American Anthem and King Zachary. If he can run back to that race, with the way he’s been working throughout the month of May and into June, we have a shot at the Foster.”
Miguel Mena rides Thirstforlife, who drew the rail at odds of 15-1.
Joe Peacock’s Sunland Park Handicap winner Runaway Ghost (11-7-2-0—$744,224) will invade from New Mexico for the Stephen Foster. Trained by Todd Fincher, Runaway Ghost cruised to a 2 ¾-length score in last year’s Sunland Park Derby (GIII) but a minor injury did not allow the son of Ghostzapper to compete in the Kentucky Derby.
Julien Leparoux has the riding assignment on Runaway Ghost from post 3 at odds of 20-1.
Shadwell Stable’s impressive allowance winner Alkhaatam (5-2-0-2—$133.848) will test stakes company for the first time in the Stephen Foster for locally-based horseman Danny Peitz. The son of Tapit broke his maiden at Oaklawn prior to his easy 3 ¼-length win in a first-level allowance race on May 12 at Churchill Downs.
“Eventually we knew we’d end up in stakes company and the Foster was a good spot to try it for the first time since it’s in our backyard,” Peitz said. “He keeps improving in every start and who knows how good he could be.”
Channing Hill will team up with Alkhaatam from post 5 and is slated at morning line odds of 30-1.
Crystal Racing Enterprises and Contreras Stable’s Essex Handicap winner Rated R Superstar (34-6-5-6—$784,517) (jockey Rodney Prescott, trainer Cipriano Contreras, 20-1) and Michael Hui’s Oaklawn Mile victor Exulting (17-5-2-2—$458,292) (Tyler Gaffalione, Mike Maker, 20-1) round out the field.
The complete field for the Stephen Foster (with jockey, trainer and morning line odds) Thirstforlife (Mena, Hawley, 15-1); Rated R Superstar (Prescott, Contreras, 20-1); Runaway Ghost (Leparoux, Peacock, 20-1); Seeking the Soul (Velazquez, Stewart, 4-1); Alkhaatam (Hill, Peitz, 30-1); Gift Box (Rosario, Sadler, 3-1); Tenfold (Santana, Asmussen, 12-1); King Zachary (Castellano, Motion, 12-1); Tom’s d’Etat (Bridgmohan, Stall, 5-1); Quip (Geroux, Brisset, 10-1); Exulting (Gaffalione, Maker, 20-1); and Yoshida (JPN) (Ortiz, Mott, 7-2).
All horses will tote 121 pounds with the exception of Gift Box who will carry 125 lbs. and Quip who will carry 123 lbs.
The Stephen Foster has had a strong influence on the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Horse of the Year honors. Four horses used victories in the Stephen Foster as part of their résumés in Horse of the Year campaigns: Black Tie Affair (1991), Saint Liam (2005), Curlin (2008) and Gun Runner (2017). In addition, two runner-ups were crowned Horse of the Year: Mineshaft (2003) and Wise Dan (2012). Also, Awesome Again (1998) and Blame (2010) completed same-year Foster-Classic doubles. 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.
Champion Victory Gallop owns the stakes and track record for 1 1/8 miles of 1:47.28, which was established in 1999.
Churchill Downs will bring Bourbon Street to Louisville with the evening’s theme of “The Big Easy.” Guests are encouraged to wear New Orleans-inspired purple, green or gold.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band will be the crown jewel of this year’s Spring Meet entertainment when they headline Saturday’s Downs After Dark with a performance on the Plaza Stage from 8:30-11:30 p.m. The New Orleans-based Dirty Dozen Brass Band is a world famous music machine whose name is synonymous with genre-bending romps and high-octane performances. The band has taken the traditional foundation of brass band music and incorporated it into a blend of genres including Bebop Jazz, Funk, R&B and Soul to create a unique sound they describe as a “musical gumbo.”
Entertainment will also include a high-swinging, hard-blowing vintage jazz and pop performance by local four-beat band the West Market Stompers (6-8 p.m.), a Second Line Parade and Bourbon Street-themed cocktails and street performers.
General admission to Churchill Downs is $12 on Saturday with a first post of 6 p.m. and gates at 5 p.m. Box seats are $27 and reserved dining packages are $69. All ticket options can be purchased online at www.ChurchillDowns.com/Tickets.
The final race of the night is scheduled for 11:16 p.m.
According to the National Weather Service, Saturday’s forecast for Louisville calls for partly sunny skies with a high near 85 and a low around 71.