With the 2012 Triple Crown series now behind us, and with most of the top three year old colts on hiatus until at least late July, this weekend’s Horse Racing action focuses on the older male division. More specifically, the 2012 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Entry mates Wise Dan and Successful Dan have been installed as the 8/5 morning line favorites.
A closely matched field of nine has been entered and the odds reflect it. Of the nine entered, eight are 8-1 or less. That, readers, is a tough, tightly bunched group.
First run in 1982 and for a purse of $50,000, the Stephen Foster has drawn several champions thru the years. Vanlandingham won the 1985 running, followed by Black Tie Affair, who won this race in 1991; Awesome Again won it in 1999, Saint Liam in 2005, Curlin in 2008 and Blame in 2010. All were champions in some capacity.
The race went from $150,000 to $750,000 from 1997 to 1998 and as high as $1 million in 2008. But since, the purse has steadily fallen. The purse was $600,000 in 2009 and 2010, to $500,000 last year and $400,000 this year. Regardless, it’s still a Grade: I race run at Churchill Downs and, from where I sit, it will still have a bearing on racing’s highest year end honor, Horse of the Year.
Before we get to the Stephen Foster, let’s quickly look at some other important races from around the country.
In the race before the Foster, champion filly Royal Delta will return from her disappointing effort in the $10 million Dubai World Cup to lead the Fleur de Lis Handicap at 1 1/8 miles. The late running St. John’s River, making her second start off a rehab, could give Royal Delta a run for her money.
Include Me Out, owned by Samantha Siegel’s Jay Em Ess Stable, will bring a three race, three track winning streak into the $250,000 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on Saturday.
If you are going to enter into the Vanity, you better bring your running shoes as the race has some serious history behind it. Past winners include Two Lea, Gamely, Sangue, Bayakoa, Paseana, Azeri, and the great Zenyatta, who won three straight runnings from 2008 thru 2010. This year’s version is no exception as Include Me Out will have to deal with Ellafitz and Zazu. (Albeit, I understand Zazu has come up lame?)
At Belmont Park, Howe Great will return to the turf on Saturday in the Hill Prince Stakes and in the fourth race at Belmont on Sunday Boys at Tosconova, a top flight two year old in 2010, will try to improve on his game second place finish (behind To Honor and Serve) in the Westchester Mile in his last start.
Churchill Downs – June 16, 2012
Race 8 – 9:39 PM
Stephen Foster H. (Grade I)
Purse $400,000. For Three Year Olds and Upward.
One And One Eighth Miles.
|A – Coupled Entries – 1 – Wise Dan, 1A – Successful Dan|
1) Wise Dan/Successful Dan entry- Wise Dan looks poised to take command of the older male horse division coming off three straight blow wins in his last three races dating back to last October. He won the Fayette Stakes at Keeneland last October by three conclusive lengths, then the Clark Handicap by four in November and in his 2012 debut (the Ben Ali Stakes) he annihilated the field by 10 ½ lengths.
This chestnut gelding by Wiseman’s Ferry is 4 for 7 over the Churchill Downs surface and 9 for 15 overall in his career. Lastly, he shows two huge works for this race. (May 29, 6F- 1:11.2 and June 7, 5F :59.2)
Stable-mate Successful Dan is streaking right now too. He is a winner of six straight and 7 for 10 overall in his career. Bay gelding by Successful Appeal is versatile (He’s won from on the pace, slightly off it and can come from behind as well) so he can adapt to any pace scenario. Like Wise Dan, he shows a huge work (June 5, 5F :58.4). These two certainly appear to form a powerful 1-2 punch in this race.
2) Alternation- if you are betting the entry in this race, you better look out for this guy because he could easily win this race. Heck, he is unbeaten in 2012 (4 for 4) with three of those wins coming in graded stakes. (The Pimlico Special, the Razorback and the Oaklawn Handicap…which are all nothing to sneeze at).
Good looking son of Distorted Humor is also versatile and is also capable of adapting to just about any pace scenario but I believe he will assume a stalking position early in this race. If he wins, I won’t be the least bit surprised.
3) Nehro- late runner gave Alternation all he could handle in the aforementioned Pimlico Special when he circled the entire field (while being five wide) on the turn for home and lost a head bob (by a nose) on the wire. The problem with this colt, who is by the awesome Mineshaft and was second in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, is his 2 for 10 lifetime record. Kind of like always the bridesmaid and never the bride. You know?
