Ellis Park to host its first-ever $1 million Grade horse race

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Moira, shown winning the 2022 Queen's Plate, is the morning-line favorite for Saturday's Grade II Nassau Stakes at Woodbine. Michael Burns photo, courtesy of Woodbine
1 of 2 | Moira, shown winning the 2022 Queen's Plate, is the morning-line favorite for Saturday's Grade II Nassau Stakes at Woodbine. Michael Burns photo, courtesy of Woodbine

June 30 (UPI) -- Ellis Park will host its first-ever $1 million Grade I race this weekend, as the Stephen Foster Stakes headlines a huge program transferred from Churchill Downs.

Churchill Downs Inc. closed its spring-summer meeting early after a dozen horse fatalities marred the run-up to the Kentucky Derby, and it moved its remaining schedule down the Ohio River to Henderson, Ky., where it also owns Ellis Park, aka "the Pea Patch."


The weekend racing tab there has 10 stakes races. Elsewhere, the preholiday slate includes one of Canada's big weekends and graded stakes at Delaware Park and Belmont Park -- if the air quality holds up.

On the international scene, Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien and the Coolmore "lads" have strong hands in the Irish Derby and Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes and the Deutsches Derby at Hamburg has a big, primarily German, field.


We'll mosey on over to the Pea Patch right quick, but first, let's check in with that crazy 3-year-old division.

The 3-year-olds

Fortunes change quickly in racing and the latest twist finds Kentucky Derby runner-up Two Phil's, in the span of just two days, going from rising star to retired stud prospect.

The Hard Spun colt, trained by Larry Rivelli, easily won last weekend's Grade III Ohio Derby and was on course to contest the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth and the Travers at Saratoga -- races that could have put him in the mix for the 3-year-old championship.

A day later, he was found to have an ankle injury and retirement was the ultimate decision. His owners now will seek a deal to stand the colt, who won five of 10 starts.

Two weekend events for 3-year-olds look unlikely to have a bearing on the division ranking, but are worth watching for emerging talent.

Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park, a one-turn mile, has the proverbial small but select field.

Fort Bragg, a Tapit colt from the Bob Baffert barn, is the narrow favorite on the morning line after finishing second in the Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs in his last outing.


Saudi Crown, an Always Dreaming colt trained by Brad Cox, is 2-for-2 and steps into stakes company for the first time. Harrodsburg, by Constitution, has a win and a second for trainer Rob Atras.

Trainer Chad Brown puts Turf King on the all-weather course for Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Marine Stakes for 3-year-olds but that's OK with the Woodbine oddsmaker, who pegs the Irish-bred Kingman colt as the 2-1 morning-line favorite in a competitive field of eight for the 1 1/16-miles event.

Turf King won his career debut on the Gulfstream Park artificial surface.


Saturday's $1 million Grade I Stephen Foster at Ellis Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic, brought out some of the division heavyweights.

The eight-horse field for the 1 1/8-miles event includes Grade I Santa Anita Handicap winner Stilleto Boy; Grade II Oaklawn Handicap winner Proxy; Grade III Blame Stakes winner Rattle N Roll; and Grade II Alysheba winner Smile Happy.

Also, Grade II New Orleans Classic winner West Will Power; Grade III Essex Handicap winner Last Samurai; and Grade III Louisiana Stakes winner Happy American.

Novo Sol ventures north from Florida as one of the key players in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Dominion Day Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather course.


The 6-year-old son of Agnes Gold seeks his first North American stakes win. Treason and Carrothers also figure in the nine-horse field. So does Artie's Storm, who was second in this last year.

Trainer Cox gives Zozos a chance on the turf in Sunday's 1-mile, $275,000 Hanshin Stakes at Ellis Park.

The 4-year-old Munnings colt was second in last year's Louisiana Derby and 10th in the Kentucky Derby and comes off two straight wins on the brown track. Despite the surface switch, he's the 9-5 favorite on the morning line.


A Mo Rey, winner of the Grade 1 Beholder Mile at Santa Anita two starts back, is the morning-line favorite in a cast of eight for Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Fleur de Lis Stakes at Ellis Park.

The Uncle Mo filly also won the Grade III Bayakoa at Oaklawn Park in February, demonstrating she can handle the 1 1/16 miles. Last year's winner, Pauline's Pearl, seeks a turnaround after a couple of dud efforts, including a seventh-place finish in the Beholder Mile.

