Bobby Zen

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A horse gets claimed for a relatively cheap $30,000, later scores qualifying points at Turfway Park in March to get into one of the sport’s most prestigious races at Churchill Downs, then ends up winning a career-defining Grade I stakes at improbable odds on the first weekend of May.

That storyline describes the long-shot career of Rich Strike, who upset the GI Kentucky Derby at 80-1 back in 2022.

But it also could be the 2024 script for newly crowned stakes victress Everland (Arrogate), who was haltered for $30,000 out of a trip-troubled win at Turfway three months ago, and on Mar. 23 captured the Bourbonette Oaks over the same Tapeta surface. The purse of that stakes was worth 10 times the gray filly’s claiming price, and, just as importantly, the race awarded 50 qualifying points to get into the GI Kentucky Oaks.

Everland’s trajectory is only part of the narrative. Her rise through the ranks is a testament to the upward arc of trainer and co-owner Eric Foster, 46, whose 15 wins are currently tops at the nearly concluded Turfway meet.

Foster’s $828,364 in earnings for the season there are second behind only perennial powerhouse conditioner Brad Cox.

Foster Family Stables has been in business for a decade. Eric runs a 16-acre farm with a training track in rural Utica out in western Kentucky, about 45 minutes southeast of Ellis Park. Eric trains, exercises and transports the horses to the races while his wife, Brooklyn, manages the barn. The couple tag-teams, along with some help from their children and an on-track team of assistants, on everything else.

“Me and my wife, we work together. We talk together all the time about [the business],” Foster told Jennie Rees in a post-win video interview for the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protestive Association (KHBPA).

“It’s just exciting to win. I tell everybody, we’re still happy to win a $5,000 claimer. And to win these bigger races…” Foster’s voice trails off in thought, and he has to take a moment to keep his emotions in check.

“I mean, we’re leading this meet right now,” Foster said. “It wasn’t  even something we had thought about going in [to the start of the season]. Of course, we would want to [be a top stable] if we could, [but] it seems that we’ve had a little bit better go here than we even expected.”

As a kid, Foster excelled in barrel racing. Then by 17 he was galloping and exercising Thoroughbreds. He initially took out his training license in 2000, but his first foray as a conditioner at smaller tracks like Fairmount, the Woodlands, Ellis, and River Downs lasted only a year, with a 6-for-59 record and a hard-won appreciation for just how difficult a vocation training racehorses could be.

Foster then worked construction jobs as a welder, taking on whatever work he could, which eventually allowed the couple to buy their house and farm on Highway 431 outside of Owensboro.

According to a 2022 profile in The Gleaner that was written by Rees, Foster initially raised cattle, built a barn, and bought a Thoroughbred baby with the intent of re-selling at a subsequent auction. After determining that it might end up being more cost-effective to race the horse themselves, Foster constructed the training track, taking on most of the job himself.

As his training business grew from 2014 onward, Foster got financial backing from a diverse number of clients, including those who would eventually partner with him to own Everland (Bill Wargel, Sidney Karmia’s Maxis Stable, and R.K. Eckrich Racing).

Foster began honing a reputation as a trainer who could spot horses who could be acquired for comparatively short money via claims and at the sales, then get those Thoroughbreds to outrun their purchase prices.

Kitodan (Point of Entry) is a prime example. In a partnership with Douglas Miller, Foster Family Racing claimed that gelding for $80,000 in May of 2022, and the 5-year-old has responded with two grass stakes victories (one a Grade III), plus a handful of other stakes performances in which he was only beaten by a couple of lengths. Kitodan was named the KHBPA claimer of the year for 2022, his career earnings have since swelled to $835,237, and is he still competing in graded stakes (he finished eighth on Saturday in the GIII Kentucky Cup Classic).

“Now, we have all the supplies, all the tools,” Foster said. “We have the help now. We have the confidence. We have the [better] jockeys. You know, it’s just a matter of everything coming together. We do the blankets and all the therapy that we can do on them to get the horses happy. But you’ve just got to have good horses, and I think we’ve just been blessed with some good horses lately.”

Everland is being pointed to her secured spot in the GI Kentucky Oaks on the first Friday in May | Coady

When Foster spotted Everland entered for a $30,000 tag on Dec. 30, 2023, he notified his partners to see who wanted in on what would eventually be a four-way deal. Bred by George Strawbridge Jr. and raced by Augustin Stable with trainer Jonathan Thomas, Everland to that point had been 0-for-3 in maiden special weight races at Kentucky Downs, Woodbine and Turfway. Her pedigree-by Arrogate out of a Tapit mare-stood out.

