Every year, when the Triple Crown concludes, the attention of racing fans turns to the Breeders’ Cup, including the $6-million Breeders’ Cup Classic. Churchill Downs makes the switch in focus particularly easy by hosting an excellent day of stakes races one week after the Belmont Stakes, with the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap - a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic - being the highlight of the day.
The expected favorite is Effinex (#3), who finished second to American Pharoah in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Since that race, Effinex has done little wrong, winning the Clark Handicap over the same track and distance as the Stephen Foster, then coming off a layoff to run third in the Santa Anita Handicap despite coming down with hives before the race. With that effort under his belt, Effinex returned to his winning ways in the Oaklawn Handicap on April 16, tracking the pace before taking command and defeating Santa Anita Handicap winner Melatonin by a length.
With his impressive speed figures and proven Grade 1 talent, Effinex would be tough to beat regardless of running style, but his excellent tactical speed gives him an even greater advantage in a race that came up relatively light in terms of early speed. The only other true speed horse in the race, Bradester (#2), has drawn inside of Effinex, which should allow the favorite to work out an ideal trip stalking the pace on the outside. From there, I think Effinex will be very difficult to beat.
Majestic Harbor (#4) and Eagle (#7) have developed quite a rivalry this year, racing against each other four times with each finishing ahead of the other on two occasions. Of the pair, I prefer Eagle, who I feel was compromised by poor trips each time he was beaten by Majestic Harbor. Two starts back, Eagle received a good trip and won the nine-furlong Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland over the talented Noble Bird, and a return to nine furlongs in the Stephen Foster should help him turn the tables on Majestic Harbor.
But if you’re looking for a big longshot to spruce up the exotics, why not take a chance with Are You Kidding Me (#6)? A talented and consistent runner on turf and synthetic, over which he has won five graded stakes races, Are You Kidding Me has decent tactical speed, but he also finishes very well and could appreciate the long homestretch at Churchill Downs. He’s only run on dirt once, finishing eighth in the 2013 Florida Derby, but he’s improved a lot since then, and the main track at Churchill Downs is known to play favorably toward turf and synthetic specialists. For what it’s worth, Are You Kidding Me wouldn’t be the first turf/synthetic runner to ship in from Canada and upset the Stephen Foster - in 2011, Pool Play upset the Stephen Foster at 36-1 despite having never won on dirt before, and his form coming into the race was much less impressive that Are You Kidding Me’s recent races.
Bradester (#2) can be dangerous if left on a lonely lead, but has shown a tendency to tire when challenged early, when setting too fast of a pace, or when facing top-level horses. With Effinex pressing him on the outside, it could be tough for Bradester to run his best race. International Star (#1) didn’t run all that badly when sixth last time out in the Charles Town Classic over a three-turn “bullring” course, and he has defeated Eagle and Majestic Harbor twice this year. However, even his best races might leave him a little short of contending for victory.
Wagering Strategy A: Exactas
$5 exacta: 3 with 6,7 ($10)
$3 exacta: 3 with 1,4 ($6)
$2 exacta: 6,7 with 3 ($4)
Wagering Strategy B: Trifectas
$1.5 trifecta: 3 with 6,7 with 1,4,6,7 ($9)
$1 trifecta: 3 with 1,4 with 6,7 ($4)
$1 trifecta: 6,7 with 3 with 1,4,6,7 ($6)
$0.50 trifecta: 3 with 6,7 with 6,7 ($1)
Good luck, and enjoy the race!