Stephen Foster Quick Sheet: Get to Know the 2021 Stephen Foster Horses

Racing
Maxfield, shown winning the Alysheba Stakes on April 30, headlines Saturday’s Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill Downs, a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The road to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic heats up this Saturday, with the 40th running of the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill Downs. The race carries a purse of $600,000 and will be run at 1 ⅛ miles on dirt.

The Stephen Foster is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, with the winner guaranteed a spot in the starting gate for the Longines Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 6. Five Stephen Foster winners have gone on to Classic glory later in the year: Black Tie Affair in 1991, Awesome Again in 1998, Saint Liam in 2005, Blame in 2010, and Gun Runner in 2017.

The Stephen Foster Stakes will be televised on “America’s Day at the Races” along with the rest of Saturday’s card at Churchill Downs, the final day of racing for the spring meet. “America’s Day at the Races” airs on FS2 from 12:30-6:30 p.m. ET. Post time for the Foster is 5:59 p.m. ET.

Here, we’ll take a look at the horses in this year’s Stephen Foster.


Lou Hodges, Jr. /Hodges Photography

1. Chess Chief

Jockey: John Velazquez

Trainer: Dallas Stewart

Owner: Estate of James Coleman Jr.

Career record: 24 starts – 4 wins – 4 seconds – 4 thirds

Career earnings: $671,648

Earnings per start: $27,985

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 108

Pedigree: Into Mischief – Un Blessed, by Mineshaft

Age: 5

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: After several near-misses, Chess Chief broke through for his first stakes win in the New Orleans Classic Stakes at Fair Grounds on March 20. He rated in last place early on and then took advantage of Fair Grounds’ long stretch run to win by a head. He’s looking for revenge against Maxfield in this race, as he’s already lost to that rival twice this year, most recently finishing third to him by 7 ½ lengths in the Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet in April. As he usually comes from off the pace, Chess Chief may be up against it in the Foster. The Churchill track has been playing towards speed lately, which puts late runners like Chess Chief at a disadvantage. He also has an 0-for-8 record over Churchill’s track, with most of those races coming against lesser competition. Dallas Stewart is one of five trainers to win the Stephen Foster twice, having won with Macho Again in 2009 and Seeking the Soul in 2019. Chess Chief would give him a record-breaking third Stephen Foster victory. Hall of Famer John Velazquez was aboard Seeking the Soul for Stewart in 2019.


Coady Photography

2. Empty Tomb

Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.

Trainer: Mike Maker

Owner: Three Diamonds Farm

Career record: 18 starts – 4 wins – 4 seconds – 4 thirds

Career earnings: $254,006

Earnings per start: $14,111

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 101

Pedigree: Speightstown – Sure Peg, by Arch

Age: 5

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Pacesetter/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: One of three horses in Saturday’s Foster field without a stakes win, Empty Tomb enters off a third-level allowance win at Churchill on May 22. He battled on the lead on the inside the whole way and then drew off for a 1 ½-length win. It was an impressive effort, but he’s facing significantly tougher competition in this race. His career-best Equibase Speed Figure is several points slower than the number he’ll have to run to win this race. The largest impact he’ll likely make in this race will be on the early pace. This son of Speightstown could press the pacesetters and force them to go a bit faster than they might like early on. Mike Maker is tied with two other trainers atop the Churchill training standings in wins with three days to go at the meet.


Coady Photography

3. Necker Island

Jockey: Mitchell Murrill

Trainer: Chris Hartman

Owners: Raymond Daniels, Wayne Scherr and Will Harbut Racing

Career record: 13 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $280,738

Earnings per start: $21,595

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 99

Pedigree: Hard Spun – Jenny’s Rocket, by Mr. Greeley

Age: 4

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Necker Island has plenty of stakes experience, but not much success. In seven stakes tries last year, including a run in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, he never finished closer than 3 ½ lengths behind the winner. After a winless 2020, he broke through to win a June 6 second-level allowance last out at Churchill, in his second start of the year. He needed every bit of the long stretch run in a one-turn mile to prevail by a neck. He’ll have to run a lifetime-best race to contend in the Foster. Jockey Mitchell Murrill is enjoying a successful Churchill meet, winning at 20 percent as of June 23, and has been aboard for some of Necker Island’s best races since he was claimed last summer and Chris Hartman began training him, including his recent win.


Coady Photography

4. Sprawl

Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr.

Trainer: Thomas Drury Jr.

Owners: Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider

Career record: 14 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 4 thirds

Career earnings: $219,453

Earnings per start: $15,675

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 111

Pedigree: City Zip – Amen Amen, by Awesome Again

Age: 4

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Sprawl is coming off a big race in the local prep for the Stephen Foster, the Blame Stakes. He didn’t get to his usual position on the front end in that 1 1/8-mile race on May 29 after getting jostled around at the start, and instead rated just off the pace. In the stretch, he battled gamely but ended up third, beaten by a head in a three-way photo. This colt had equaled or surpassed his lifetime top Equibase Speed Figure in his three races prior to the Blame, and as noted, he had a valid excuse last out. Considering how Churchill’s main track has been playing lately, Sprawl may be dangerous if he’s allowed to set the pace by himself. Hernandez won this race in 2013 on Fort Larned. Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider won the Foster in 2010 with eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame.


