Wise Dan: faces top-quality field in Stephen Foster Handicap at ChurchillPICTURE: EquiSport Photos
Wise Dan bids to confirm status in red-hot Foster
Preview: USA, Saturday 2.39am (Sun) BST
Churchill Downs: Stephen Foster Hcap (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo+
WISE DAN (Charles Lopresti/John Velazquez), number one in the US this year according to Racing Post Ratings, bids to confirm his status under the floodlights at Churchill Downs on Saturday against a competitive field of top older horses in the Stephen Foster Handicap.
Named in honour of the composer of Derby anthem My Old Kentucky Home, this $400,000 event is one of the jewels of America's ‘handicap' division.
Wise Dan comes in off a blistering performance in Grade 3 company on the Keeneland Polytrack, having broken the track record with a ten-length victory on April 22.
The switch to dirt offers no cause for concern, as the five-year-old won the Grade 1 Clark over course and distance in November, drawing away from reliable yardstick Mission Impazible to score by nearly four lengths.
Mission Impazible (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano) has a 3lb pull here in a race where Wise Dan's stablemate Successful Dan has been entered only as a precaution.
Live threats in a high-class field are headed by Alternation (Donnie von Hemel/Luis Quinonez), bidding to complete a five-timer with his first Grade 1 success after making hay at lower graded-stakes level.
Last time out he closed well to touch off last year's Kentucky Derby second Nehro (Steve Asmussen/Corey Nakatani) in the Pimlico Special.
Alternation gave 6lb that day and the pair reoppose on identical terms. "He's been beating Grade 1 winners the last few times and we'd love to get a Grade 1 win for him," said Von Hemel. "Wise Dan will be a very difficult assignment for anybody in this race since he's run a couple monster efforts the last two outs and he looks to be a very worthy opponent."
Santa Anita Handicap winner Ron The Greek (Bill Mott/Jose Lezcano) and Nate's Mineshaft (Austin Smith/Jesse Campbell), runaway winner at Lone Star last time, are other high-profile names in a fantastic race.
Nate's Mineshaft, who slammed Mission Impazible earlier this year at Fair Grounds, is a front-runner whose presence could conceivably upset Wise Dan, leaving the race open to more of a closing type like Alternation or Ron The Greek.
Churchill Downs: Fleur de Lis Hcap (Grade 2) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo+ f/m (2.05am Sun BST)
Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic winner Royal Delta (Bill Mott/MikeSmith) gives weight away to five rivals as she bids for her first success of the year after a disappointing effort in the Dubai World Cup. She's been working well at home since her return to the States.
Hollywood Park: Vanity Hcap (Grade 1) 1m1f, AW, 3yo+ f/m (1.10am Sun BST)
A clutch of former European-trained fillies are involved in this $250,000 contest. Zafeen's Pearl (Tim Takteen), four times a winner on the all-weather for Dean Ivory, and Paul Reddam's Atlantic Swing (Ben Cecil/Mario Gutierrez), who scored at The Curragh in October for John Oxx.
Caelis (Peter Miller/Kevin Krigger), who used to be trained by Ralph Beckett, was third behind likely favourite Include Me Out (Ron Ellis/Joe Talamo) and Ellafitz (Bob Baffert/Rafael Bejarano) on her most recent start in a Grade 2 here a month ago.
Colonial Downs: Colonial Turf Cup (Grade 2) 1m1½f, turf, 3yo+ (1.36am Sun BST)
The former Luca Cumani-trained Forte Dei Marmi (Roger Attfield/Rajiv Maragh) breaks from the inner in a 12-runner field for this $500,000 contest, one of the most prestigious turf races of the year.
Eight-year-old Rahystrada (Byron Hughes/Sheldon Russell) bids to repeat last year's win.