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HomeHorse RacingChurchill DownsStephen Foster Preview: Smile Happy and West Will Power Rekindle Feud

Stephen Foster Preview: Smile Happy and West Will Power Rekindle Feud

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Churchill Downs raised the purse and a quality field of eight older males have signed on for the Grade One Stephen Foster. $1,000,000 is all it took to attract the winner of the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), the Alysheba (G2), the Oaklawn Handicap (G2), the Blame (G3), and the New Orleans Classic (G2). With the decision to move the last three weeks of the Churchill meet, for the first time in 41 runnings, the 1 1/8 miles race will take place at Ellis Park

Smile Happy was made the 3-1 favorite on the morning line. The foe he put away soundly in the Alysheba (G2), West Will Power was made 7-2.

With all those graded stakes wins taking place in the last four months, there is no doubting the form of the Foster field, but still, each has question marks. Why did Brian Hernandez Jr. choose to ride Smile Happy’s stablemate Rattle N Roll? Can Stiletto Boy compete with the best of the Kentucky circuit? How many graded stakes can Brad Cox not win in a row? (hard to call second place a loss in horse racing). Everyone always doubts Proxy, Last Samurai, and Happy American–but all three older horses are in the best form of their career. Has their time to shine come? Where the hell did Speed Bias come from and why did Luis Saez choose to ride him over the graded stakes winner Last Samurai?


Here’s my insight into the Foster. After the Alysheba, I talked with the jocks of the top three finishers. I wanted to know how the hell I lost money on West Will Power. He looked like a cinch and I kicked off an ice-cold double with him into Didia. But Smile Happy took it to him big time. 

BJ Hernandez said that Smile Happy put himself right behind West Will Power, pressuring him every step of the way. When Art Collector ranged up, a tap was all it took for Smile Happy to pull away from the Pegasus winner. 

Prat told me West Will Power was running better than he did when he won the New Orleans Classic, but he just folded after being harrassed for so long by Smile Happy. 

Art Collector had Smile Happy lined up in the homestretch and Junior Alvarado said he was moving brilliantly. At the top of the stretch, he was positive his horse would kick on by, but instead Smile Happy just shot away from him as soon as he got near.

In other words, that was a monster effort by Smile Happy, beating two of the best in this division who ran their race. So he’ll win the Foster, right? I say so. But with a bigger field, speed drawing to his outside, and a track favoring front runners, it won’t be as easy.


Here are the knocks on Smile Happy: The Price. With the top speed figure in his last race, the public will gravitate towards him. In the Alysheba, he had the perfect set-up, breaking to West Will Power’s outside in a small field and able to find a spot breathing down his neck with ease. In the Foster, he breaks to that runner’s inside and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Prat break West Will Power aggressively into Smile Happy’s lane.  


After ten days of racing at Ellis, I have eight marked as heavily speed-favoring. This upgrades West Will Power, Speed Bias, and Stiletto Boy’s chances. 


Who will get the lead? Speed Bias. He’s finished second in his last three races, getting beat by three formful horses. He went longer last time and now cuts back 1/2 a furlong. Working bullets coming into this and Luis Saez aboard, he could be primed for another step forward. And he drew in a great position to get it, post 3 just outside another early speedster, Stitleto Boy.


But rain is in the forecast, which could alter how the track has been playing. On June 11 the track was rated sloppy/sealed, and it played fair.  


I think it will be difficult for Proxy, Rattle N Roll, Last Samurai, and Happy American to kick by this formful field of early speedsters and stalkers. But of those four, I am interested in Rattle N Roll, rain or shine.


Quick Hits:

Top Two: I’ll bet to win if a price discrepancy emerges between these two. Otherwise, I’m locking them in the top two slots of my exotics.


#5 Smile Happy (3-1) After his monster run in the Alysheba he could be 2-1. But there are enough interesting horses in here, he could be let go at 7-2. He can press or stalk, my guess is he’ll sit right behind the battle between Speed Bias and West Will Power, then freak to the front for the win. 


#6 West Will Power (7-2) Smile Happy pressured West Will Power into submission last time. I think this is WWP’s preferred distance and he’ll get a perfect trip pressing Speed Bias. His form is there, and if Smile Happy gets tripped up, he’ll win.


Using Underneath: 

#4 Rattle N Roll (4-1) Winner of three straight, in the Blame McPeek’s other breakout 4-year-old star was moving beautifully along the rail but had to steady and lose his momentum when Barber Road came down on him. Rattle N Roll re-rallied to pass Call Me Fast and fend off Happy American. Still, I’d need 7-1 to think about betting him to win. Definitely using underneath. 


#3 Speed Bias (12-1) 4-year-old who has found himself. He’s already taken three nice steps forward this campaign. I doubt he’s got another one in him, but nice space between races and two warning bullets have been fired. With this post and Saez up, he’ll surely be sent to the front, where 59% of the route races have been won through the first three weeks at Ellis. The field is too strong for me to get excited about using him on top, but I will use him in 3rd and 4th for the trifectas and superfectas. 


Likely Fading (Price/Track Profile Dependent)

I’ll fade if the track continues to be dominated by front-running efforts. If price is right, I’ll use in 3rd/4th.


#1 Proxy (4-1) Trainer Mike Stidham is very happy with how he’s doing, but admits the obvious: Ellis Park favors front runners and Proxy will be running from behind. If the rain/horse gods alter the track profile and we see off-the-pace runners fire solid races on Saturday, I’d be interested in Proxy underneath only.


#8 Happy American (20-1) After his win in the Tenacious, Pessin said this 5-year-old is still stepping forward. He ran well in the Blame but had no pace to close into and that was against a softer group. If he indeed does have more to show us, watch out! Up against it in terms of the track favoring forward horses, but he’ll have pace to chase. Has bomb potential.



#2 Stilleto Boy (6-1) Wild card. Honest horse who threatens for a piece of the pie most every time. His best efforts have come second race off the rest, so I’ll be more interested in backing him next start.  


#7 Last Samurai (6-1) In career-best form but runs significantly better with Lasix. No Lasix allowed in the Stephen Foster. Fading.

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