Honorable Mentions: Ron the Greek, well….actually…. it depends which Ron the Greek we get on Saturday afternoon. The one that blew away the Santa Anita Handicap field or the one that shows three wins in his last 12 starts? If we get the Santa Anita Ron the Greek, he’s a big threat to win it all….if we get the 3 for his last 12 Ron the Greek?…well…he’s got a shot to hit the board I suppose. Nate’s Mineshaft, this speedster has won four of his last five and all four of those wins were “no doubt about it” wins. He will be (or should be) on the lead Saturday afternoon and they better not leave him alone to just lope along out there, because he will make them pay late if they do.
Record: 8-27 = 30%
Little Bets N’ Pieces
**** Peter Pan Stakes winner Mark Valeski will be sidelined the rest of the year after undergoing surgery for a small chip in his left knee.
“It (the chip) is in a spot where it will come out clean and he will be out for three to four months,” owner Bret Jones said. “We hope to have a really good 4-year-old next year.”…and you probably will Mr. Jones.
**** On a sad note, Grade I winner Giant Ryan, who fractured both left front sesamoids during the June 9 True North Handicap, was euthanized five days later at New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania due to complications from his injuries.
“It’s really sad. To the family, he meant everything,” said Bisnath Parboo yesterday. Parboo, who trained the speedster for his father Shivananda Parbhoo added: “He’s the best horse we’ve had for a long time. He took us everywhere we wanted to go. To lose him like this was really hard. We tried everything we could to save him.”
The decision to euthanize Giant Ryan came after learning the 6 year-old horse was showing signs of laminitis in one of his uninjured legs.
“He was using the good foot, and that’s the foot that came down with laminitis, so sometime this afternoon was when we had to make a decision,” said Parbhoo. “Even though we love him so much, we don’t want to see him suffer.”
**** Churchill Downs has revamped the qualifying system for the 139-year-old Kentucky Derby, abandoning the graded stakes earnings criteria it has used since 1986 to determine which 20 horses get into the field and instituting a point system to qualify for the 1 ¼-mile classic on the first Saturday in May.
“Our primary driving motive is to create new fans for horse racing,” said CDIChairman and Chief Executive Officer Bob Evans. “We’re implementing a more fan-friendly, cohesive and simplified system that should create compelling drama and appeal to a wider customer base. Fans, as well as the owners and trainers of the horses, will know exactly which races are included and what races matter the most based on a sliding scale of points.”
The “Road to the Kentucky Derby” point system narrows the path a contender may take to the race from approximately 185 graded stakes worldwide – including 60 open races and another 43 races restricted to fillies in North America – that counted toward the Derby selection under the previous eligibility process. The new series will be divided into two phases, each offering different points to the top four finishers of each race.
Phase one, Kentucky Derby Prep Season, includes 19 races on dirt or synthetic surfaces over distances of at least one mile that are typically run between late September and late February. The lone exception isEngland’s Royal Lodge, an international juvenile steppingstone carded at one mile on turf atNewmarket. Points will be awarded to the top four finishers in each race on a 10-4-2-1 scale. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and $1 million Delta Jackpot (gr.III) are included in this division.
Phase two, the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, is a three-part collection of 17 marquee races on dirt or synthetic surfaces run over distances of at least one mile that traditionally occur over a compact, 10-week run up to the first Saturday in May.
The first leg of the Championship Series includes eight events in which victory is worth 50 points – the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, the Gotham at Aqueduct, the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, the Rebel at Oaklawn Park, the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, and the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park. Second- through fourth-place finishers receive a20-10-5 point scale.
The second leg features seven stakes races – the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, $2 million UAE Derby at Meydan, the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the Santa Anita Derby, Oaklawn Park’s Arkansas Derby, and the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland – that are worth 100-40-20-10.
The final leg is two “Wild Card” events, the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial at Churchill Downs, which offer some hope for horses to increase their point totals with a 20-8-4-2 scale.
The Top 20 point earners will earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate if more than 20 horses enter the race (at least 20 horses have entered the Derby every year since 2004 and 12 of the last 14 years). Up to 24 horses may enter and four horses may be listed as “also eligible” with the potential of drawing into the field should any of the higher-ranked entrants be scratched in the days leading up to the race.
If two or more horses have the same number of points, the tiebreaker to get into the Derby will be earnings in non-restricted stakes races, whether graded or not. In the event of a dead-heat in a Road to the Kentucky Derby race, those horses will divide equally the points they would have received jointly had one beaten the other.
Did you get all that?….no?…that’s ok, 83% of Horse Racing fans who were polled recently didn’t either. No worries, I’ll explain it as we go next year.
****….and finally in the “This has nothing to do with Horse Racing” section: congrats to SF Giants pitcher Matt Cain for pitching a perfect game Wednesday night against the Houston Astros.
I mean, from what I saw, this one looked real…..unlike NY Mets pitcher Johan Santana’s No Hitter against St. Louis several weeks ago. I mean, come on…Carlos Beltran’s hit was clearly a fair ball.