The Brock Talk

Friday, June 17, 2011

Foster Continues Older Horse Race For Honors

One of the best cures for post Triple Crown blues happens Saturday at Churchill Downs as the Stephen Foster Handicap presented by Abu Dhabi (gr. 1) acts as the unofficial kick-off to the second-half of the season for older males and many times, the race for the covenanted Horse of the Year Award.

While only Curlin (photo left) in 2008, St. Liam (’05) and Black Tie Affair in 1991 have been named Horse of the Year after winning the Stephen Foster, the 1-1/8 mile race on the main track has only been given the grade 1 status since 2002, some 20 years after the first running of Churchill Downs’ main event for older horses in 1982. While they have missed the golden Eclipse Award at the end of the year, recent Foster winners were division notables including Blame last year, Macho Again in 2009, Street Cry (’02), Victory Gallop (’99) and Vanlandingham in 1985.

The race for top older horse in North America certainly looks up for grabs less than six months into the year and the Foster - named for the composer who wrote "My Old Kentucky Home" among other notable songs - will likely clarify the division. Foster high-weight Giant Oak took the early lead among the older horses this year, winning the Donn Handicap (gr. 1) at Gulfstream Park Feb. 9. However, the 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway has since finished third in the New Orleans Handicap (gr. 2)in March behind fellow Foster starter Mission Impazible; then fifth in the Alysheba Stakes (gr. 3) at Churchill May 6. Alysheba winner First Dude will not return for the Foster, but Regal Ransom (photo right) and Equestrio, second and third in the Alysheba respectively, have both returned for the $500,000 Foster.

Santa Anita Handicap (gr. 1) winner Game on Dude is also among the tops in the older horse division, but will not race in the Foster after finishing third behind Awesome Gem and Flat Out in the Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III) May 30. Awesome Gem will also not make the 17-day turnaround from Texas to Kentucky, but Flat Out has, and will again try for an upset in the Foster.

The West Coast will have good representation in the Foster however, as Crown of Thorns comes to Churchill after winning the grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park May 7. Once considered a candidate for the 2008 Kentucky Derby, Crown of Thorns was sidelined by injury and missed most of his sophomore year. In the last three years, the now 6-year-old son of Repent, spent his career running second in graded sprints in Southern California before stretching out and winning the 1-1/6 mile Mervyn LeRoy.

Interesting, the Foster also has the last two winners of Louisiana Downs' Super Derby (gr. II) in last year’s winner Apart and 2009 victor Regal Ransom. Apart comes into the Foster off of a win in the grade 3 William Schaffer Memorial on the Preakness undercard four weeks ago and will be saddled by trainer Al Stall Jr., who looks for his second consecutive Foster after winning last year with Blame.

Regal Ransom has a good chance to get the early lead in the Foster, a race with no real speedsters. According to Todd Pletcher assistant Michael McCarthy, Mission Impazible will also be more comfortable among the front runners but will have to try to get there from the far outside, number 11 post position. Longshot Worldly should also have a good chance to get near the front from post four with nearly every other contender trying to negotiate a comfortable stalking position down the backside.

Both Giant Oak and Mission Impazible had troubled trips in the Alysheba and will be looking for a little more racing luck in the Foster. Should either get position and a desirable trip, they both should be dangerous. It’s just that Mission Impazible will be making his move from much closer to the pace while Giant Oak figures to be closing from further back.

Stephen Foster Picks
#6 – Regal Ransom
#10 – Giant Oak
#3 – Apart

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