This Saturday’s feature race is the G1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. Run at 1-1/8 miles around 2-turns for a purse of $500,000, this is the Midwest’s last hurrah before the top races on both coasts dominate the summer fare.
Gun Runner, the 2nd best horse in the land with over $4.3 million in lifetime earnings, will lead a field of 8 postward as the 4/5 morning line favorite. The Steve Asmussen trainee made a great showing in his last at the Dubai World Cup where he finished an impressive 2nd to Arrogate, the best horse in the land, 5 lengths ahead of the nearest rival.
The race sets up as a front end battle between multiple graded stake winners Gun Runner and Bird Song. Adding to the front end madness will be Stanford, who will break from the outside post, will need to get the lead, but will not be fast enough.
Bird Song, Breaking Lucky, and Honorable Duty are all coming out of the same race, the G2 Alysheba at Churchill Downs, where Bird Song wired the field. Honorable Duty stalked that leader and held 2nd, while Breaking Lucky broke poorly and finished a well beaten 5th, 10 lengths back. And let’s not forget that this race was on May 5th, a.k.a. derby weekend, and we all know how good speed and the inside were that day.
When I looked into the recent history of 9 furlong stake races at CD, I found that only 1 of the last 6 was won on the front end, and that was the above mentioned Alysheba on a wet track. In the others, the winners came from off the pace. So let’s not give this one away to the front end just yet. The pace may be just a bit too hot.
Gun Runner’s last three wins have all come in wire to wire fashion. Gun Runner has not won without the lead since the Louisiana Derby in March of last year, Bird Song’s resume is identical. His last three wins…all wire to wire. Bird Song’s last win from behind was an allowance at Saratoga last July. And then there is Stanford, who will not be fast enough to get the lead on Saturday, but who also won his last three on the lead and hasn’t won from off the pace since last July at Monmouth.
While Gun Runner is the most accomplished, classiest, and fastest of the three speedballs, pace makes the race and I will look to beat the favorite with a come from behind price horse.
I landed on the #4, Honorable Duty, with Javier Castellano aboard. Trained by Brendan Walsh, he may have been a little too close to the pace in the Alysheba and the jockey change from James Graham to Mr. Castellano may be just what this horse needs. Graham had done a fine job guiding this horse to an inside trip around 2 turns, but Castellano is a more accomplished and patient rider. With competitive speed figures, a 6-1 morning line, and a hot pace to run at, Honorable Duty is the play.