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$1 million Stephen Foster Stakes Preview

Scott Morris | June 29, 2023
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Changing the venue does not change the buzz. While Churchill Downs’ annual marquee summer stakes race won’t actually be taking place in Louisville, moving the races to Ellis Park in Henderson, KY, (some 128 miles to the west) has not affected the quality. 

There’s an excellent card of Saturday racing, headlined by the best older horses in the mile-and-an-eighth, $1 million Stephen Foster Stakes.  

Six major races are to be contested, with the $400,000 Wise Dan Stakes on the turf highlighting the undercard. While the Triple Crown might be over this season, that doesn’t mean that the action has diminished any.

Here is a preview of the feature races at the Pea Patch, along with our choices, according to horse race wagering.

Foster is Loaded

The Stephen Foster Stakes is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, offering some extra incentive in addition to the seven figures of purse money.

There will be eight horses in the field, all but one with a graded stakes win on the resume. The early wagering line suggests a wide-open betting board here.

Smile Happy (Corey Lanerie, post No. 5) is the 3-1 (+300) morning-line favorite to win the Foster. West Will Power (Flavien Prat, post No. 6) isn’t too far behind at 7-2 (+350). There are others in the mix at early odds of 4-1 (+400) and 6-1 (+600), so if you find the winner, you are going to get paid. 

Smile Happy, a 4-year-old son of Runhappy, has won twice in three starts this season, with the career millionaire 4-of-8 as far as lifetime tries are concerned. Entering off a handy win (at 7-1, or +700) in Chuchill’s $600,000 Alysheba Stakes, Smile Happy is trained by Ken McPeek.

West Will Power, a 6-year-old son of Bernardini trained by Brad Box, is another millionaire in his career (16 starts, 6 wins, 7 seconds, 1 1hird). Coming out of that same Alysheba, he was a tiring third as the odds-on favorite in early May. 

Rattle N Roll (Brian Hernandez Jr., post No. 4), also trained by McPeek, is an early 4-1 (+400) proposition. He’s the pick in the Stephen Foster. Rattle N Roll is a 4-year-old son of Connect who has won thrice (consecutively) in four starts this season. His latest effort was a victory in the $225,000 Blames Stakes at Churchill four weeks ago.

Remainder of the Foster field includes…

-Proxy (Joel Rosario, post No. 1 [4-1, +400]) 

-Stiletto Boy (Kent Desormeaux, post No. 2, 6-1. +600])  

-Speed Bias (Luis Saez, post No. 3, 12-1, +1200])

-Last Samurai (Cristian Torres, post No. 7, 6-1, +600])

-Happy American (James Graham, post No. 8, 20-1, +2000]). 

Intrigue in “Dan”

While the million-dollar Stephen Foster Stakes is the main event on Saturday at Ellis Park, the $400,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth Wise Dan Stakes is quite the secondary contest. There are going to be 10 horses competing on the lawn.

Set Piece is expected to take this race, opening as the odds-on (4-5 [-160]) favorite. He was a winner of this event in 2021, the last time it was contested (cancelled [poor Churchill turf] a season ago).

Set Piece (Florent Geroux, post No. 8) is a British-bred 7-year-old Dansili gelding trained by Brad Cox. He has already won a dozen races and over a million dollars in his career, the latest effort a win (at odds-on) a month ago in Churchill’s $225,000 Arlington Stakes. 

He was an off-the-pace victor in that event, contested the same 1 1/16-mile distance at Saturday’s “Dan.”  

Another horse to watch is Get Smokin (Ricardo Santana Jr.. post No. 4), odds of 5-1 (+500) on the early line. 

Get Smokin, a 6-year-old Get Stormy gelding trained by Mark Casse, cut the fractions in the aforementioned Arlington, but couldn’t stall Set Piece in the late going.

Camp Hope (Brian Hernandez Jr,, post No. 3) is another 5-1 (+500) early chance worth a shot, looking to front-end what could be a jockey-trainer (Ken McPeek) stakes double at Ellis.

First Ellis post is 12:45 PM ET, with the Foster (race 10 of 11) going at 5:26 PM ET. The Wise Dan (race 9) goes at 4:55 PM ET. 

The other stakes have post times of…

-1:43 PM ET ($225,000 American Derby, race 3)
-3:18 PM ET ($225,000 Kelly’s Landing, race 6)

-4:22 PM ET ($400,000 Fleur de Lis, race 6)

-5:58 PM ET ($225,000 Tepin, race 11).

Ellis Park simulcasting is available each racing day, as per horse racing odds.


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