Stephen Foster Stakes 2020 betting preview


Saturday’s $500,000 Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill Downs is the first North American Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” prep race for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic this November, and brings together several of the best older dirt horses in training for what shapes up to be a competitive and exciting race.

NBC Sports will broadcast theStephen Foster as part of the “Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In” schedule. Watch the Fleur de Lis Stakes and the Stephen Foster Stakes from Churchill Downs on Saturday, June 27 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, and the NBC Sports app.

The Stephen Foster winner receives an automatic spot in the starting gate for the $7 million Classic at Keeneland on Nov. 7, and the race has been very important in influencing the World Championships through the years. Five horses that won the Stephen Foster trained on to capture the Classic later in the fall: Black Tie Affair (1991); Awesome Again (1998); Saint Liam (2005); Blame (2010); and Gun Runner (2017).


Racetrack: Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

Date: June 27

Purse: $500,000

Distance: 1 1/8 miles

Race: 10

Post Time: 5:50 p.m. ET

Notable winners: Black Tie Affair (1991), Awesome Again (1998), Victory Gallop (1999), Street Cry (2002), Perfect Drift (2003), Saint Liam (2005), Curlin (2008), Blame (2010), Fort Larned (2013), Gun Runner (2017)

First held: 1982

Tom’s d’Etat, winner of the Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare at Churchill Downs last fall, and By My Standards, recent winner of the Oaklawn Handicap, headline an eight-horse field for the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster. The race will be broadcast live along with the Fleur de Lis Stakes on NBC, and has a scheduled post time of 5:50 p.m. ET.

Read on for more information about the starters for Saturday’s 39th Stephen Foster Stakes.

1. FearlessHe’s showing signs of fulfilling high expectations that have been there since he started racing in December 2019. Comes into the Stephen Foster off of a rallying win in a slowly run allowance-optional claimer at Churchill on May 30. Will need to step up his game against a far tougher group and third or fourth appears to be his ceiling.

JOCKEY: John VelazquezTRAINER: Todd Pletcher


2. Pirate’s PunchThe probable pacesetter gets “Big Money Mike” to ride and is a tough-as-nails type that has been in excellent form since last summer. But he’s stepping up in class big-time and has never raced at this distance. Could hang around into midstretch but it’s hard to see him winning.

JOCKEY: Mike SmithTRAINER: Grant Forster


3. AlkhaatamHe entered last year’s Stephen Foster as an intriguing longshot choice off of two straight wins but was overmatched and finished 11th. This year, he arrives in good form again, having won two of his last three including a solid win going 1 1/16 miles at Churchill on June 7. But he’s not shown the ability to hang with the top horses here.

JOCKEY: Declan CannonTRAINER: Daniel Peitz


4. MultiplierThis veteran has found a home racing in California, punching in triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures in all five of his starts out West this year, two of them on turf. He nearly won the 1 ¼-mile, Grade 1 Big ’Cap out there, too, losing by a neck. That field was not as impressive as the one he’ll face Saturday, but he’s a wild card in the Foster and could hit the board.

JOCKEY: Tyler GaffalioneTRAINER: Peter Miller


5. Tom’s d’EtatPatiently handled by Al Stall, this 7-year-old has risen to near the top of the handicap division over the past year, winning four of his last six including the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill last fall and his 2020 debut in the Oaklawn Mile in April. He finished a good third in last year’s Stephen Foster after setting a pressured pace but has run better since then when stalking, and that should be the strategy in this year’s renewal. The one to beat.

JOCKEY: Miguel MenaTRAINER: Al Stall Jr.


6. By My StandardsComes into the Stephen Foster 3-for-3 this year (two of them Grade 2 stakes), drawing clear in the stretch with authority in each start. He is also 3-for-3 in his career at this 1 1/8-mile distance. The only poor start in his career was last year’s Kentucky Derby in which he endured a brutal trip. A major threat.

