Bobby Zen

With the Breeders’ Cup a little over four months away, the ‘Win and You’re In’ tickets to the signature event, the GI Longines Classic, are definitely numbered. The road to Del Mar currently goes through Churchill Downs on Saturday as Classic hopefuls enter the starting gate for the GI Stephen Foster Stakes.

Looking to punch his ticket to the seaside oval is Godolphin homebred First Mission (Street Sense). The ‘TDN Rising Star’ certainly burned brightest when he took home the GIII Essex Handicap by five lengths at Oaklawn Park in late March and followed that up with a four-length win in the GII Alysheba Stakes on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. The 4-year-old colt was tabbed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite here.

“We’ve had this race on our schedule for a long time now,” trainer Brad Cox said. “The plan has been if he ran well in the Alysheba to run him in the Stephen Foster. He came out of the Alysheba very well and has been training great at Churchill. The Stephen Foster is always a tough race year in and year out. It’s a Grade I, so that’s expected. This year’s field is no different, but we like our chances to try and get him his first Grade I win.”

A potential derailer to First Mission’s all-expense paid trip to California is a veteran 5-year-old with his own strong race resume. Skippylongstocking (Exaggerator) does not have a grade I win, but the Saffie Joseph trainee certainly has accumulated his share of important victories. After collecting the GIII Challenger Stakes in early March at Tampa Bay, the bay posted a 107–the highest Beyer of his career–when he captured the GII Oaklawn Handicap Apr. 20.

Making a bid in the Stephen Foster for the coveted Breeders’ Cup ticket are the first and second place finishers from the GIII Pimlico Special Stakes in Baltimore last month. Pyrenees (Into Mischief), who was featured in Friday’s TDN, was up in time to take his first graded race in as many tries over MGSW Kingsbarns (Uncle Mo). Also looking for a shot at the purple prize is ‘TDN’ Rising Star Disarm (Gun Runner). The 4-year-old’s only start this year came over Churchill’s main track May 18 as he went gate to wire against optional claimers.

Scylla | Coady Media

The stakes card under the Twin Spires does not stop there. On tap is GII Fleur de Lis Stakes for older filles and mares routing on the dirt.

After a stellar start to her career in 2023, Juddmonte homebred Scylla (Tapit) has put together a solid campaign this season. Out of MGISW Close Hatches (First Defence), the bay filly was last seen getting her picture taken in the GIII Shawnee Stakes at Churchill Downs to start this month. Bill Mott’s charge was 3 1/4 lengths ahead of MGSW Xigera (Nyquist), who will try to flip the script on her rival for Rigney Racing and conditioner Phil Bauer.

“She [Xigera] ran a lot better in the Shawnee than she did in her first start of the year when she didn’t take to the slop in the [GI] La Troienne,” Bauer said. “We’re confident that she’ll give us her best effort and hopefully that will be enough to turn the tables this time around.”

Also facing down Scylla are a trio of runners in GSW Shotgun Hottie (Gun Runner), GSW Taxed (Collected) and MGISP Occult (Into Mischief).

The other high-level race on the card in Louisville is the GII Wise Dan Stakes which includes the experienced turf specialist and English group stakes winner Ottoman Fleet (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}). Owned by Godolphin and trained by Charlie Appleby, the even-money morning-line favorite in the Wise Dan swept over this turf course and at this distance to grab the GIII Arlington Stakes June 1.

Speaking of racing on the grass, the Belmont at the Big A meet will get in on Saturday’s graded action with the annual renewal of the GIII Manila Stakes for 3-year-olds. It might be a bit of surprise to see GIII Gotham Stakes hero Deterministic (Liam’s Map), who is switching surfaces for trainer Christophe Clement.

Deterministic | Sarah Andrew

“We decided to go with the turf option for him,” said Miguel Clement, son and assistant of Christophe. “This race makes a lot of sense. The fact that it is one mile, it is a logical next step for an experiment on the turf. I think he is versatile. If the race was anywhere from seven furlongs to one mile and an eighth, there’d be no preference whatsoever.”

The dark bay will face five others, which includes MSP Move to Gold (Twirling Candy) and SW Mattingly (Bucchero).

Taking the Canadian path to the 165th King’s Plate Stakes–set for Aug. 17–the field is steadily coming into focus. At Woodbine on Saturday the GIII Marine Stakes is the next stop for ambitious 3-year-old colts. A pair of U.S. based invaders in Cameo Performance (Oscar Performance) and Native Land (Mastery) should give the locals a run for their money. However, Piper’s Factor (The Factor) poses a major threat.

The local prep for the Woodbine Oaks, the GIII Selene Stakes, pits seven fillies against one another, and GSW Witwatersrand (Connect) will be tough to beat over an all-weather surface she fancies.

Finally, as of two years ago the Los Alamitos Derby lost its graded status, but the race still remains an important black-type. In Saturday’s edition, trainer Bob Baffert has two entries with Cornell (Into Mischief) and Wynstock (Solomini).

The post Mission Breeders’ Cup: Stephen Foster Leads Saturday Graded Racing appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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