July 22, 2024

Disarm to get a strong test in Stephen Foster

Disarm wins the Matt Winn Stakes (Photo by Coady Photography)

Gun Runner was a pretty good three-year-old and even better at four in 2017, when he captured the Stephen Foster (G1) en route to a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and Horse of the Year honors. Owner Ron Winchell and trainer Steve Asmussen undoubtedly hope Disarm can emulate his sire in that regard, beginning with Saturday’s edition of the $1 million Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.

The biggest post-Kentucky Derby (G1) event of the Churchill spring meet, which concludes Sunday, the Foster goes as Race 11 on a stakes-laden 12-race program. The winner of the 1 1/8-mile fixture will earn an automatic bid into the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar, the site of Gun Runner’s Classic score.

A commendable fourth in last year’s Derby after placing in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Lexington (G3), Disarm rebounded to take the Matt Winn (G3) at Ellis Park. Subsequently fourth in the Jim Dandy (G2), Disarm was shelved for the season after running a strong second to division champion Arcangelo in the Travers (G1).

There’s little doubting Disarm’s talent, though he didn’t exactly get the most challenging of preps for the Foster. Facing only three overmatched rivals in a 1 1/16-mile, second-level allowance on May 18, Disarm was allowed to set a pedestrian pace of :25 3/5, :52, and 1:16 2/5. He didn’t need to exert much energy to beat that field, but he’ll need to be significantly faster on Saturday.

First Mission, a blowout winner of the Essex H. (G3) and Alysheba (G2) in his last two starts, will be among the Foster favorites. He defeated Disarm by 4 3/4 lengths in their only prior meeting in last year’s Lexington, and has finished first or second in every start, with the exception of the Pegasus World Cup (G1).

Skippylongstocking didn’t fare well in the Pegasus, either, having been pulled up a long way before the finish. However, the Saffie Joseph trainee has bounced back with two wins, including a two-length score in the Oaklawn H. (G2) over subsequent Blame (G3) winner Highland Falls.

Dreamlike adds blinkers Saturday after finishing a non-threatening third in the June 1 Blame, while Pyrenees aims for his fifth consecutive victory following a stakes-debut upset in the Pimlico Special (G3) over odds-on favorite Kingsbarns. Steal Sunshine has been outrun in two previous runs under the Twin Spires, while Classic Causeway and Happy American are hard to endorse for the win on their recent form.

Six older fillies and mares will vie in the $500,000 Fleur de Lis (G2) over 1 1/8 miles. The field is led by the regally-bred Scylla, who won well in both prior starts this meet, including a 3 1/4-length score over Xigera in the Shawnee (G3) earlier this month.

Xigera set the pace in the Shawnee, a slightly unusual position for her to have been in, and might be more effective with a change of tactics in the Fleur de Lis, which has also attracted graded winners Shotgun Hottie, Occult, and Taxed. Free Like a Girl has had a busy campaign already this year with seven starts, though they include placings in the Apple Blossom H. (G1) and La Troienne (G1).

The $250,000 Kelly’s Landing S., a 6 1/2-furlong dash for older horses, has easily come up a graded quality race. Hoist the Gold, last season’s Phoenix (G2) and Cigar Mile (G2) winner, should benefit from a drop in class having contested the Saudi Cup (G1), Churchill Downs (G1), and Metropolitan H. (G1) in his first three outings of the year. Closethegame Sugar recently toppled heavy favorite Skelly and Tejano Twist is the Aristides (G3), while Anarchist makes his first appearance since taking the Pat O’Brien (G2) at Del Mar last August.

The sentimental choice in the field is Bango, who is one win away from possessing outright the known record for most victories by a horse in the 150-year history of Churchill Downs. The seven-year-old is an 11-time winner over the Louisville track, and might have achieved the honor already if the 2023 Kelly’s Landing, which he won, had not been transferred to Ellis Park.