JOCKEY: Gabriel SaezTRAINER: Bret Calhoun


7. Silver DustThe other Bret Calhoun runner in Saturday’s Stephen Foster is a multiple graded stakes winner and the epitome of a professional, consistent racehorse who rarely fails to give a good effort. He’s had trouble closing out races in deep stretch, though, which makes him a logical choice to fill out exactas and trifectas but less so as a win candidate.

JOCKEY: Adam BeschizzaTRAINER: Bret Calhoun


8. OwendaleRunner-up to Tom’s d’Etat in last fall’s Clark Handicap, he made a sharp comeback in the Blame Stakes at Churchill last month, winning the one-turn mile race with a late rally. He comes from well back  and therefore will need a hot pace and a good trip in the Foster, but Owendale has paired well with Florent Geroux over the past year-plus and is a must use in all exotic tickets.

JOCKEY: Florent GerouxTRAINER: Brad Cox


THE PICK: Tom’s d’Etat

THE LONGSHOT: Multiplier



Watch the Fleur de Lis Stakes and the Stephen Foster Stakes from Churchill Downs on Saturday, June 27 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, and the NBC Sports app.

Breeders’ Cup spots on the line this weekend, top trainers hold keys to 2-year-old tests


Sometimes, in assessing stakes races, it is best to look at the history of the race and see if there is a dominant factor in that history. This weekend’s racing features both the Champagne Stakes and the Miss Grillo Stakes, two Win and You’re In races for the Breeders’ Cup (coverage begins Saturday at 4 pm ET on NBC). For both races, you need to look no further than the “winning trainer” column, which provides some unavoidable facts:

  1. Since 2004, Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne Stakes a record-setting six times.
  2. In recent times, Chad Brown has asserted himself in this race, winning 3 of the last 6 runnings.
  3. In the 14 runnings of the Miss Grillo since 2008, Chad Brown has been the winning trainer 8 times.

All observations and handicapping of these two races must begin with these facts. Is there something that makes horses from these barns better than others? Not necessarily. But history tells us that these two barns have high-quality and expensive horses and they tend to get them to peak at this time of year. You can try to beat them at the betting windows, but be aware of the history that you are running into.

Further research brought up some interesting notes about these two races and their Breeders’ Cup divisions.

First, a look at the 2-year-old colt division. Since 2004 (when Todd Pletcher won the first of his 6 Champagne Stakes), three 2-year-olds have won the Champagne, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old Eclipse Award. They were War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010) and Shanghai Bobby (2012).  Pletcher trained Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby, and Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito handled War Pass.

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Looking at the 2-year-old turf fillies, the dominance of Chad Brown is even more striking. Since 2008, when Chad Brown captured his first Miss Grillo and the first running of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, four 2-year-old fillies have captured the Miss Grillo and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. They were Maram (2008), Lady Eli (2014), New Money Honey (2016) and Newspaperofrecord (2018). All four fillies were trained by Chad Brown.

A review of charts from the Champagne back to 2004 (the year of Todd Pletcher’s first winner in the race) reveals that he had 20 starters, with 6 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. That means he has won 30% of the time and been in the money 50%.

A review of the charts from the Miss Grillo dating back to 2008 (Chad Brown’s first winner in the race) shows that he has had 23 starters, with 8 wins, 1 second and 4 thirds. That means he has won approximately 35% of the time and been in the money 56%.

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Storylines to Watch for 2022 Champagne Stakes

So, what does this mean for this year’s editions of these two “Win and You’re In” races for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup?

In the Champagne, it seems that the dominant trainers in the sport are putting forth the major contenders.

