The most significant day of racing in the century-old history of Ellis Park takes place Saturday when it hosts the $1 million Stephen Foster (G1) and five other lucrative stakes that were transferred from Churchill Downs.
For older horses over one lap of Ellis’ 1 1/8-mile oval, the Stephen Foster will be the first top-level stakes ever run at the Western Kentucky facility. It’s also a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race, serving as an automatic qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita in November.
Trainer Kenny McPeek saddles likely favorite Smile Happy, impressive two-length winner of the Alysheba (G2) at Churchill on May 5. He’ll be joined by stablemate Rattle N Roll, who enters off three consecutive graded wins in the Ben Ali (G3), Pimlico Special (G3), and Blame (G3).
Grade 1 veteran Proxy, third to Olympiad in last year’s Stephen Foster, missed by a neck to Stilleto Boy in the Santa Anita H. (G1) two back, but gained revenge when narrowly beating that rival and Last Samurai in a thrilling renewal of the Oaklawn H. (G2) on April 22.
Besides Stilleto Boy, others expected to show early foot in the Foster are West Will Power, winner of the New Orleans Classic (G2) and third as the odds-on choice in the Alysheba, and Speed Bias, beaten a nose by Rattle N Roll in the Pimlico Special. The field is rounded out by Grade 3 veteran Happy American.
A Mo Reay, whose attempt at a fourth consecutive stakes win in the May 5 La Troienne (G1) was compromised by a slow start, will look to rebound in the $400,000 Fleur de Lis (G2) over nine furlongs. The daughter of Uncle Mo earned her signature win two back in the Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita. The field of eight fillies and mares also includes Pauline’s Pearl, unplaced in both the Beholder Mile and in her title defense of the La Troienne after taking the Houston Ladies Classic (G3) to start the season.
Another potential standout is Set Piece in the $400,000 Wise Dan (G2) over 1 1/16 miles on the turf. The Juddmonte homebred seven-year-old defeated returning rivals Get Smokin and Harlan Estate in the Arlington (G3) last time, his first win at Churchill since taking the 2021 edition of the Wise Dan
Churchill Downs horse-for-the-course Bango has a more modest 1-for-3 record over the Ellis strip, but still figures to favored over rivals like Tejano Twist, Surveillance, and Miles Ahead in the $225,000 Kelly’s Landing S. over 6 1/2 furlongs. Edgewood (G2) heroine Heavenly Sunday looks to duplicate that upset win in the $225,000 Tepin S. for three-year-old fillies at one mile on the turf, while a field of six three-year-olds kicks off the stakes action on Saturday in the $225,000 American Derby over 1 1/16 miles on the turf.