Thirty-one horses, including many of the brightest stars of America's handicap division, have been nominated to run in the 25th running of Churchill Downs' $750,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I). The race is the headline event on a menu of six stakes races with total purses of $1.75 million that make up the historic track's 'Stephen Foster Super Saturday' celebration on Saturday, June 17.
Two local heroes head the list of 2006 nominees to the Stephen Foster Handicap. Fred Bradley's homebred Brass Hat, winner of the Donn Handicap (GI) and runner-up in the $6 million Dubai World Cup (Grade I), and Stonecrest Farm's homebred Perfect Drift, winner of the 2003 Stephen Foster and third in the race in each of the past two years, top the impressive roster of stars nominated to the silver anniversary running of the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up.
The Stephen Foster has become one of America's most important races for older horses and last year's renewal was won by Saint Liam, who would earn Eclipse Awards as 'Horse of the Year' and champion older horse at the end of the season. Other recent winners have included Godolphin's Street Cry, who took the race in 2002 on the heels of a victory in the Dubai World Cup (GI); Victory Gallop, who would earn an Eclipse Award as champion older horse in a campaign that included a victory in the 1999 Foster; and Awesome Again, who defeated 1997 Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Silver Charm in the 1998 Foster, which offered a preview of their 1-2 finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic (GI) later that year at Churchill Downs.
Brass Hat, a 5-year-old gelded son of Prized trained by William 'Buff' Bradley, has emerged as one of the nation's top older horses after launching his career at three in a race for $15,000 claiming horses at Turfway Park. He won the Indiana Derby (GII), Ohio Derby (GII) and Rushaway Stakes at three before going on the shelf with an injury. He returned to racing last fall and quickly reeled off a string of victories that included the Prairie Bayou at Turfway Park, the New Orleans Handicap (GII) at the Fair Grounds at Harrah's Louisiana Downs, and the Donn. He led in deep stretch in the Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba only to be passed by Godolphin's Electrocutionist in the final yards. Brass Hat has a career record of 6-5-0 in 14 races with earnings of $2,417,090.
Perfect Drift has been one of most durable and capable horses in American racing since the gelded son of Dynaformer opened his career at Churchill Downs in the fall of 2001. He ran third to War Emblem in the 2002 Kentucky Derby and won that year's Indiana Derby before he embarked on a stellar run as an older horse that has seen him compete in many of the racing's top events from coast-to-coast and run in four consecutive renewals of the Breeders' Cup Classic, including a third-place finish last year to Saint Liam. The most memorable victory by the Murray Johnson-trained star was his upset of eventual 'Horse of the Year' Mineshaft in the 2003 Stephen Foster. Perfect Drift's career record stands at 11-10-6 in 37 races with earnings of $4,308,339.
Brass Hat and Perfect Drift are stabled just a few yards from each other at Churchill Downs' Trackside Louisville training center.
The roster of Stephen Foster nominees also includes five horses trained by two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher. That group includes Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor's Bandini, winner of the 2005 Toyota Blue Grass (GI) and this year's Skip Away (GIII) at Gulfstream Park; Melnyk Racing Stable's Harlington, winner of the Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII); Aaron and Marie Jones Master Command, winner of the William Donald Schaefer (GIII) at Pimlico; Donald and Roberta Mary Zuckerman's West Virginia, who defeated 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide in the Excelsior Handicap (GIII) at Aqueduct; and WinStar Farm's Venetian Sunset, a son of Old Trieste that has won three of four races but has yet to be tested in stakes competition.
Other stars among the nominees to the 25th Stephen Foster include Shadwell Stable's Invasor, an import from Uruguay that won the Pimlico Special (GI) in his U.S. debut for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin; Gary Broad's Buzzards Bay, fifth in the 2005 Kentucky Derby and winner of the Oaklawn Handicap (GII); Commonwealth Breeders' Cup (GII) winner and Metropolitan Mile (GI) runner-up Sun King; Wild Desert, winner of the 2005 Queen's Plate for trainer Richard Dutrow, Jr.; Ben Ali (GIII) winner and Pimlico Special runner-up Wanderin Boy; Illinois-bred star Wiggins, winner of an allowance prep for the Foster for trainer Dale Romans; and Paul Reddam and Susan Roy's Wilko, winner of the 2004 Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (GI), sixth in the 2005 Kentucky Derby and third in this year's Dubai World Cup.
Also featured on the 'Stephen Foster Super Saturday' racing program are the $300,000-added Fleur De Lis (GII), the $200,000-added Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup (GIII), the $200,000-added Jefferson Cup (GII), the $200,000-added Regret (GIII), and the $100,000 Early Times Mint Julep (GIII).
The 32nd running of the Fleur De Lis, a 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares ages 3 and up, attracted a star-studded roster of 18 nominees that includes six accomplished fillies and mares from the Pletcher barn. Most likely to compete from that group are Chares H. Wacker, III's Oonagh Maccool and Ronald and Tom Kirby and WinStar Farm's La Reason, the 1-2 finishers in the Louisville Breeders' Cup (GII) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day. Pletcher also nominated Melnyk Racing Stable's Indian Vale, winner of Churchill Downs' 2004 Falls City Handicap (GII); Frank Stronach's Spun Sugar, winner of the Fantasy (GII); Paul Saylor's Fleet Indian, winner of the Sixty Sails (GIII) at Hawthorne; and Melnyk Racing Stable's Pool Land, winner of the Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff (GIII) and Keeneland's Doubledogdare.
