Churchill Downs goes prime time again on Saturday night, the “Downs After Dark” program kicking off at 6:00 ET with an outstanding 11-race program that features four graded stakes including the $400,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) which drew a solid field of older runners.
The Charles Lopresti trained Wise Dan is the 8-5 morning line favorite in the field, coming off a big effort winning the Ben Ali (G3) at Keeneland by 10 ½ lengths off a five month layoff.
The five-year-old gelding is coupled in the betting with Alysheba (G2) winner Successful Dan, who Lopresti has said will scratch.
The Foster is the first of six Breeders’ Cup Challenge races, with the winner guaranteed a starting spot in this fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
Wise Dan will need to avoid a bounce to win here and catches a deep field that includes Pimlico Special (G3) winner Alternation, who comes into the race riding a four race winning streak.
The Donnie Von Hemel trainee is 4-1 on the morning line and will be ridden by regular rider Luis Quinonez .
Others with a good shot of winning include Oaklawn Handicap (G2) runner up Ron the Greek, last year’s Kentucky Derby (G1) runner up Nehro, and Skip Away (G3) winner Fort Larned.
The stakes action on Saturday night kicks off with the $100,000 Matt Winn (G3) which drew a compact field of five, although there is no real standout.
Peter Pan (G2) runner up Right to Vote is the 5-2 morning line favorite.
One of the best betting races on the evening is the $100,000 Regret (G3) at nine furlongs on the grass. The race drew a wide open field of eleven three-year-old fillies.
Trainer Graham Motion sends out the 3-1 morning line favorite Coup, who is coming off a victory in the Hilltop at Pimlico in her last outing.
Five runners in the field will be making their stakes debut including recent first level optional claimer winner Colonial Flag for the Michael Matz barn, and Centre Court, who was a good looking maiden winner in her last outing for trainer Rusty Arnold.
Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Royal Delta is the 4-5 morning line favorite in the $150,000 Fleur de Lis (G2), which drew a field of six fillies and mares.
Royal Delta will be making her first start since a disappointing ninth place finish in the Dubai World Cup (G1) back in March.
Michael Dempsey provides his selections for Belmont Park and Churchill Downs each racing day. Mike’s Best Plays Report is available each weekend, with his strongest plays and selections including the top stakes races.
Let’s head out to Churchill Downs for Saturday’s featured race of the day:
Churchill Downs Race 8 The Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) Post time 9:39 ET
Ron the Greek 6-1
Wise Dan 8-5
Fort Larned 5-1
Mission Impazible 8-1
Ron the Greek looks like the value of the race if we catch most of the 6-1 morning line. Last out the five year old was a good second in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) behind gate to wire winner Alternation. The Bill Mott trainee was four wide early and down the backstretch, caught some traffic when angled toward the inside in the stretch and could not catch the winner when angled back outward late, coming up 2 ½ length short. Alternation came out of the race to win the Pimlico Special (G3) in his next start, his fourth win in a row. Things may set up well for our top pick here as there is enough speed in here to assure we should see a solid pace.
Wise Dan ran huge last out winning the Ben Ali (G2) over the polytrack at Keeneland in his first start off a five month layoff, drawing clear to win by better than ten lengths and earning a career top speed figure. He grabbed the lead after going four wide into the first turn and they could not catch him over a racing strip that as kind to speed that day. The gelding has won three in a row including taking the Clark Handicap (G1) over the main track here last November, his third win in six trips over the surface. He has shown he does not need the lead and should get a good tracking trip here unless Johnny V. just sends him. Coming off back to back career tops and facing a tough group here, the 8-5 morning line is a bit on the light side, and the potential is certainly there for this guy to regress.
Fort Larned prompted the early pace, had the lead heading for home and could not hold off Successful Dan late, that runner likely to scratch out of this spot. The colt was six lengths clear of the rest of the field in the outing. Two back the colt won the Skip Away (G3) in a good looking effort at Gulfstream Park going 1 3/16 miles on the main track. He is reunited with Leparoux who was aboard the colt two back.
WIN: Ron the Greek to win at 4-1 or better.
EXACTA: 1,5 / 1,3,5,7
TRIFECTA: 1,5 / 1,3,5,7 / 1,3,5,7,8