Hearty Constitution and Royal Take Charge step up after performing admirably at lower runs on the class ladder.

Miracle, a Mendelssohn filly trained by Todd Pletcher, and Fireline, an Arrogate miss from Brown's barn, are the morning-line picks among 10 entered for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Delaware Oaks.


Miracle seeks a breakthrough after several also-ran showings. Fireline won her last two and steps up in class to try this 1 1/16 miles.

Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware Park has a solid field of 11 fillies and mares, but no solid favorite.

Miss Yearwood is the morning-line favorite at odds of 4-1 off back-to-back wins at Keeneland and Churchill Downs with single-digit odds also for Viareggio, Sopran Basilea, Lovely Princess and Parnac. Stab the program or just sit back and enjoy the 1 3/8 miles.

Last year's Eclipse Award champion 2-year-old filly Wonder Wheel gets some class relief in Saturday's $150,000 (Grade III) Selene Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the Woodbine all-weather track.

The Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner hasn't hit the line first in any of three starts this year and was ninth in the Kentucky Oaks in her last start with her speed figures going steadily in the wrong direction.

This should be a lot easier task and she's the big favorite on the morning line so we'll see where things stand.


Candy Man Rocket drew the rail and was installed as the morning-line favorite for Saturday's $250,000 Grade III John A. Nerud Stakes at Belmont Park after winning the Grade III Runhappy Stakes over the course impressively in his last for trainer Bill Mott.


Weyburn and Little Vic look like the main competition among six rivals.

Bango has already handled several of the six rivals he'll face in Saturday's $225,000 Kelly's Landing Stakes at Ellis Park and looks likely to contend again.

The 6-year-old son of Congrats was second behind only Gunite in his last outing, the Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs. Still, it's a salty bunch from top to bottom.

Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Smile Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream Park has a competitive field of eight with Dean Delivers the 2-1 favorite on the morning line.

The 4-year-old Cajun Breeze gelding has been a consistent performer for trainer Michael Yates, finishing in the top three in 12 of 15 career starts. He has yet to win a graded stakes, however.

Saturday's $100,000 Concern Stakes at Laurel Park looks like a tossup among Prince of Jericho, Recruiter and Coffeewithchris. None has been setting the track ablaze, but these horses seem a cut above the other two in the short field.

Sunday's $100,000 Bob Umphrey Sprint at Gulfstream Park is 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track with a field of eight.

Eleven names were dropped into the entry box for Sunday's $175,000 Maxfield Stakes for 3-year-olds at Ellis Park and there's not much to separate them, making for some potential nice wagering returns for good handicapping.



Saturday's $225,000 American Derby at Ellis Park drew a tough field of six including the first two finishers from the May 17 Caesars Stakes at Horseshoe Indianapolis, Gigante and Wadsworth. Mo Stash won the Grade III Transylvania at Keeneland two starts back.

Set Piece is the odds-on favorite among 10 entries for Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Wise Dan at Ellis Park.

The British-bred Dansili gelding exits a victory in the Grade III Arlington Stakes at Churchill Downs June 3 and again faces the second- and third-place finishers from that, Get Smokin and Harlan Estate.

Filly & Mare Turf

Xigera and Heavenly Sunday stand out in a field of nine in Saturday's $225,000 Tepin Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Ellis Park.

Xigera has only one black mark on a four-race record, that coming in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf where she never got going and finished last of 14. She won her 2023 debut at Churchill Downs on June 2.

Heavenly Sunday has three wins from five starts with a victory in her last start, the Grade II Edgewood at Churchill Downs chief among them.

Moira, the reigning Canadian Horse of the Year, returns to the grass in Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Nassau Stakes after finishing second in the main-track Belle Mahoney in her 4-year-old debut.


The Nassau is her third outing on grass after a disqualification set her down from second to eighth in last year's Grade I E.P. Taylor and a tough trip relegated her to fifth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

She won the Woodbine Oaks and the Queen's Plate on the all-weather at Woodbine.

White Frost is the featured attraction among eight in Sunday's 1-mile, $225,000 Anchorage Stakes at Ellis Park. The Bill Mott trainee exits a second in the Grade III Mint Julep at Churchill Downs and has missed a top-three finish only once in nine starts.

Turf Sprint

Trainer Larry Rivelli lost his stable star with the retirement of Two Phil's, but he moves on with another top performer, One Timer, in Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian) Highlander Stakes at Woodbine.

