This Saturday’s Grade 2, $600,000 Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill Downs brings together a field of nine horses in the Breeders’ Cup Classic division trying to earn a “Win and You’re In” spot into the big race in November. Leading the field in terms of recent accomplishments is Maxfield, an earner of more than $900K in his career and the winner of six of seven lifetime races who enters the Stephen Foster off a win in the Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes in April at Churchill.
Chess Chief won the similar Grade 2 New Orleans Stakes in March, before a non-threatening third-place effort behind Maxfield in the Alysheba. Warrior’s Charge is another who has had an excellent career, banking $887K, but his most recent win came in February of 2020 when victorious in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap. Visitant finished second in the Alysheba following a win in the Kentucky Cup Classic Stakes and will certainly be on many a contender list.
South Bend won the Street Sense Stakes over the track as a two year old in 2019 and was winless in 12 straight before a strong allowance win in April. Sprawl just missed by a head in a three horse photo in the Blame Stakes over the track in his most recent race. Necker Island won his most recent race, also over the track just 20 days ago, but had not won prior to that since November, 2019 and has never won a stakes race. Empty Tomb rounds out the field, also going for his first stakes win and also having just won a race at Churchill Downs last month.
I’ll start my win contender list with Silver Dust, who has a lot of mental ability to go along with his physical ability. This has resulted in 14 first or second place finishes in 31 dirt races and earnings of $975,677. Perhaps better still, Silver Dust has finished in the top three in eight of 10 career starts at Churchill Downs, winning twice. His best effort ever came over the track and was not a win but occurred when leading late and coming up a neck short of victory in the Lukas Classic Stakes in the fall of 2019, earning a very strong 113 ™ Equibase® Speed Figure in the process.
Putting that into perspective among the rest of the field, favorite Maxfield earned a 115 figure winning the Alysheba Stakes in his most recent race. In April, 20 days before Maxfield won the Alysheba, Silver Dust won the Ben Ali Stakes at the distance of the Stephen Foster even after a slow start and having to battle with two other horses the entire length of the stretch. Jockey Adam Beschizza rode Silver Dust to that victory and rides again which in my opinion gives Silver Dust a chance at posting the upset over likely heavily favored Maxfield in the race.
Maxfield won the first five races of his career including four stakes, the biggest of which was the 2019 Breeders’ Futurity. Last season as a three year old Maxfield won the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs in May but was unable to make the rescheduled Kentucky Derby in September. He returned off a layoff last December to win consecutive races including the Mineshaft Stakes with a then career-best 111 ™ figure. After a disappointing third-place finish as the heavy favorite in the Santa Anita Handicap in March of this year, Maxfield won the Alysheba Stakes on April 30 at Churchill Downs with authority, establishing a new career-best 115 figure while pulling away at the end to suggest he can run even better in the Stephen Foster.
Visitant won three of four races to start his career including the Alcatraz Stakes in the spring of 2019, then after two poorer efforts and a setback took 13 months off. Returning in the fall of 2020, Visitant got back into top form in his first two-turn race and second start of his comeback last December, then two races later in March won the Kentucky Cup Classic Stakes at the distance of the Stephen Foster. Earning career-best 107 ™ figures in the comeback win in March and in the Kentucky Cup Classic, Visitant next squared off against Maxfield in the Alysheba and wasn’t disgraced a bit when settling for second after leading for the first six furlongs in the race. The 110 figure earned in the Alysheba was a new best figure and he was four lengths clear of the third horse in a solid effort. Having run three “A” races in a row as a five year old, Visitant must be respected as a strong contender in this year’s Stephen Foster Stakes.
The rest of the field, with their best ™ Equibase Speed Figures, is Chess Chief (106), Empty Tomb (100), Necker Island (99), South Bend (102), Sprawl (111) and Warrior’s Charge (110).
Stephen Foster Stakes – Grade 2
Race 11 at Churchill Downs
Saturday, June 26 – Post Time 5:59 PM E.T.
One Mile and One Eighth
Four Year Olds and Upward
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