Greg Foley and Lloyd Madison Farms have felt the Kentucky Derby fever once before. In 2003 Champali qualified for the main field of the Run for the Roses, but the son of Glitterman was more of a miler type. After a second-place finish in the G3 Derby Trial, the colt was aimed at the Preakness Stakes.
Unfortunately, Champali colicked the week before the second jewel of the Triple Crown and missed the race. He went on to be a millionaire, winning multiple graded stakes races to provide a solid return on his $75,000 yearling price.
Seventeen years later, Major Fed has sparked Derby talk once again for the trainer-owner duo. The 3-year-old son of Ghostzapper ran a good second in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes, earning 20 points toward a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
“Nobody was closing on the day, but he did,” said Travis Foley, assistant to his father, Greg Foley. “Before the race, watching the way the track was playing all day, we thought we might be in a little bit of trouble. But that just makes his run that much more impressive… it really perked up our winter!”
Making just his third career start in the Risen Star, Major Fed was three-wide around both turns and three or four lengths off the pace in the early going. He went five-wide at the quarter pole and closed to be beaten just a length by frontrunner Modernist at the wire.
“We felt like we fit in that group, and honestly we were expecting to win,” said Foley, 36. “I think he got a little tired, probably, but he really ran phenomenal. It doesn't look like distance will hurt him at all.”
Major Fed ran once as a juvenile, finishing third in a six-furlong sprint at Churchill Downs. The horse who beat him that day, Gold Street, won Oaklawn's Smarty Jones Stakes in January this year.
In his second start, Major Fed broke his maiden at the Fair Grounds by 4 ¼ lengths, running a mile in 1:37.51.
“That was a seven-horse field, and visually, he did it the right way that day,” Foley explained. “He had a bit of a tough trip, but he swung around and circled the field. He did duck in at the eighth pole, but it was a very visually exciting race.
“Whenever you get a 3-year-old that you think can get the distance, you have to take a shot (at the Triple Crown trail). He's probably the best shot we've ever had.”
The colt will be pointed to the G2 Louisiana Derby for his final prep race.
“We'll hope for a more fair racetrack, and a little more pace in the race,” Foley said. “We'll just walk him over there from his stall, then ship him back to Churchill.”
Major Fed is a homebred for Lloyd Madison, out of his winning Smart Strike mare Bobby's Babe. Most of the mare's progeny have preferred the turf, like stakes winner May Lily and stakes placed Zapperini.
Madison, a native of Wisconsin, has had horses with Greg Foley since the mid 1990's.
“They're really, really good people, and they're really deserving,” Travis Foley said of the ownership group. “They buy some, and they have some nice homebreds managed by Upson Downs.”
Travis Foley has been working with his father on the track for about 10 years now, following his graduation from the University of Louisville in 2008. He works with the horses alongside his father every morning, and handles details like marketing and social media for the 40-horse racing stable.
“Dad is the best horseman I know,” he said. “We've had some, well, boisterous disagreements, but at the end of the day I got into to help him. He likes having me around, I think. We want the same thing, just sometimes we have different ideas about how to get there.”
Personally, Foley would love to be a part of the walkover on Derby day.
“To make it to the Derby would be a dream come true, of course,” he said. “If I could do one thing in sports, that'd be it.”
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