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Jun 14, 2013

Up the Backstretch: A bunch of guys hangin' out at the Downs

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor


 (Sports Network) - Danny, Ronny and Indy plus Goldy, Forty and Pooly all meet Saturday night at Churchill Downs.

No, these six are not a bunch of friends from some where in Brooklyn or south Philly. These are the six horses who make up the field for the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at the historic Louisville racetrack.

The field from the rail out for the 1 1/8-mile stakes is made up of Golden Ticket, co-winner of last year's Travers Stakes; Fort Larned, Breeders' Cup Classic champ who was eighth in last year's Foster; Ron the Greek, back to defend his 2012 Foster victory; Take Charge Indy, coming off a six-length win in the Alysheba; Pool Play, winner of the 2011 Foster; and Successful Dan, the 2-1 morning-line favorite coming off a victory in the Ben Ali.

"He'd been off for a while," trainer Charles LoPresti said, commenting about Successful Dan's nearly year layoff before the Ben Ali. "Historically, his second race (off a layoff) has been even better. He's 110 percent right now. I couldn't have him any better."

Owned by Morton Fink, Successful Dan was second last June in the Cornhusker Handicap, but was sidelined with another injury until April.

"It's been frustrating," said LoPresti, who also campaigns Horse of the Year Wise Dan. "Had he not been plagued with the injuries he's been plagued with, you probably would have seen a potential Horse of the Year in him at some point."

Successful Dan probably won't take on a tougher field until the Breeders' Cup Classic, if he makes it that far into the season.

Defending his Classic title is not the most important thing for Fort Larned to do right now. It's getting back to the winner's circle after two disastrous starts this year.

"Fort Larned has to step up to the plate and become the big dog again," trainer Ian Wilkes said. "That's what he's got to do."

Even after losing his rider at the start of the Gulfstream Park Handicap and finishing fifth in the Oaklawn Handicap, the 5-year-old is 3-1, along with Ron the Greek, in the morning line.

"His works have been really good - solid and crisp," Wilkes said. "And the horse looks really good. After the stumble and the bad race, I had to regroup. I had to get it together and this is our start for the second half of the year to get things going."

Ron the Greek is another entrant who needs to rebound in the Foster after consecutive losses this year in the Santa Anita Handicap and Charles Town Classic. Losing both to Game On Dude doesn't take the sting out of the respective fourth- and third-place finishes.

The 5-2 second pick is Take Charge Indy, who won last month for the first time since capturing last year's Florida Derby.

"His win in the Alysheba was vindication for everyone involved, including the horse," trainer Pat Byrne said. "It was almost a year to the day when he got hurt running in the (Kentucky) Derby and then he came back and ran like that (1 1/16 miles in 1:41.41).

"Numbers-wise, his race in the Alysheba was off the charts. I always knew he could be that kind of a horse. You can look back at what I said about him over the winter. I said, 'At the end of the day, this is probably the most talented horse I've ever trained,' and I've had my hands on a couple of good ones."

Byrne saddled Awesome Again to win both the 1998 Foster and Breeders' Cup Classic.

After finishing in a dead heat with Alpha in last year's Travers, Golden Ticket, 12-1 for Saturday, was expected to become a serious contender in the handicap division.

However, trainer Ken McPeek hasn't been able to get the 4-year-old to duplicate the Travers effort. The colt has two optional claiming wins but hasn't put it together in stakes races.

"I think Golden Ticket is coming into the race in good shape," said Phil Bauer, assistant to trainer Ken McPeek. "He seemed to like the surface here in his last race and so if he can stretch it out to two turns against some better competition, then he should be good."

Pool Play, trained by Mark Casse, is another horse with talent who, unfortunately, hasn't won on a consistent basis. He has only two wins in his last 10 starts, winning the 2011 Foster as a 36-1 longshot and last year's Hawthorne Gold Cup at 13-1.

Pool Play began 2013 with a second in Gulfstream's Hal's Hope Stakes but then posted consecutive sixth-place finishes in the Donn Handicap and Elkhorn Stakes.

"We know he likes the distance and he likes Churchill," Casse said. "We pick our spots with him. He's our old guy in the barn. His recent form hasn't been great, but we're going to give it a shot. We know we'll be a longshot (15-1 morning line) again, but with the perfect storm and perfect trip, we may have a chance."

Just six guys coming together Saturday night to have a little fun and see, among themselves, who has bragging rights as the better runner.



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