|By MARTY McGEE |
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -
Through the years, standout handicap horses have journeyed from all over
the map to compete in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.
But unless Buzzards Bay ships from Southern California - and trainer
Ron Ellis said Friday that he is "60-40 against" coming - then arguably
the top two contenders for the Grade 1 Foster will ship from a destination
that could hardly be termed exotic: the Trackside training center, located
just a few miles from Churchill.
Brass Hat and Perfect Drift, both longtime Trackside residents, are the
top prospects for the $750,000 Foster, the annual highlight of the
post-Kentucky Derby segment of the Churchill spring meet. Nominations for
the June 17 Foster, and for the other five stakes that will be run on the
undercard, were scheduled for release early this week after closing
Brass Hat and Perfect Drift both have been pointing for months to the
Foster. Brass Hat, who finished second in his most recent race, the March
25 Dubai World Cup, was scheduled to work within the next few days after
breezing five furlongs Wednesday, while Perfect Drift is scheduled to work
Tuesday, seven days after breezing an easy five furlongs following a brief
interruption in his training with what trainer Murray Johnson described as
a tender foot.
Meanwhile, Buzzards Bay, unraced since his 6 1/2-length romp in the
April 8 Oaklawn Handicap, is more likely than not to stay home for the
$250,000 Californian at Hollywood Park the same day as the Foster,
although Ellis said he has reserved a flight to Louisville for June 11.
"A lot of it depends on the weather," said Ellis. "Sometimes it can be
really hot in Louisville in mid-June, and we sure wouldn't want to ship
cross-country to run in those conditions. We'll see what everything looks
like and make our decision June 10."
One other notable contender for the Foster is Master Command, winner of
the Schaefer Handicap on the May 20 Preakness undercard at Pimlico for
trainer Todd Pletcher.