The Trappe Shot 4-year-old won last year's $600,000 Grade II Franklin Simpson Stakes over the tough Kentucky Downs course and also has a victory at Woodbine, albeit on the all-weather surface.

Only hours removed from his bad news last Sunday about Two Phil's, Rivelli got a boost back home as Act a Fool, an Oscar Performance colt, won the $100,000 Hawthorne Derby in a mild upset.

Even better, Act a Fool is owned in part by Patricia's Hope LLC, also part of Two Phil's original ownership team and Rivelli's long-time patron.



Sunday's $225,000 Bashford Manor Stakes at Ellis Park might have some good ones but it's tough to parse that out so early in their careers.

The morning-line favorite, Wilson Q, comes off a victory in his first start at Churchill Downs. The Wine Steward and Go Otto Go also attracted some early attention.

Saturday's $150,000 TTA Futurity at Lone Star Park has a field of 10 to go 5 1/2 furlongs with the favorites, Strong Promise and True and Ready, drawn in the No. 10 and No. 1 gates, respectively. Good luck.

Juvenile Fillies

Six are in for Sunday's $225,000 Debutante at Ellis Park with V V's Dream, Hibernacle and Brightwork topping the morning line. Watch and learn.

A dozen fillies are set for Saturday's $100,000 TTA Futurity at Lone Star Park with Arkansas-bred Millie G as the morning-line favorite after a nice upset victory in her career bow.

Around the world, around the clock


Sunday's Group 1 Irish Derby at the Curragh has trainer Aidan O'Brien seeking his 100th European Classic win and well-favored to get it with Epsom Derby winner Auguste Rodin.

The Deep Impact colt was hugely impressive at Epsom while enjoying good going. He disappointed at Newmarket over softer turf in his 2023 debut. O'Brien told Racing Post all has gone well for Auguste Rodin since the Epsom win.


O'Brien also is well-armed for Saturday's Group 1 Pretty Polly for fillies and mares at the Curragh with Above the Curve and Never Ending Story declared.

Above the Curve, an American Pharoah filly with a previously stellar record, broke out of a two-race slump with a Group 2 win at Saint-Cloud on May 28.

Never Ending Story was second to the currently stellar Blue Rose Cen in the Prix Diane or French Oaks on June 18.

They have to cope with Via Sistina, a dominant winner in a Group 2 at Newmarket in her seasonal debut.


Sunday's Group 1 Deutsches Derby at Hamburg drew a field of 20, with only a smattering of international interest.


Grade 1 turf racing is on summer holiday in Japan, so interest turns to the increasingly important dirt competition.

First up there was Wednesday's Teio Sho at Oi Racecourse, a local Grade 1 event on the National Association of Racing circuit, with Meisho Hario defending his crown by a whisker over 2022 UAE Derby winner Crown Pride.

Meisho Hario raced well back in the field through much of the 2,000 meters, and then swung wide coming into the stretch.

Crown Pride, meantime, had found a narrow opening on the rail to take the lead inside the 200-meter mark.


Meisho Hario mounted a furious assault and was just up in the final stride for jockey Suguru Hamanaka.

"I felt pretty good about the horse and made a good run into the stretch," Hamanaka said. "But, to me, Crown Pride looked good at the wire. I'm happy we won the race back to back."

Trainer Inao Okada said he, too had doubts about the order of finish, adding, "But he did it. Oh, what a feeling!"

Crown Pride went from his Dubai triumph to the Kentucky Derby, where he reported 13th after chasing a suicidal pace. Back home, he finished second in three straight races, including Grade 1 the Champions Cup at Chukyo Racecourse on Dec. 4.


Here's catching up with one that fell victim Sunday to our travel schedule:

Samay earned a "Win and You're In" spot in the Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf with an emphatic, 7-lengths domination of the Group 1 Gran Premio Pamplona at Hipodromo de Monterrico in Lima on Sunday.

It was the ninth win in 10 starts for the 4-year-old daughter of Power World, with the only loss a third-place finish in the Gran Premio Pamplona. She scored her first group stakes win in the Group 3 Clasico Republica Argentina on May 28.


With Carlos Herrera up for trainer Juan Suarez, Samay cruised through the first 6 furlongs while off the pace, came off the rail at the top of the stretch and quickly kicked away to the daylight win.

The Grand Premio Pamplona was the fifth and final Breeders' Cup Challenge Series race in South America for the 2023 season.

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