Stephen Foster Stakes 2020 betting preview

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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, NBCSports.com 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).

STEPHEN FOSTER STAKES

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

THE SUPERFECTA: 5-6-8-4

 

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, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

bob baffert
Sam Upshaw Jr./USA TODAY NETWORK
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”