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2012 Stephen Foster Handicap Preview

Mission Impazible doesn't win a lot of races, but he consistently finds a way to hit the board.
Mission Impazible doesn't win a lot of races, but he consistently finds a way to hit the board.

The Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap (post time: 9:39pm Eastern; TV: HRTV), the first Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win And You're In" race of 2012, features a solid group of nine horses and eight betting interests (Wise Dan and Successful Dan are coupled; Successful Dan is expected to scratch.). The 1 1/8 mile Foster carries a $400,000 purse and a guaranteed spot in the starting gate for this year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park.

Below are the entries, post positions and morning line odds for the Stephen Foster Handicap, as well as my take on the race.

# PP Horse Jockey Trainer ML
1 3 Wise Dan J. Velazquez C. Lopresti 8/5
1a 9 Successful Dan J. Velazquez C. Lopresti 8/5
2 1 Nates Mineshaft J. Campbell A. Smith 6/1
3 2 Fort Larned J. Leparoux I. Wilkes 5/1
4 4 Nehro C. Nakatani S. Asmussen 8/1
5 5 Ron the Greek J. Lezcano W. Mott 6/1
6 6 Rogue Romance M. Cruiz K. McPeek 30/1
7 7 Mission Impazible J. Castellano T. Pletcher 8/1
8 8 Alternation L. Quinonez D. Von Hemel 4/1

Note: John Velazquez is named the rider on both Wise Dan and Successful Dan. Obviously, that would prove to be a rather difficult proposition; Successful Dan is expected to scratch.

1-Wise Dan (8/5): He's been as good as any older horse in the country over his last few starts, and he's was about a furlong the best in the G3-Ben Ali at Keeneland last time out. He loves Churchill (6-3-0-0) and the trip (3-3-0-0), and he's got the ability to sit in a number of different spots early on. He is a half-brother to his stablemate and coupled entry, Successful Dan.

1a-Successful Dan (8/5): Five straight wins* for this son of Successful Appeal since October of 2010. He missed a year and a half after suffering an injury in the G1-Clark Handicap and appears to have hardly missed a beat upon his return. His first race off the bench was a fairly deep $100k Optional Claimer at Keeneland that included Noble's Promise, Hoofit (NZ) and Capt. Candyman Can.

*Successful Dan was DQ'd and placed third after crossing the line first in the G1-Clark Handicap in 2010.

2-Nates Mineshaft (6/1): After a string of big-time performances at the Fair Grounds this winter/spring, Nates Mineshaft had a rough go of it in the G2-Alysheba on Derby weekend when he finished 6th, over 20 lengths back of winner Successful Dan. He rebounded to dominate the G3-Lone Star Park Handicap over a much easier field. Despite his strong run of form since late December, Nates Mineshaft still faces questions regarding his class and his ability to win without controlling the pace.

3-Fort Larned (5/1): A good second to Successful Dan in the Alysheba, Fort Larned has made a big jump in his development with the beginning of his four-year-old season. In 2011, Fort Larned toiled in the allowance ranks, struggling to graduate from N2X company. This season, however, he's notched two stakes wins (one against graded company in the G3-Skip Away) and was a length away from a win in the Alysheba. He could be a tough competitor in this race if he's able to maintain his current form or take another step forward.

4-Nehro (8/1): The runner-up in the 2011 Kentucky Derby returned from an extended layoff to easily beat a group of optional claimers at the Fair Grounds back in late February. After a bit of a hiccup in the G2-Oaklawn Handicap, Nehro was a hard closing second to Alternation in the G3-Pimlico Special in his best race since his Derby run. Nehro likely needs some help on the front end to set up his late kick.

5-Ron the Greek (6/1): He appeared to turn the corner at the start of 2012 when he was second to Mucho Macho Man in the Sunshine Millions Classic, followed by a big effort to win the G1-Santa Anita Handicap. Like Nehro, Ron the Greek likes to do his running from well back of the pack and will need some pace up front to help his chances. One the positive side of the ledger is the long stretch at Churchill Downs, which should give him plenty of time to run down the leaders, if he's good enough.

6-Rogue Romance (30/1): I really liked this colt back in 2012 when he won the G3-Bourbon at Keeneland and finished 3rd in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Things have gone downhill for this son of Smarty Jones since his juvenile year ended. He was a beaten favorite in the G2-Risen Star, suffered an injury that took him out of action for over a year, and then returned to make his first start in the G3-Ben Ali and finished last, almost 30 lengths behind Wise Day. He rebounded to win an optional claiming/N3X event at Churchill last time out but you got to wonder whether he's ready to beat a field as good as this one.

7-Mission Impazible (8/1): This horse hasn't done a whole lotta winning during his career (3 wins from 18 starts) but he's a reliable check casher in race after race. The last time Mission Impazible saw the winner's circle was way back on March 29th of 2011 in the G2-New Orleans Handicap. Since then, he's been on an up and down journey of good races with the periodic clunker thrown in. You can't leave this guy out of your exacta and tri plays given his ability to hit the board, but it's hard to put him in the win spot on any ticket.

8-Alternation (4/1): A nice score in the G3-Pimlico Special proved that this colt could win outside of Oaklawn Park. If we were to judge him strictly on speed figures, he's not quite at the level of Wise Dan, Successful Dan and Fort Larned. Another big effort in the Foster would place Alternation at the head of the older horse division.

The Pick

I'm trying to keep this one fairly simple. I love the way Fort Larned has improved in his four-year-old campaign and he should be available at good odds given the presence of strong rivals like the Dans and Alternation. I'll take Fort Larned across the board and in an exacta over Ron the Greek and Nehro. I'll play Ron the Greek and Nehro over Fort Larned at a reduced cost.