  • 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is likely to start Verifying, who was a solid winner at Saratoga as a big favorite in his only career start.
  • The sport’s all-time winningest North American trainer is Steve Asmussen, who is rapidly closing in on 10,000 career wins. Asmussen, who won this race in 2020 with Jackie’s Warrior, will send out Gulfport, a very impressive son of Uncle Mo. Gulfport won his first two races by an average winning margin of almost 10 lengths. Then, he had some real misfortune in his next two starts, finishing 2nd in both races at Saratoga. In the Saratoga Special, he had major traffic problems that led to losing several lengths at the top of the stretch. As the favorite in the Hopeful, he endured a wide trip on a sloppy surface to be 2nd best again. With a clean trip, he will be a major contender in the Champagne.
  • As previously stated, Chad Brown has won the Champagne in 3 of its last 6 runnings. He is likely to enter Blazing Sevens, who is a son of Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. After a big win in the first race of his career at Saratoga, Blazing Sevens endured a wide trip on a sloppy track in the Hopeful Stakes, and he should improve here, especially on a fast track.
  • The horse who beat Gulfport in the Hopeful was Forte, trained by the 6-time winner of this race, Todd Pletcher. The stretchout to a one-turn mile in the Champagne would have seemed to be made to order for his closing kick. At entry time, Pletcher chose to not enter Forte in the Champagne Stakes, in all likelihood because he plans to enter the horse in the Breeders’ Futurity next Saturday at Keeneland. The Breeders’ Futurity is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and can be seen on CNBC.

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Storylines to Watch for 2022 Miss Grillo Stakes

Moving on to the Miss Grillo, Chad Brown is likely to enter Free Look, who was an impressive late-closing winner of a Maiden race in her second career start. In her first start, she was a victim of a slow pace, and the best she could do from the back of the pack was close to be 3rd. She seems to be a horse who is likely to improve with more racing. Free Look is a daughter of the leading sire Tapit.

Two others to watch in the Miss Grillo are Be Your Best and Pleasant Passage. Be Your Best is undefeated in two starts for trainer Horacio DePaz. Her last start was the P.G. Johnson Stakes, and she displayed the stalking style that has led to wins in both of her starts. Another with a license to improve is Pleasant Passage, from the barn of legendary trainer Shug McGaughey. In her only career start, she rallied up the rail and endured a stretch battle to get up for a narrow win. She has outstanding grass breeding, and the experience of that win should work in her favor in this race.

It is hard to predict outcomes with lightly-raced 2-year-olds. What we do know is that two horses will win their way into two Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday. That’s the great thing about these “Win and You’re In” races… they are running for something other than purse money, and it often produces some outstanding outcomes.

Lookahead to 2022 Breeders’ Cup

These races lead up to two of the 14 championship races on November 4th and 5th. For those who have never watched an entire Breeders’ Cup, get ready for the rush of witnessing a world championship event every 35 minutes or so. It’s like the Olympics of our sport. Be ready to watch and wager, and you’re sure to come away with some great memories. If you pick some winners, you might come away with a nice profit, as well. The Breeders’ Cup…there’s nothing like it!

Pegasus on Jan. 28, Florida Derby on April 1 at Gulfstream

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Gulfstream Park announced the schedule for the 2022-23 Championship Meet, highlighted by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 28.

Also on Pegasus day: The $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, as well as the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Gulfstream’s top Kentucky Derby prep race, the $1 million Florida Derby, will be run on April 1 as part of a card with 10 stakes races. Other top 3-year-old preps at Gulfstream in early 2023 include the $150,000 Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 1, the $250,000 Holy Bull on Feb. 4 and the $400,000 Fountain of Youth on March 4.

The Pegasus is returning for a seventh time. The format has changed several times in the race’s infancy; the purse structure for the Pegasus World Cup no longer requires owners to put up $1 million apiece for a spot in the starting gate for what was, at its inception, the world’s richest race with a purse that reached $16 million.

This much has remained constant: Winning the Pegasus changes a horse’s resume. No Pegasus winner has ever finished worse than sixth in the yearlong earnings among North American horses, and two past winners – Arrogate and Gun Runner – are two of the three highest-earning thoroughbreds in U.S. history.

Gulfstream’s Championship Meet runs from Dec. 26 through April 2, featuring 60 stakes races, 35 of them graded, and worth a combined $13.6 million.