Hronis Racing's Gift Box arrived at Churchill Downs on Tuesday to begin preparing for Saturday night's 38th running of the $600,000 Stephen Foster Presented by GE Appliances (Grade 2) – the centerpiece of an action-packed, prime-time program at Churchill Downs billed as “Downs After Dark Presented by Budweiser.”
“He's really taken to Churchill Downs well since he's arrived,” said former jockey Juan Leyva, now assistant to trainer John Sadler. “I absolutely love coming here. With 12 horses entering the Stephen Foster it didn't come up easy by any means but we're confident our horse is ready to run a big effort. It's been great getting him in the (Churchill Downs Stakes) barn. He shows so much grit and determination every time he runs.”
Gift Box, who was made the 3-1 morning line favorite by veteran oddsmaker Mike Battaglia, won the $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1) by a scant nose over McKinzie on April 6. The 6-year-old son of Twirling Candy 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 (G2) on Dec. 26 and, most recently, finished second to Vino Rosso in the $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) on May 27.
Sadler is scheduled to arrive at Churchill Downs on Saturday for the Stephen Foster, according to Leyva.
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.
Gift Box galloped about 1 ½ miles early Thursday morning at Churchill Downs prior to schooling in the paddock.
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.
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.
The complete Stephen Foster field (with jockey, trainer and morning line odds): Thirstforlife (Miguel Mena, Wes Hawley, 15-1); Rated R Superstar (Rodney Prescott, Cipriano Contreras, 20-1); Runaway Ghost (Julien Leparoux, Joe Peacock, 20-1); Seeking the Soul (John Velazquez, Dallas Stewart, 4-1); Alkhaatam (Channing Hill, Danny Peitz, 30-1); Gift Box (Rosario, Sadler, 3-1); Tenfold (Ricardo Santana Jr., Steve Asmussen, 12-1); King Zachary (Javier Castellano, Graham Motion, 12-1); Tom's d'Etat (Shaun Bridgmohan, Al Stall Jr., 5-1); Quip(Florent Geroux, Rodolphe Brisset, 10-1); Exulting (Tyler Gaffalione, Mike Maker, 20-1); and Yoshida (JPN) (Jose Ortiz, Bill Mott, 7-2).
All horses will tote 121 pounds with the exception of Gift Box (125 lbs.) and Quip (123 lbs.).
Other stakes events scheduled on the night are the $250,000 Fleur de Lis Presented by Budweiser (G2) for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles headlined by La Troienne (G1) winner She's a Julie along with multiple G1-winners Elate and Blue Prize (ARG); the $250,000 Wise Dan (G2) for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles on turf with an over-subscribed field of 15 horses including seven-time G2 winner Itsinthepost (FR); the $150,000 Matt Winn (G3) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles featuring Pat Day Mile (G3) hero Mr. Money; a well-matched cast of 11 3-year-old fillies in the $150,000 Regret (G3) at 1 1/8 miles on grass; and the $100,000 President of the UAE Cup Sponsored by the UAE Ministry of Presidential Affairs (G1) for Arabian 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles.
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