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
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
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
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
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Stephen Foster?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week! (Please note: older contest entries can be found here.)
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.