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Jun 24, 2005

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD

By: JOE GIRARDI


On Saturday June 18th there were two Grade I races in two different divisions

 that will have a big impact come year end. At Belmont Park in New York they

 hosted the Grade I Ogden Phipps Handicap for three year old and up fillies and

 mares, run at 1 and 1/16th miles with a purse of $300,000. At Churchill Downs

 they hosted the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap for three year old and upward,

run at 1 and 1/8th miles with a purse of $750,000.

In the Ogden Phipps the odds-on favorite ASHADO, 2004 three year old

champion, was coming off two losses in her first two starts this year. Most

recently as the 1-5 favorite in the Grade III Pimlico Distaff over a very sloppy

track in a four horse field. Her trainer Todd Pletcher was quoted as saying

 that "the Apple Blossom was my fault, the Pimlico race was Mother Nature’s

fault," referring to the rain and very sloppy track at Pimlico. "She’s training better

than she’s trained her whole life. She could very well win this race, but it’s a very

tough race."

After breaking nicely from the inside post position, ASHADO assumed command

 and led through easy fractions of 24:1, 47:3, 1:11:1 before coming home

strongly late to finish in 1:41 flat. SOCIETY SELECTION, the second choice

 in the race and multiple Grade I winner closed well to finish second despite

 the slow early pace. BENDING STRINGS, who stalked the leader into the

 stretch could only manage third. The field was rounded out by DAYDREAMING

 and BOARD ELLIGIBLE. Although ASHADO did get a good trip on a slow pace

 and she defeated a small field she did it the right way and may have turned her

 season around.

In the Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill Downs the favorite was the odds-on

SAINT LIAM who was coming off a poor performance in the Santa Anita Handicap

 back in March. Trained by Bobby Frankel for the first time in the Stephen Foster

 while Ricahrd Dutrow Jr serves a suspension he put everything together when it

counted. His first start of the year was an impressive win in the Grade I

 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park back in February. In that race he easily

defeated ROSES IN MAY who was second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and

then went on to win the $6 million Dubai World Cup. There was some speculation

 that SAINT LIAM didn’t care for the track at Santa Anita and if that was the

case he would be tough to beat in this race. Well if he didn’t like the track or

just threw in a bad race he certainly turned it around with a very impressive

win in the Stephen Foster; stalking the leader PRESIDENTIALAFFAIR for the

 first ¾’s of mile, took over and drew away for an easy score by almost three

lengths while never being asked for his best. With two wins from three starts and

 both wins coming in Grade I races SAINT LIAM has put himself at the top

 of the handicap division. With the injury and subsequent retirement of

GHOSTZAPPER, SAINT LIAM who just missed to GHOSTZAPPER last year,

 has now defeated the top handicap horses this year. ROSES IN MAY and

EDDINGTON both of whom are top handicap horses were soundly beaten by

SAINT LIAM back at Gulfstream Park. If all stay healthy this will make for an

 exciting Summer/Fall campaign.

In the Stephen Foster the horses that ran behind SAINT LIAM seem to be a

 step below the top horses in the Handicap divison. EUROSILVER, who came

from off the pace this time around closed nicely for the place spot while easily

 clear of the third place finisher PERFECT DRIFT. The latter was coming off

 a rough trip in the Grade I Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. The

 6YO gelding who always puts in the effort seems to has lost a step over the last

 few years and was lucky to hold on for third over the closing M B SEA. He

would have to show a lot of improvement to be considered with the best

handicap horses. The second choice in the race was BADGE OF SILVER, who

 was sent off at 3-1 but tired badly in the drive after stalking the early leaders.

His three tries at the 1 and 1/8th miles distance before resulted in two wins and

 one second place finish but it had come against some questionable competition.

 He was facing off against the top horse in the country in SAINT LIAM and it

showed as he was a well beaten sixth. Bobby Frankel also trains

BADGE OF SILVER and a turnback to one turn races will best suit him.

With Saratoga less than five weeks away and the handicap division heating up it

should make for a solid Summer and look ahead to the Breeders’ Cup.



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