Successful Dan has been installed as the 2-1 favorite to win the Grade 1 $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap that will run at Churchill Downs on Saturday night under the lights for the second consecutive year. The 1 1/8 mile race for three-year-olds and up is the featured race on the 11-race card that includes five stakes races, one of which is an Arabian race.
The half-brother to reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan, Successful Dan has been sidelined with injuries that have prevented him from gaining the same level of accomplishment as his brother. Successful Dan returned from a two-year absence to win an allowance race at Keeneland in Apr. 2012, but after two more starts, was sidelined for another 10 months. He returned this April to win the Grade 3 Ben Ali at Keeneland. The seven-year-old gelding has eight wins from twelve starts, but is the only runner in the field of six without a Grade 1 victory to his name. Although Successful Dan crossed the wire first in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap in 2010, the Charlie LoPresti trainee was placed third through disqualification. If not for that disqualification, Successful Dan's record at Churchill Downs would be a perfect four-for-four. Regular rider Julien Leparoux will be in the irons for Saturday's Stephen Foster.
Upsetting Wise Dan by a head in last year's edition, Bill Mott's Ron the Greek will return to Churchill to defend his title in the Stephen Foster. His last victory came in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park in January where he earned a 112 Brisnet speed figure in the 1 1/8 mile race over a sloppy track. That figure is the highest at the distance among his Stephen Foster competitors. In his last two starts, Ron the Greek has faced defeat to Game On Dude—in the Santa Anita Handicap and the Charles Town Classic. He won't have to worry about the Dude Saturday, but he will face rival Fort Larned.
Breeders' Cup Class winner Fort Larned exits the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap in which he finished a disappointing fifth, beaten 10 1/2 lengths. In his first start of the year, the Ian Wilkes runner stumbled at the start and tossed regular rider Brian Hernandez. Although his five-year-old campaign has gotten off to a rocky start, he finished his four-year-old season with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. There’s hope that in his third start this year, he’ll return the champion he was at the end of his four-year-old season. If that occurs and he can get back to a triple-digit speed figure, he’ll definitely be one to watch.
Take Charge Indy, the 2012 Florida Derby winner who finished next to last in the 2012 Kentucky Derby, has begun to come into his own as a four-year-old and hopes to get his second Grade 1 victory in Saturday’s Stephen Foster. On the Kentucky Oaks undercard, Take Charge Indy commanded the field with a sixth length victory in the Grade 2 Alysheba. It was the first win for Patrick Byrne’s trainee since his Florida Derby win.
Rounding out the field are Pool Play and Golden Ticket. Both have victories over the Churchill Downs dirt and both are the longest shots to win the Stephen Foster. Golden Ticket has been given a morning line of 12-1 and Pool Play a morning line of 15-1. One difference in the pair is that Pool Play was the upset winner in the 2011 running of the Stephen Foster. Since that victory, he’s only won one race, the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup Oct. 6, 2012. His most recent performances and speed figures, in the low 80s, make it appear that maybe Pool Play has outstayed his welcome with this class of runners.
Although Golden Ticket may be best remembered for his dead heat victory with Alpha in last year’s Grade 1 Travers Stakes, his most recent two victories have come in allowance races. The most recent coming Kentucky Derby week under top rider Joel Rosario. It’s doubtful that returning to Churchill with Rosario will be enough to garner a victory against this Stephen Foster field, but if Golden Ticket has a chance, he’ll be running at the end.
The race is the 8th on Churchill Downs’ 11-race card with a scheduled post of 9:39 p.m. It will be shown live on HRTV and broadcast on radio by HRRN.
Photo: Courtesy Churchill Downs.com