Off at odds of 6-5, Everland endured a horror trip to win, checking on the first turn of a mile race and then almost getting wiped off her feet in a far-turn scrum. After losing all momentum, she determinedly bulled her way between horses, then scooted up the rail to win by three-quarters of a length, with Turfway announcer Tony Calo exuding in his call about the filly’s display of athleticism.

Everland next won a $50,000 starter-allowance for her new connections by 3 1/2lengths at 15-1 odds on Feb. 10. She was then fourth in the Mar. 1 $150,000 Cincinnati Trophy S., a race won by stablemate Maxisuperfly (Optimizer), who was bought by the Fosters for $18,000 as a Keeneland yearling.

In the Mar. 23 Bourbonette, Maxisuperfly set the pace while Everland got caught four wide around the clubhouse turn. Guided to the rail by Abel Cedillo, Everland threaded through on the inside. Turning for home, she briefly got caught on the heels of her tiring stablemate (who finished eighth), then freewheeled up the fence while fending off several fresh challengers, quickening nicely inside the final sixteenth to win by 1 1/4 lengths (82 Beyer Speed Figure).

Despite Everland’s sky’s-the-limit pedigree, Foster doesn’t feel like he stole a hot prospect from the filly’s former connections. In the winner’s circle after the race, he expressed empathy for anyone faced with the difficult business decision of whether or not to drop a well-meant horse in class for a claiming tag.

“It’s hard. You expect them to win, and when they don’t you say, ‘We’ve got to do something different,’ and you give them three or four chances [before trying a spot that’s] a little cheaper,” Foster said. “We do it too. And a lot of time, we’re happy that we didn’t lose [a claiming dropdown].

“I would have to think that they knew that they would probably lose her,” Foster continued. “A couple of my good horses are claims, and [the outfits I claim from] are good. I wouldn’t ever tell anybody that I’m a better trainer. “[But I do] want to be that guy that has horses that run for a long time.

“It’s usually the horse that does the running. I don’t want to take a whole lot of credit,” Foster said. “We take care of them. We do the best we can. We vet them deep. We feed them good. We do everything to make the health of the horse better. And then it’s up to the horse.”

Everland is now 3-0-1 with 237,093 in earnings from seven starts, and with 54 qualifying points, she ranks fourth on the Oaks leaderboard. She is safely in the race, and Foster indicated post-win that his connections intend to run in that Grade I spot–even though Everland has never raced on the dirt. In fact, Foster has never personally witnessed her step onto a non-Tapeta surface.

“Now I’m going to have the same question everybody else has,” Foster said. “If she can run on the dirt, they better look out. That’s going to be the thing. We haven’t trained her on the dirt. We’ve left her [at Turfway] since we claimed her. So we’re going to move to Keeneland this week coming up and just see how everything goes, and get her on the dirt. And hopefully she loves it.”

Even though Foster is a meet-leading trainer and on the cusp of breaking through in one of the most prestigious races in Kentucky, he is still facing some smaller-outfit business issues, like stabling.

“You know, I don’t want to call out anybody, but we don’t get the stalls we put in for,” Foster said, alluding to the tight allotments at Churchill and Turfway. “We had the horses to put into them. I think we get taken advantage of a little bit for having our own farm and our own training center….

“We’re going into the Oaks here. We wanted some stalls at Churchill coming into this spring, and I was just certain we would get stalls. But you know what? You never know…

Foster said he would have to “map out” a shipping or stabling strategy for Everland.

“I’m not going to take one horse up [to Churchill] and train up to the Oaks. It’s going to be a bit of a challenge,” Foster said.

In case you haven’t already figured it out, Foster doesn’t shy from challenges.

“I make three, four trips a week sometime,” Foster said. “It’s over a seven-hour round trip. A lot of those nights are back to back-to-back. I don’t always get somebody to ride with me. I have friends that I get to talk to on the phone. Somebody said, ‘Well, how do you not get tired?’ And I said, ‘You know, I just think about my horses.’

“I just go,” Foster added. “I don’t start to complain.”

The post Week In Review: Foster’s Work Ethic and Keen Eye for Bargains Propel Rise appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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