2021 Stephen Foster Stakes Cheatsheet
By TwinSpires Editorial Team, Sponsored Content

Horses in front of the grandstand at Churchill Downs

By James Scully (TwinSpires.com)

1 CHESS CHIEF (12-1) earned his first stakes win when getting up in the New Orleans Classic (G2) in mid-March, and the five-year-old horse rallied belatedly to be a non-threatening third most recently in the April 30 Alysheba (G2) at Churchill Downs. Since being freshened last fall, the late runner has recorded five consecutive top three finishes. He may not be fast enough to challenge for the win, but the Dallas Stewart runner can’t be dismissed as a contender for a minor award. However, Chess Chief must avoid leaving himself too much to do behind an expected moderate pace.

2 EMPTY TOMB (30-1) exits a pair of improved efforts for Mike Maker, who entered the final week of racing at Churchill Downs tied for first in the trainer standings. Empty Tomb cut back to a one-turn mile after recording a comfortable front-running allowance tally last time, and the five-year-old is eligible to be a pace player on Saturday, but he’s probably in too tough at the 1 1/8-mile distance.

3 NECKER ISLAND (15-1) competed in the Kentucky Derby after being claimed for $100,000 last summer, finishing a well-beaten ninth, and then headed to the sidelines for the rest of his sophomore season. He’s returned with a couple solid efforts in 2021, recording a close second at Oaklawn before prevailing by a neck in a May 22 allowance at Churchill, but the grinder has been competing at shorter distances. Nine furlongs doesn’t appear optimal, and Necker Island probably needs easier competition to be effective.

4 SPRAWL (10-1) should receive a favorable forwardly-placed trip, and he’s eligible to show more after a troubled third in the May 29 Blame S. A close fourth in the Ben Ali (G3) three back, the four-year-old rolled to a 7 1/4-length allowance win at Churchill in early May, but the frontrunner was compromised when being squeezed and forced to check at the start of the Blame. Sprawl didn’t experience the cleanest trip along the inside before coming up a neck in short, registering a respectable 107 Brisnet Late Pace rating, and the improving colt is an upset candidate for Tommy Drury Saturday if he can break better with Brian Hernandez Jr.

5 SILVER DUST (6-1) was scratched after acting up in the starting gate prior to the Blame. The seven-year-old gray gelding exits a game win in the April 10 Ben Ali S. (G3) at Keeneland, prevailing over a sloppy track, and Silver Dust finished second in last year’s Foster. He seldom runs a poor race at Churchill (10-2-1-5 record), and the veteran appears to be training forwardly in preparation for Bret Calhoun. Another placing could be within his grasp, but Silver Dust has also been more of a middle-distance specialist throughout his career. After missing a planned prep, he will offer little value as a win contender.

6 WARRIOR’S CHARGE (6-1) will try to rebound from a pair of unplaced efforts. A multiple Grade 3 winner, the five-year-old horse has the back class to contend, but his three starts this season leave plenty to be desired. He’s also winless from two attempts over the track, including a disappointing eighth as the 13-10 favorite in the Ack Ack (G3) last fall. One must respect Brad Cox, who is part of a three-way tie atop the trainer standings, but Warrior’s Charge doesn’t appear sharp enough to offer a serious challenge.

7 SOUTH BEND (12-1) appears more formidable at age 4. The bay colt returned with a smart allowance win at Keeneland, rallying boldly in the stretch to win going away, and South Bend lost all chance when being cut off in the stretch of the Blame. Runner-up in the Ohio Derby (G3) and fourth in the Travers (G1) last year, the late runner still has upside for Bill Mott. And he rates as an intriguing upset hopeful on Saturday. South Bend will be included underneath in vertical exotics at expected long odds.

8 MAXFIELD (4-5) is clearly the horse to beat. A four-time graded stakes winner, the once-beaten colt improved to 3-for-3 at Churchill, and registered a career-best 105 Brisnet Speed rating, when posting exits a sharp 3 1/4-length victory in the Alysheba (G2). The Brendan Walsh-trained dark bay will be an odds-on favorite once again on Saturday. The four-year-old son of Street Sense has displayed good tractability this season, racing closer to slow paces in a couple of stakes wins, and Maxfield should be in prime position turning for home in the Stephen Foster.

9 VISITANT (6-1) held for second after establishing a moderate pace in the Alysheba (G2), and he showed his versatility when rallying from just off the pace to win the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park two starts back. The five-year-old is eligible to receive a favorable up-close trip from his outside post, and his encouraging recent form has some appeal for the vertical exotics, but the reformed claimer faces a difficult assignment at this level.