Hronis Racing LLC's Santa Anita Handicap winner Gift Box will invade from the West Coast to take on Grade 1 winners Seeking The Soul and Yoshida in Saturday night's 38th running of the G2 Stephen Foster.
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.
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.
Gift Box, who won the G1 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 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 G2 San Antonio on Dec. 26 and, most recently, finished second to Vino Rosso in the G1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita on May 27.
Recent Belmont Stakes-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.
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 G1 winner Yoshida. The 5-year-old son of Heart's Cry won the G1 Old Forester Turf Classic over the Matt Winn Turf Course prior to switching to the dirt and winning the G1 Woodward at Saratoga. Yoshida enters the Stephen Foster after finishing sixth in the G1 $12 million Dubai World Cup 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, 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 will attempt to avenge his Alysheba third-place finish behind McKinzie andTom'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 G1 $9 million Pegasus World Cup 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 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 G3 Oaklawn Handicap winner Quip 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 G2 Tampa Bay Derby. 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.”
Winchell Thoroughbreds' Tenfold entered the Stephen Foster after what Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen described as a “breakthrough performance” after he won the G3 Pimlico Special 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.
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.
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