Betting a Longshot in the Stephen Foster

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

One of the best races taking place over Independence Day weekend is the $750,000 Stephen Foster S. (G2) at Churchill Downs.

The 1 1/8-mile race awards a "Win and You're In" berth to the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), which isn't surprising since top-class horses like Black Tie Affair (1991), Awesome Again (1998), Saint Liam (2005), Blame (2010), and Gun Runner (2017) have all completed the Stephen Foster/Breeders' Cup Classic double.

Saturday's running of the Stephen Foster has attracted a small but deep field of seven horses. Five are proven graded stakes winners and two have won at the Grade 1 level, so there are plenty of talented contenders to choose from.

Some folks will be keen to support #6 Mandaloun (2-1), and understandably so. The morning line favorite achieved the perhaps unprecedented feat of winning two Grade 1 races via disqualification last year, nabbing the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs and the Haskell S. (G1) at Monmouth Park after crossing the wire second in both races.

The question is, can Mandaloun defeat tough competition outright? He started off 2022 on a winning note in the Louisiana S. (G3), beating Preakness S. (G1) runner-up Midnight Bourbon by three-quarters of a length, but a subsequent trip abroad for the $20 million Saudi Cup (G1) produced a ninth-place finish. Mandaloun has trained strongly for his stateside return, but can we trust him to beat a deep Stephen Foster field in his first start back?

#3 Olympiad (5-2) isn't as accomplished as Mandaloun, but his red-hot form is appealing. The Bill Mott trainee has gone undefeated in four starts since stretching out around two turns, bolstering his resume with consecutive victories in the Mineshaft S. (G3), New Orleans Classic S. (G2), and Alysheba S. (G2). The latter victory came at Churchill Downs, where Olympiad tracked the early pace before finishing fast (final five-sixteenths of a mile in about :29 2/5) to beat 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner Happy Saver by 2 1/2 lengths.

I love the fast finish Olympiad unleashed in the Alysheba, and he absolutely warrants inclusion in multi-race wagers. But for the purpose of a Stephen Foster win bet, I'm tempted to think outside the box with double-digit longshot #1 Caddo River (10-1).

At first glance, Caddo River might seem overmatched against a field of this caliber. He's never won a graded stakes, and he managed to lose a couple of allowance optional claimers during the winter at Oaklawn Park.

But dig a little deeper, and there's a lot to like about Caddo River. He showed flashes of talent on the 2020-21 Road to the Kentucky Derby, dominating the Smarty Jones S. at Oaklawn Park by 10 1/4 lengths before coming home second in the Arkansas Derby (G1).

More importantly, Caddo River has shown dramatic improvement in recent starts. On March 18, he smashed a $62,500 allowance optional claimer racing 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn by 5 3/4 lengths. On May 1, he tackled an $80,000 allowance optional claimer over the same track and distance and romped by 5 1/2 lengths. Then on June 5, he shipped to Churchill Downs and trounced a $150,000 allowance optional claimer by 4 1/2 lengths.

Caddo River is 2-for-2 at Churchill Downs, and his latest allowance score was brilliant. After tracking solid fractions of :23.15, :46.26, and 1:10.06, Caddo River somehow accelerated the penultimate furlong in :11.37 and the final furlong in :11.86 (both per Trakus) to reach the finish line in a rapid 1:33.52, just 0.26 off the track record.

This effort produced a 100 Beyer speed figure, not far off the figures in the 101-103 range Olympiad has been posting this year. Caddo River's recent improvement reminds me of the jump forward Knicks Go made in 2020, transitioning from a faltering Road to the Kentucky Derby alumnus into a two-time Breeders' Cup winner. Knicks Go, like Caddo River, was trained by Brad Cox, and I wouldn't be shocked to see Caddo River similarly parlay his positive momentum into a string of graded stakes scores.

There's one other big factor in Caddo River's favor. There isn't a ton of pace on paper in the Stephen Foster field, so Caddo River—gifted with tactical speed and breaking from the rail—should have every opportunity to seize the lead and carve out a modest pace. If he parlays this advantage into another fast finish, Caddo River may prove impossible to catch.


1st: Caddo River
2nd: Olympiad
3rd: Mandaloun

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Stephen Foster?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite.

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