The G1 Stephen Foster is always a bright spot on the calendar and this year is as bright as it gets. The field is a bit short with just 6 horses, but this is a case of quality over quantity. 5 of the 6 are Grade 1 winners and the other is a record-setting Grade 2 winner. Fun fact, This race is a showdown between the 2011 Stephen Foster winner – Pool Play, and 2012 winner Ron the Greek.
The highlight of his career was the dead-heat win in the Travers with Alpha. The biggest pluses on his side are his consistency and love for distances – kind of a surprise given his sire is Speightstown. Golden Ticket has had an ok year so far; he won an allowance race with ease, then was a solid 3rd in the G3 Mineshaft. After a tired 4th in the G3 Skip Away, he got a class break and won another allowance race. Class is definitely Goldie’s biggest hurdle here. He’s hit the board in graded races, but hasn’t been able to win against top level horses.
When it boils down to it, I just don’t think he has the class for a field this deep.
Big Ugly was one of the best of the division last year, capping a good season with wins in the G1 Whitney and Breeders’ Cup Classic. 2013 has not been a good year for him. The first race of the season saw him face plant out of the gate, drop his jockey and being declared a non-starter. He went ahead and ran a beautiful race on his own, hugging the rail and drawing off to a huge win – but big wins don’t count without a rider. He was able to officially finish his second race, but it was the worst effort of his career. He was a very tired looking horse in the Oaklawn stretch, wobbling as half the field went by. Fort Larned is a very classy, very tough horse. He’s been working well for this race and should be back to his old self, and a run back to his old self puts him at the head of the class.
Fort Larned hasn’t been in a good place this year. This could be the race he turns it around, but I hate to put money on a favorite who’s on a negative streak.
Ron the Greek
Going by the numbers, Ron is the most consistently brilliant horse in this field. He’s a deep closer who does his best work chasing a hot pace over a long distance. His big wins include last year’s running of this race and the Big Cap. He hasn’t lost a step this year; he crushed the Sunshine Millions Classic field, was a respectable 4th in the Santa Anita Handicap, and a close 3rd around the bullring in the Charlestown Classic. Ron always runs his race, but he’ll need Take Charge Indy, Fort Larned, and Golden Ticket to hustle up front for his best chance to win.
He has class in spades, but I doubt he’ll get the right pace set up here. He’ll probably still run big, and could easily hit the board.
Take Charge Indy
One of my very favorite horses from last years Triple Crown trail, Indy has made a fantastic comeback from surgery (chip removal) and looks even better as a 4-year-old. Since making his comeback in the G2 Fayette, he’s hit the board in all 5 starts in graded stakes while facing very tough competition. He got 2013 started with a strong second in the G3 Skip Away, then ran a hole in the wind winning the G2 Alysheba less than half a second off Successful Dan’s track record. Getting Rosie on board for his last two has definitely been a plus for Indy.
Indy looks like he’s really coming into his own at 4, and should be able to get a pretty comfortable position here.
The old man of the field at 8-years-old, Pool Play has run on just about everything and everywhere – racing mostly on synthetics with a scattering of dirt and turf appearances. His 2 biggest wins were on the dirt – he won last year’s G2 Hawthorne Gold Cup and the 2011 Stephen Foster. He’s not particularly consistent, but he likes Churchill Downs and has a habit of winning with long odds (and losing with short odds)
Pool Play is such a sneaky horse, but his last couple of races were particularly lackluster.
occasionally brilliant, and always fabulous is a good way to describe Wise Dan’s older half-brother. Successful Dan has been plagued with soundness issues and injury throughout his career, managing just 12 starts over 5 years of racing. He’s done a lot with those 12 starts, and holds the track record at Churchill Downs for 1 1/16 miles. He was injured after running second to Fort Larned in the G3 Cornhusker last year, and was out a long while. His first race back was an easy win in the G3 Ben Ali at the end of April.
Dan is a very special horse; I think he has a few more big races left in him and he really loves this track.
It’s not hard to make a case for any of these boys, they’ve all won at least one race over the track, they all like the distance, and they’ve all run big on big racing days.
My Picks: Take Charge Indy – Successful Dan – Ron the Greek