Fred Bradley’s homebred Brass Hat, who launched his career for a $15,000 claiming tag and just missed winning the $6 million Dubai World Cup (Grade I) last time out, is a narrow favorite over a field of nine rivals in Saturday’s 25th running of the $750,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs
The 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up is the main course in a delicious menu of six stakes races with total purses of $1.75 million that make up “Stephen Foster Super Saturday” at Churchill Downs. The race is scheduled as the 10th event on an 11-race program and will be televised by ESPN on the first installment of its “Road to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships – Powered by Dodge,” which is scheduled to air from 5-7 p.m. (all times EDT). Post time for the first race is 1:15 p.m.
Churchill Downs handicapper Mike Battaglia has installed Brass Hat as a narrow 5-2 favorite in his morning line for the race that was won last year by Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren’s Saint Liam, who would go on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic powered by Dodge (GI) at Belmont Park and Eclipse Awards that honored him as “Horse of the Year” and best older horse.
A homebred son of Prized trained by William “Buff” Bradley, the owner’s son, Brass Hat saw a three-race winning streak snapped in a runner-up finish to Electrocutionist in the Dubai World Cup on March 25 at Dubai’s Nad Al Sheba. Before his trip to the Persian Gulf he had reeled off strong victories in the Donn Handicap (GI) at Gulfstream Park, the New Orleans Handicap (GII) at the Fair Grounds at Harrah’s Louisiana Downs, and the Prairie Bayou on polytrack at Turfway Park.
Bradley gave Brass Hat some time off on the family farm near Frankfort, Ky. after the trip to Dubai and the Stephen Foster will be his first race since the World Cup.
“We never were concerned about shipping him over to Dubai and then coming back and not being able to perform,” said Bradley. “We gave him a month off after we got him back and he loved that. He gained weight and he’s come back super.”
Horses that competed in the big race in Dubai have had a history of running well in the Stephen Foster. Godolphin’s Street Cry won both races in 2002, while Victory Gallop established a stakes and track record time for 1 1/8-miles in his 1999 Foster win that came on the heels of a third-place finish behind Almutawakel in Dubai. Captain Steve, the 2001 World Cup winner, finished second to Guided Tour in that year’s Foster, while 1997 Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Silver Charm won the ’98 Dubai World Cup before he ran second to Awesome Again in that year’s Foster.
Regular jockey Willie Martinez will be in the saddle aboard Brass Hat, who will carry co-high weight of 121 pounds and has drawn post nine. Brass Hat has a career record of 6-5-0 in 13 races and earnings of $2,417,090.
Gary Broad’s Buzzards Bay, winner of the Santa Anita Derby (GI) at three and a dominating 8 ½-length winner in the Oaklawn Handicap (GII) earlier this year, has drawn the rail post and is the 3-1 second choice in Battaglia’s Stephen Foster morning line.
The Florida-bred son of Marco Bay comes into the Stephen Foster with a two-race winning streak that includes his Oaklawn victory and the All-American Handicap (GIII) at Golden Gate Fields. He ran a solid fifth in last year’s Kentucky Derby for trainer Jeff Mullins before he moved to the stable of Ron Ellis in the fall.
Ellis elected to ship Buzzards Bay across the country to compete in the Stephen Foster rather than stay home and run in the $250,000-added Californian (GII) at Hollywood Park, where his colt would probably have been an odds-on favorite. But Ellis thought that the Stephen Foster provided a better opportunity for Buzzards Bay.
“To me, it’s probably one of the top three or four most prestigious races in the country throughout the year,” Ellis said. “That was factored into our decision. He’s training so well that now is time to try to win a race like that.”
His current winning streak has lifted Buzzards Bay’s career record to 5-1-3 in 15 races with earnings of $1,116,971. Jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr. will travel from southern California to ride Buzzards Bay, who will also carry 121 pounds.
Stonecrest Farm’s venerable Perfect Drift (5-1) is the only member of this year’s field to have previously won the Stephen Foster. The 7-year-old Dynaformer gelding defeated eventual “Horse of the Year” Mineshaft in the 2003 renewal and has run third in each of its past two runnings. Mark Guidry will ride trainer Murray Johnson’s veteran, who has won 11 of 37 races and earned more than $4.3 million.
Other contenders in the Stephen Foster include a pair of horses saddled by trainer Richard Dutrow, Jr., who is looking for his first official victory in the race. Dutrow trained last year’s winner, Saint Liam, but was serving a suspension when the Foster was run and the eventual “Horse of the Year” was saddled at Churchill Downs by Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel.
Dutrow will saddle Love of Money, the runner-up in the Westchester Handicap (GIII) and winner of the Pennsylvania Derby (GII) as a 3-year-old in 2004, and Wild Desert, winner of Canada’s Queen’s Plate in 2005.
Love of Money (7-2) will be ridden by Edgar Prado, who was aboard Saint Liam for last year’s Foster win and piloted Barbaro to victory in this year’s Kentucky Derby. Robby Albarado will ride Wild Desert (15-1), the runner-up in the Alysheba at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day.
The powerhouse stable of two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher is represented by West Virginia (6-1), who defeated 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide in the Excelsior Breeders’ Cup (GIII) at Aqueduct on April 1. Garrett Gomez will ride West Virginia for Pletcher as both will seek their first wins in the Stephen Foster.
$750,000 STEPHEN FOSTER (GI)
# Horse (weight) Jockey ML Odds
1. Buzzards Bay (121) Jose Valdivia, Jr. 3-1
2. Seek Gold (112) Calvin Borel 30-1
3. West Virginia (114) Garrett Gomez 6-1
4. Cosmonaut (113) Julien Leparoux 20-1
5. Wiggins (114) Rafael Bejarano 15-1
6. M B Sea (113) Rene Douglas 20-1
7. Perfect Drift (118) Mark Guidry 5-1
8. Wild Desert (116) Robby Albarado 15-1
9. Brass Hat (121) Willie Martinez 5-2
10. Love of Money (115) Edgar Prado 7-2
Morning Line Odds by Mike Battaglia