Submitted by Gasper Moschera on Friday, June 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Churchill Downs: Successful Dan seeks elusive Grade 1 win in Stephen Foster
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – There’s nothing official about it, but the symbolism is hard to miss. The second half of the 2013 racing season in North America gets under way Saturday night with the Stephen Foster Handicap, a Grade 1 race that relegates the Triple Crown to the rearview mirror while shifting a forward focus onto the Breeders’ Cup.
This transition is accentuated by the $500,000 Foster being the first Win and You’re In event of the year in North America for the Nov. 1-2 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, with the winner getting an automatic, expenses-paid berth into the $5 million BC Classic.
Fortuitously, the Foster is a terrific race worthy of its leadoff spot. All but one of its six starters are Grade 1 winners, although, surprisingly, the 2-1 morning-line favorite is the only one who isn’t – officially, anyway.
That would be Successful Dan, whose exploits, backstory, and highly decorated kin have given his fans a tremendous bang for their buck from a mere 12 races. He finished first in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill in 2010 but was disqualified to third in a controversial call that still rankles his trainer, Charlie LoPresti.
“We’re still looking to make up for that one,” said LoPresti, who trains the 7-year-old Successful Dan for owner and breeder Morton Fink. “Hopefully, this will be it.”
Successful Dan is a year older than his half-brother, Wise Dan, the 2012 Horse of the Year. LoPresti has always thought extremely highly of Successful Dan and in quieter moments has conceded that he believed he was the better of the two. And, mornings aside, Successful Dan has been spectacular indeed on certain occasions, including his win here in the Grade 2 Alysheba on the 2012 Kentucky Oaks undercard.
Ligament injuries, however, have compromised Successful Dan, and the 1 1/8-mile Foster shapes up as a revealing test as to where he stands right now in the upper handicap ranks. Since finishing second to one of his Foster opponents, Fort Larned, in the Cornhusker Handicap almost a year ago in Iowa, Successful Dan has raced just once, winning the April 21 Ben Ali at Keeneland.
“Historically, his second race [after a layoff] has been even better,” LoPresti said. “He’s 110 percent right now. I couldn’t have him any better.”
With regular rider Julien Leparoux in from Southern California, Successful Dan will break from the outside post in the Foster, the anchor race on a Downs After Dark program that starts at 6 p.m. Eastern.
Successful Dan and Fort Larned (post 2, Brian Hernandez Jr.) each will carry 121 pounds as the co-highweights, followed closely by Ron the Greek (post 3, Jose Lezcano) with 120 and Take Charge Indy (post 4, Rosie Napravnik) with 119.
The morning line is similarly close. Churchill oddsmaker Mike Battaglia made Successful Dan a slight choice over Take Charge Indy (5-2), Fort Larned (3-1), and Ron the Greek (3-1).
Ron the Greek is the defending champion in the Foster, having simultaneously earned the distinction of being the only horse to defeat Wise Dan last year when up in the final yards to prevail by a head. With Lezcano back for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, Ron the Greek surely would benefit from a fast pace again.
Fort Larned, the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner for trainer Ian Wilkes, and Take Charge Indy, a resurgent 4-year-old trained by Pat Byrne, both figure to be part of that pace – and both clearly have shown themselves capable at this level, given best efforts.
The longshots in the field are Golden Ticket (post 1, Joel Rosario, 117 pounds) and the 2011 Foster winner, Pool Play (post 5, Miguel Mena, 115). There is liberal precedent for one of them to win, as huge upsets have occurred in this race within the last decade with Colonial Colony (62-1 in 2004), Seek Gold (91-1 in 2006), and Pool Play himself (36-1 two years ago).
The Foster is carded as the eighth of 11 Saturday races and is set for 9:39 p.m. Three other graded events surround it: the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis (race 6, 8:30), the Grade 3 Matt Winn (race 7, 9:05), and the Grade 3 Regret (race 9, 10:11).
The stakes record for the Foster is 1:47.28, set in 1999 by Victory Gallop. Successful Dan, by the way, is the track-record holder at Churchill for 1 1/16 miles after finishing in 1:41.04 in the 2012 Alysheba. The average winning Beyer Speed Figure for the Foster (since 1992) is 109.
The Foster got a purse increase this year after being worth $437,200 in 2012, the lowest since Byrne won it in 1997 with City By Night. It had been a $750,000-added race for years and peaked at $1 million when Curlin prevailed in 2008.
Arabian race draws eight
Just the second race for purebred Arabians at Churchill will be run Saturday night, when the Grade 1, $100,000 President of the United Arab Emirates Cup Stakes follows the other four stakes as race 10 (post 10:42). A field of eight is entered in the 1 1/16-mile race, with the rail horse, Valiant Boy Sbfar, listed as a 2-1 morning-line favorite under Joe Rocco Jr.
The Arabian race was purposely excluded for all pick-four (races 1-4, 3-6, and 6-9) and pick-five (races 2-6 and 5-9) wagers.
The only prior Arabian race at Churchill was run on a daytime Foster program in 2011. Several have been run in recent years at Keeneland.
Large crowd expected
The biggest post-Derby crowd of the spring meet can be expected Saturday night. Last year, 25,417 turned out for the first-ever Foster night card; average attendance for the 13 spring/summer nighttime programs is 26,276, according to Churchill publicity.
Terrific weather is in the forecast, with a daytime high of 84 degrees and a nighttime low of 67.
A “white party” theme is in effect, with fans encouraged to wear all-white attire. General admission after 4 p.m. is $10, up from the normal $3. Downs After Dark cards are set for the next two Saturdays, June 22 and 29.
? The connections of 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb will be presented with their engraved trophies in a presentation following the fourth race (post 7:26). Among those being honored are Rosario, trainer Shug McGaughey, and Daisy Phipps Pulito, the daughter of Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, who bred and owns Orb in partnership with his cousin, Stuart Janney III.
? Pierre Bellocq, the widely acclaimed cartoonist better known as “Peb,” was scheduled to update his fabulous Derby-winning trainer and jockey murals located on the second-floor clubhouse this weekend, but the work tentatively has been postponed until next weekend because of travel logistics.