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Jun 15, 2012

Heavyweights collide in Stephen Foster Handicap


Louisville, KY (Sports Network) - Saturday's 31st running of the $400,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs is an early summer preview of the Breeders' Cup World Championships. In fact, the winner of the race automatically gains entry into the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Nine of the best older thoroughbreds in training are entered for the 1 1/8 mile race under the Twin Spires. Post-time for the Foster will be 9:40 p.m. (et) as part of the track's "Downs After Dark" program.

Trainer Charles Lopresti has entered his two big runners, Wise Dan and Successful Dan, in the race. However, he plans to only start Wise Dan in an effort to keep the two horses, both owned by Morton Fink, from competing versus each other until later in the year.

"Wise Dan will start in the Stephen Foster and Successful Dan will be entered as a back-up plan," Lopresti said. "I'd hate for Wise Dan to come down with a fever or something before the race and have to be scratched and then we're sitting on the sidelines if we don't enter Successful Dan, too. My goal for Successful Dan is the Suburban (Belmont Park on July 7) or the Cornhusker (Prairie Meadows on June 30)."

Wise Dan is the 123 pound highweight and will break from post three with recent Belmont Stakes winning jockey John Velazquez in the saddle. Velazquez is also named on Successful Dan who drew the far outside post.

Wise Dan won the Ben Ali by 10 1/2 lengths at Keeneland on April 22 in his only start this year. With career earnings of just over $1 million, the five-year-old gelding has won nine of 15 lifetime starts.

Coming in off a win in the Pimlico Special is Alternation, who will carry 122 pounds. Trained by Donnie Von Hemel, the four-year-old colt will be ridden by Luis Quinonez from post eight.

"(The Stephen Foster) was always a race we were going to try to make," Von Hemel said. "I think with the Oaklawn Handicap and Pimlico Special, he's had a couple of races that make him fit in the race. We're happy and we're looking forward to it."

Alternation, owned by Pin Oak Stable, is undefeated in four starts this year. Along with his wins in the Pimlico Special and Oaklawn Handicap, he captured the Essex and Razorback Handicaps at Oaklawn Park.

The colt has banked $900,004 in 13 career starts with eight wins.

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott will saddle Santa Anita Handicap champ Ron the Greek in the Foster. The five-year-old has drawn post five with Jose Lezcano set to ride.

Ron the Greek is coming off a two month break after finishing second to Alternation in the Oaklawn Handicap. He has split his last six starts evenly between first and second-place finishes. Overall the five-year-old has six wins in 18 career starts for $849,665.

Other heavyweights gaining entry into the Foster are Lone Star Handicap winner Nates Mineshaft, Pimlico Special runner-up Nehro and Mission Impazible, who was second this year in the Donn and New Orleans Handicaps.

"It's very good to see an older horse Grade I this deep and talented," Nehro's trainer Steve Asmussen said. "There is a tremendous amount on the line, considering the depth of the field."

Here is the complete Foster field from the rail out: Nates Mineshaft, Jesse Campbell; Fort Larned, Julien Leparoux; Wise Dan, John Velazquez; Nehro, Corey Nakatani; Ron the Greek, Jose Lezcano; Rogue Romance, Manny Cruz; Mission Impazible, Javier Castellano; Alternation, Luis Quinonez and Successful Dan, John Velazquez.

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