July 18, 2024

Gift Box heads dynamite 12-horse Stephen Foster on Downs After Dark

Hronis Racing's Gift Box (green silks) edged McKinzie by a nose in the 2019 Santa Anita Handicap © BENOIT PHOTO

It’s been a top prep race for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, with Horse of the Year winners Blame, Curlin and Gun Runner among the notable participants since 2008, and Saturday’s $600,000 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs has retained its stature despite being inexplicably downgraded to a Grade 2 this year.

The 1 1/8-mile event will feature divisional leader Gift Box, who invades from California to meet a deep cast that includes Grade 1 winners Seeking the Soul and Yoshida; Oaklawn H. (G2) victor Quip; and Pimlico Special (G3) winner Tenfold. A “Win & You’re In” for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, the 12-horse Foster highlights an 11-race “Downs After Dark” program that features six stakes.

With a Big Easy theme, fans are encouraged to dress in purple, green or gold and listen to live New Orleans-style music from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. First post is 6 p.m. (EDT), with the Foster scheduled for 9:47 p.m.

After being based on the East Coast, Gift Box was sold privately and transferred to John Sadler last year. He’s thrived on the West Coast, returning from a nine-month layoff with a smart half-length decision over the ill-fated Battle of Midway in the San Antonio (G2) and posting a game nose win over McKinzie in the Santa Anita H. (G1).

The six-year-old gray son of Twirling Candy got caught a chasing a hot pace in the May 27 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) most recently but held well to finish a close second. Gift Box wheels back off a 19-day hiatus in the Foster and regular rider Joel Rosario retains the mount. The probable favorite appears well-drawn in post 6.

Second in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) earlier this year, Seeking the Soul likes Churchill Downs. The six-year-old captured the 2017 Clark (G1) under the Twin Spires and has also placed in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). John Velazquez guides the late runner for Dallas Stewart.

Yoshida rolled to a two-length score when trying the main track in last September’s Woodward (G1) and the Grade 1-winning turf performer recorded a rallying fourth in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic at ChurchilL Downs. Jose Ortiz rides the late runner from the barn of Kentucky Derby-winning conditioner Bill Mott.

A maiden winner at Churchill Downs, Quip returns in good form after rallying from just off the pace to take the Oaklawn H. The four-year-old could be forwardly placed for Rodolphe Brisset and Florent Geroux. Tenfold will look to make an impact from off the pace after closing boldly for a neck score in the Pimlico Special and Ricardo Santana Jr. has the call for leading Churchill trainer Steve Asmussen.

Other runners include Tom’s d’Etat, the likely pacesetter following a fine front-running second to McKinzie in the Alysheba (G2); Grade 3 scorer Runaway Ghost, who ships in from New Mexico after notching his fifth stakes win for Todd Fincher; and recent stakes winner Exulting and Rated R Superstar.