Coady Photography

5. Silver Dust

Jockey: Adam Beschizza

Trainer: Bret Calhoun

Owner: Tom Durant

Career record: 33 starts – 7 wins – 7 seconds – 5 thirds

Career earnings: $975,677

Earnings per start: $29,566

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 114

Pedigree: Tapit – Filare l’Oro, by Hard Spun

Age: 7

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: The oldest member of the Stephen Foster field, Silver Dust is coming off a win in the Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland on April 10. In that 1 1/8-mile race held on a sloppy track, he bounced back from a slow start to rate closer to the pace than usual. In the stretch, he battled on and prevailed by a half length. He’s now won a graded stakes race three years in a row, and has four total in his career. This hard-trying gelding is making his third start of the year in Saturday’s Foster, and has tactical speed that might come in handy against a quality field. He’s finished in the top three in his last four stakes tries at Churchill – including a third in last year’s Foster – but has not yet found the winner’s circle in a stakes over this track.


Coady Photography

6. Warrior’s Charge

Jockey: Florent Geroux

Trainer: Brad Cox

Owners: Ten Strike Racing and Madaket Stable

Career record: 15 starts – 5 wins – 2 seconds – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $877,710

Earnings per start: $59,181

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110

Pedigree: Munnings – Battling Brook, by Broken Vow

Age: 5

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: You can disregard this horse’s last start, a disappointing seventh-place finish in the Steve Sexton Mile at Lone Star Park on May 31. Racing on a sloppy track, he was off slowly and had no chance after then as he was taken completely out of his preferred running style on or near the pace. Warrior’s Charge won two stakes races last year, taking the Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park and then winning the Philip H. Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park via disqualification. There’s no doubt that he’s going to be sent to the lead Saturday – the only question concerns how far he can stretch his speed. Given the speed-favoring nature of Churchill’s track, if he gets a clean break this contender has a great chance to hang on for at least a top-three finish. Reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is currently tied for the lead in the Churchill training standings with Mike Maker and Brendan Walsh going into the last week of the meet with 17 victories.


Keeneland/Coady Photography

7. South Bend

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owners: Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable, Peter Deutsch and Pantofel Stable

Career record: 16 starts – 4 wins – 2 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $448,069

Earnings per start: $28,004

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106

Pedigree: Algorithms – Sandra’s Rose, by Old Trieste

Age: 4

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: South Bend won his first three starts as a 2-year-old, including a win in the Street Sense Stakes over this track. Since then, however, he’s just 1-for-13, with his only win a come-from-behind effort against allowance optional claiming company two races back at Keeneland (Empty Tomb finished second). South Bend tried to come from last in the Blame Stakes, but got caught in traffic and ended up fifth. He’ll come from the back of the pack again in the Stephen Foster, and will hope for a ground-saving trip under Tyler Gaffalione and a fast pace to set up his rally. Gaffalione leads the Churchill spring meet in wins with 43 as of June 23 despite missing some time last week with soreness after a spill. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott won this race in 2012 with Ron the Greek in an upset over eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan.


Coady Photography

8. Maxfield

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Trainer: Brendan Walsh

Owner: Godolphin

Career record: 7 starts – 6 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $908,782

Earnings per start: $129,826

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 115

Pedigree: Street Sense – Velvety, by Bernardini

Age: 4

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Maxfield looked like a promising contender for the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, but injuries limited him to one start in the first 11 months of his 3-year-old season. Since returning to the races in late December, Maxfield has been impressive, with three stakes wins in four starts. Last out, in the April 30 Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet at Churchill, he enjoyed a great trip stalking the pace and drew off to a 3 ½-length win, earning a lifetime-top Equibase figure in the process. It represented a strong bounce-back win for Maxfield following his third-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 6. A five-time stakes winner overall, Maxfield a perfect 3-for-3 over the Churchill Downs main track and looms as the one to beat in this race, and a win would further assert his status as one of the country’s top older horses. Godolphin won the 2002 Stephen Foster with Street Cry. As noted above, Brendan Walsh is locked in a three-way tie with fellow Stephen Foster trainers Mike Maker and Brad Cox atop the win standings at Churchill Downs as of June 23, with three days remaining in the spring meet.


Coady Photography

9. Visitant

Jockey: James Graham

Trainer: William Morey

Owner: Williamson Racing

Career record: 12 starts – 6 wins – 2 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $332,165

Earnings per start: $27,680

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110

Pedigree: Ghostzapper – Peppermint Lounge, by Distorted Humor

Age: 5

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Unlike his rivals, Visitant spent the winter racing in Kentucky. He won three times at the Turfway Park meet, capping off his season with a win in the Twinspires Kentucky Cup Classic on March 27. Although he gave Maxfield a challenge in his most recent start, the Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet on April 30, he proved no match in the late going while still finishing a clear second. He set the early pace in the Alysheba but usually rates just off the leaders and makes his move on the far turn. Overall, Visitant has posted his career-best Equibase Speed Figures in each of his last three starts, and he’ll be a serious threat Saturday if he continues to improve.

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