Other prominent Fleur De Lis nominees include Stewart Madison's Happy Ticket, winner of Saratoga's Ballerina (GI) and a close runner-up to Round Pond in the Azeri Breeders' Cup (GIII) and Spun Sugar in the Apple Blossom, both at Oaklawn; Ogden Mills Phipps' Smuggler, winner of the Mother Goose (GI) and Coaching Club American Oaks (GI) at three; Sweet Symphony, winner of the 2005 Alabama (GI) for the Kinsman Farm of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner; and Live Oak Plantation's In The Gold, winner of the 2005 Gazelle (GI) and Stonerside Beaumont (GII).
The fifth running of the $200,000-added Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup (GIII) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles could mark a return to competition for Mike McCarty's Private Vow, who finished 15th to Barbaro in the 20-horse field in the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum Brands! (GI). The Steve Asmussen-trained son of Broken Vow won the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) and Belmont Futurity (GI) at two.
The Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup attracted 37 nominations. That group includes 10 3-year-olds trained by Nick Zito and eight from the Pletcher stable. Zito's group includes stakes veterans Great Point, Little Cliff, Doc Cheney and Hesanoldsalt. Most likely to compete in Pletcher's group of nominees are Peachtree Stable's High Cotton, winner of the Sir Barton and Rushaway and runner-up in Churchill Downs' Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) and Iroquois (GIII) last fall; WinStar Farm's Sir Barton runner-up Ultimate Goal; and Aaron and Marie Jones' Coach Kent, a recent maiden winner at Churchill Downs.
Other notable nominees include William S. Farish, Jr.'s Seaside Retreat, who finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby for Canadian-based trainer Mark Casse; John Dillon's Like Now, winner of the Gotham (GIII) and runner-up in the Coolmore Lexington (GII); the Bobby Frankel-trained duo of Racketeer and Latent Heat; Northern Spur Breeders' Cup winner Admiral's Arch; and Simon Pure, fourth in the Arkansas Derby (GII) for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
The $200,000-added Jefferson Cup (GII), a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds on the Matt Winn Turf Course, attracted 31 nominations headed by Fab Oak Stable, Bobby Hurley and John Goldthorp's Stream Cat, winner of the Crown Royal American Turf (GIII) at Churchill Downs and USA Stakes at Lone Star Park; Lael Stable's Showing Up, winner of the Coolmore Lexington (GII) and sixth to stablemate Barbaro in the Kentucky Derby for trainer Barclay Tagg; Palm Beach (GIII) winner and Crown Royal American Turf runner-up Go Between; and Mike McCarty's Storm Treasure, the Asmussen-trained runner-up in the Toyota Blue Grass (GI) and 11th in the Kentucky Derby.
L and D Farm's Magnificent Song and Centaur Farm's Fiery Dancer, the 1-2 finishers in the Edgewood on Kentucky Oaks Day, head a group of 35 3-year-old fillies nominated to the 37th running of the $200,000-added Regret (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8-miles on the turf.
Also made eligible for the Regret are two fillies that finished behind Lemons Forever in the 132nd running of the Kentucky Oaks (GI). Naveed Chowhan's Red Cherries Spin led at mid-stretch in the Oaks and was eventually placed fifth in the race via disqualification, while Robert Wilson and Charles Nuckols, III's Top Notch Lady finished eighth in the Oaks. The latter had defeated Lemons Forever in the Bourbonette Breeders' Cup (GIII) at Turfway Park and since the Oaks recorded a third-place finish in the Selene, a Canadian Grade III race at Toronto's Woodbine Race Course.
Other nominees include Silverbulletday (GIII) winner Baghdaria, Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Beau Dare, Honeymoon Breeders' Cup runner-up Foxysox, Hilltop Breeders' Cup winner Ebony Rose and Edgewood third-place finisher May Night.
The newest addition on the 'Stephen Foster Super Saturday' card is the $100,000-added Early Times Mint Julep (GIII). Thirty-five horses were made eligible for the 30th running of the 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares ages 3-and-up.
Topping the roster of nominees to the Early Times Mint Julep are Glen Hill Farm's Rich In Spirit, who scored a victory in the Regret Stakes on last year's 'Super Saturday' program and was an impressive winner for trainer Tom Proctor in a recent prep for the Mint Julep; Live Oak Plantation's My Typhoon, winner of Churchill Downs' 2005 Mrs. Revere (GII); Claiborne Farm's Wend, winner of the Honey Fox (GIII) at Gulfstream Park and the Jenny Wiley (GII) at Keeneland; Jean-Claude Seroul's Ozone Bere, winner of the Gallorette (GIII) at Pimlico in her U.S. debut; Overbrook Farm's Cape Hope, winner of the 2005 Herecomesthebride (GIII) at Gulfstream Park; Ready's Gal, winner of the Hillsborough Handicap at Tampa Bay Downs; and Nancy and Richard Kaster's Flying Glitter, a multiple graded stakes winner on dirt who was an impressive winner in her turf debut in a recent Churchill Downs allowance race.
Full nomination rosters and past performances for the 'Stephen Foster Super Saturday' races may be viewed on the Internet at www.churchilldowns.com, the official Web site of Churchill Downs. Weight assignments by Racing Secretary Doug Bredar for the Stephen Foster Handicap, Fleur De Lis and Early Times Mint Julep will be announced on June 10.