The $600,000, Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes Saturday at Churchill Downs brings together a field of nine horses in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic division trying to earn a “Win and You’re In” spot into the $6 million race on Nov. 6.
Leading the field in terms of recent accomplishments is Maxfield, an earner of more than $900,000 in his career and the winner of six of seven lifetime races who enters the Stephen Foster off a dominant win in the Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet in on April 30 at Churchill. Chess Chief won the similar Grade 2 New Orleans Classic Stakes in March, before finishing a non-threatening third behind Maxfield in the Alysheba. Seven-year-old gelding Silver Dust is the highest earner among the Foster field having tallied over $975,000, and he comes in off of a game win in the Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland in April. Warrior’s Charge is another who has had an excellent career, banking just over $887,700, but his most recent outright win came in February of 2020 when victorious in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap (he was elevated to first in last August’s Grade 3 Philip H. Iselin Stakes when the winner was disqualified). Visitant finished second to Maxfield in the Alysheba following a win in the Kentucky Cup Classic Stakes and is certainly a contender. South Bend won the Street Sense Stakes over this track as a 2-year-old in 2019 and then went winless in 12 straight races before a strong allowance score in April. Sprawl just missed by a head in a three-horse photo in the Blame Stakes over this track and at the Foster’s 1 1/8-mile distance in his most recent start on May 29. Necker Island won his most recent race, also over Churchill’s main 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 as noted above, total 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 under the twin spires was not a win but occurred when he led late and came up a neck short of victory in the 1 1/8-mile 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, Foster morning-line 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 he had a slow start and had to battle with two other horses the entire length of the stretch. Jockey Adam Beschizza rode Silver Dust to that victory and rides again Saturday, which in my opinion gives Silver Dust a chance at posting a Stephen Foster upset over what will likely be heavy post-time favorite Maxfield.
Maxfield won the first five races of his career, including four stakes, the biggest of which was the 2019 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity. Last season as a 3-year-old, Maxfield won the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs in May but was unable to make the rescheduled Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve in September. He returned off a layoff last December to win consecutive races, including the Grade 3 Mineshaft Stakes with a then career-best 111 Equibase Speed Figure. After a disappointing third-place finish as the favorite in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in March, Maxfield won the 1 1/16-mile Alysheba Stakes on April 30 at Churchill Downs with authority, establishing a new career-best 115 figure. He was pulling away at the end in the Alysheba, which suggests he can run even better in the Stephen Foster.
Visitant won three of four races to start his career, including the Alcatraz Stakes at Golden Gate Fields in the spring of 2019, and then after two poorer efforts and a setback he 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, finishing first in an allowance optional claiming race at Turfway Park. He stayed at Turfway and kept improving, finishing third in a stakes in late December and then taking an another allowance optional claiming race in early March. After that, on March 27 Visitant won the Kentucky Cup Classic Stakes at Turfway by two lengths (a race that was held at the same 1 1/8-mile distance of the Stephen Foster). Visitant earned 107 Equibase Speed Figures in both of his March wins, and next squared off against Maxfield in the Alysheba, where he wasn’t disgraced a bit as he settled for second after leading for the first six furlongs in the race. The 110 Equibase Speed Figure he earned in the Alysheba was a new career best, and he was 4 ¼ lengths clear of the third-place Chess Chief in a solid effort. Having run three “A” races in a row as a 5-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 (108), Empty Tomb (101), Necker Island (99), South Bend (106), Sprawl (111) and Warrior’s Charge (110).