A combined 21 career graded stakes wins for this year’s Stephen Foster Handicap field. 10 of those 21 have come in 2012. Leading the way are Nates Mineshaft and Alternation with three each. Despite the recent success for both horses, they are still looking for their first career Grade 1 victory. The Dan’s entry could be the tandem that proves tough to beat. Both coming off solid wins in their last race. Just one of the nine horses in this field has yet to win a graded stakes race. Nehro hasn’t been able to achieve graded stakes win status but not for lack of trying. He’s finished 2nd on four occasions.
This is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race where the winner gets an automatic entry into the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) – Churchill Downs – $400,000 – 1 1/8 miles – Dirt
1. Wise Dan (KY) – John Velazquez – 123 – Charles Lopresti – 8/5
1A. Successful Dan (KY) – John Velazquez – 119 – Charles Lopresti – 8/5
2. Nates Mineshaft (KY) – Jesse Campbell – 118 – Austin Smith – 6/1
3. Fort Larned (KY) – Julien Leparoux – 117 – Ian Wilkes – 5/1
4. Nehro (KY) – Corey Nakatani – 116 – Steven Asmussen – 8/1
5. Ron the Greek (FL) – Jose Lezcano – 119 – William Mott – 6/1
6. Rogue Romance (KY) – Manoel Cruz – Kenneth McPeek – 30/1
7. Mission Impazible (KY) – Javier Castellano – 116 – Todd Pletcher – 8/1
8. Alternation (KY) – Luis Quinonez – 122 – Donnie Von Hemel – 4/1
The reigning Oaklawn “horse of the meet” has won all of his races in 2012 and is currently riding a four race win streak. It started with the Essex Handicap, then Razorback Handicap (G3), Oaklawn Handicap (G2) and most recently the Pimlico Special Stakes (G3). He defeated two of the horses in this race. Nehro by a nose and Mission Impazible. He also beat Nehro in the Oaklawn Handicap as well as Ron the Greek. So despite not having a Grade 1 win under his belt, he has been very tough to beat this tear. He has the ability to rate or come from off the pace. This race should set up well for him. Some pace, but not a lot. Look for him to sit in 3rd or 4th and make the move down the stretch. Should be there once again.
The reigning Fair Grounds “horse of the meet” has had similar success as he’s won 4 of 5 races including the Mineshaft Handicap (G3), New Orleans Handicap (G2) and most recently the Lone Star Park Handicap (G3) at Lone Star Park. His only defeat came in a 6th place effort in the Alysheba Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs. The field in the Mineshaft was stellar, but he beat a respectable field in the New Orleans. He won by 7 1/4 lengths and defeated the likes of graded winners in Mission Impazible, Toby’s Corner, Pants on Fire and Redeemed. His performance in the Alysheba was rough. After a bobbled gate, he was forced to the leaders and that proved costly. He did not have much left in tank at the end. He’s won 5 out of his last 6 races and expect another strong performance this weekend.
The first part of the entry is another horse who has won 5 of his last 6 races. The Charles Lopresti trained five year old currently rides a three race win streak dating back to 2011. It started with the Fayette Stakes (G2) at Keeneland on the all weather surface. He then won his first Grade 1, the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. He defeated Flat Out, Mission Impazible and Belmont Stakes winner Ruler on Ice. His last win came this year in the Ben Ali Stakes (G3) at Keeneland following a five month layoff. He’s another that will sit just off the pace and unleash a strong move down the stretch.
The other half of the Lopresti trained entry has been simply impressive considering he missed 17 months due to injuries. His last race was a 3rd place finish in the Clark Handicap (G1) on November 26, 2010. He originally finished 1st, but was later disqualified after a stewards inquiry. His first race back was this April, where he won an Allowance Optional Claimer at Keeneland. He turned around a month later at Churchill Downs and won the Alysheba Stakes (G2). Quite amazing considering the lengthy absence. Despite a bumpy start, he sat back early and made a serious rally to win by one length. He beat Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man in the process. He’s won 7 of 10 career starts and has only missed the top three once. He should be able to sit back in this race and make another late move. It all depends how quick the leaders go this time around. That will determine how far back he will sit.
For a horse who hasn’t won in nie races, he is always dangerous. His last win was the New Orleans Handicap (G2) at Fair Grounds last March. Since then, he’s had four 2nd’s and two 4th’s. The gray Todd Pletcher trained horse finished 2nd to Wise Dan in the Clark, 2nd to Hymn Book in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park, 2nd to Nates Mineshaft in the New Orleans Handicap. After being eased back early in the Pimlico Special Stakes, he went 4-5 wide the entire race and still finished 4th beaten a little over a length. So despite his lack of winning over the past 15 months, he is still dangerous.
RON THE GREEK
A consistent winner at the Allowance and Stakes level as a two, three and four year old seems to have turned it up a notch as a five year old. In three 2012 starts, he’s won once and finished 2nd twice. His win came in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) on March 3. It was a surprise visit as all of his races had come on the east coast and Mott usually doesn’t bring his horses out west. His seconds came in the Florida Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes at Gulfstream in January and the Oaklawn Handicap on April 14. He hasn’t raced since. He will be one to sit back and wait to make a late move. Again, how big of a move will depend on the early pace. If it’s quick, he could be one to finish in the top three. With a tough field, he could have decent odds.
He’s a relative unknown to the graded level, but that might have changed with his last two performances. His first 12 career races were at the Allowance and stakes level winning occasionally. No one expected him to win the Skip Away Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park with odds of 12/1. He turned around a little over a month later to finish a strong 2nd to Successful Dan in the Alysheba. Has he matured into a consistent graded competitor? It seems that way. This will be his toughest tough to date as he has more than just a couple of solid horses to contend with.
The 2011 runner-up king for the three year old division will try and break through with his first career stakes win. The same that we said about Mission Impazible can be said about this Steven Asmussen trained horse. He finished 2nd in the Louisiana Derby, Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby last year, before finishing 4th in the Belmont Stakes. We didn’t see him again for 7 1/2 months. He easily won an Allowance Optional Claiming $17,500 at Gulfstream Park, then finished 6th in the Oaklawn Handicap. It didn’t seem like he would get back to his three year old form. As soon as you count him out, it gets back to his runner-up self again with a strong 2nd to Alternation in the Pimlico Special Stakes. He only lost by a nose. He flew by the entire field down the stretch. He will most likely be near the back of the field again, so a moderate or slow pace will not help him. He will need something on the quick side to allow his late move to be serious.
This will be the longest shot on the board. The Ken McPeek four year old is already at morning line odds of 30/1. He could go off between 40/1-50/1. Once considered to be a triple crown contender as fallen off the wayside due to injuries. He missed the triple crown races last year after his 3rd place finish in the Risen Star Stakes (G2). He finished 3rd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile prior to that. After missing 13 months, he finally got to the races with a win in an Allowance Optional Claimer $62,500 on March 31. He tried graded company in the Ben Ali and finished a distant 7th. He found success again in an Allowance Optional Claiming $80,000 a couple of weeks ago at Churchill Downs. It might be time to think this horse is not what he used and keep him in Allowance or high claiming ranks.
I believe this race will have little pace early on. Nates Mineshaft will be able to get to the lead and sit on it slower than expected. He will go gate to wire and take his fifth win of the year. I expect big runs from Alternation and Wise Dan, as well as, Successful Dan. Nothing spectacular here and no big upsets.
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