06/13/2012 1:59PM

Churchill Downs: Foster shows depth of handicap division

Shigeki Kikkawa
Despite having won the Santa Anita Handicap, Ron the Greek will at best be the third betting choice in the Stephen Foster Handicap.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The older-horse division is so deep this year that 7 of the top 10 in the latest National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll are from within those ranks. One of them is not Ron the Greek, who has done little wrong in three starts this year by sandwiching runner-up finishes in the Sunshine Millions Classic and the Oaklawn Handicap around a victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap.

Providing a microcosm of that depth is the lineup that was drawn Wednesday for the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap, which will be run at night for the first time Saturday at Churchill Downs. Despite his solid credentials, Ron the Greek figures no better than third choice in the $400,000 race, with Wise Dan and Alternation being the top two respective highweights and favorites in the nine-horse field.

“This was the logical spot for us, so we’ll give them a try,” trainer Bill Mott said recently of Ron the Greek, a 5-year-old horse who arrived here Monday from New York. “I know it’s coming up tough, but it should, especially as good as the older-horse division is right now.”

Ron the Greek, with Jose Lezcano to ride, was assigned post 5 in the 1  1/8-mile Foster, while Wise Dan got post 3 and Alternation post 8.

Wise Dan will carry saddlecloth No. 1 as an entry with Successful Dan (post 9, No. 1A), but trainer Charlie Lopresti has said repeatedly that only Wise Dan will start if he is so able, with Successful Dan serving as a potential replacement. Otherwise, Successful Dan will scratch in favor of the upcoming Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows or Suburban at Belmont.

In post order, with weights and riders, this is the field for the 31st Stephen Foster:

Nates Mineshaft, 118, Jesse Campbell; Fort Larned, 117, Julien Leparoux; Wise Dan, 123, John Velazquez; Nehro, 116, Corey Nakatani; Ron the Greek, 119, Lezcano; Rogue Romance, 115, Manny Cruz; Mission Impazible, 116, Javier Castellano; Alternation, 122, Luis Quinonez; and Successful Dan, 119, Velazquez on a double call.

The race is the season's first automatic qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

The Foster is carded as the eighth of 11 Saturday races on the second Downs After Dark program of the month. First post is 6 p.m. Eastern, with the Foster set for 9:39. The Foster will conclude a pick five (races 4-8) and pick four (races 5-8), with the latter wager consisting entirely of graded stakes. Those multi-race wagers were specially requested by Churchill and join three other pick fours and one other pick five on the card.

In those other stakes:

* Grade 3, $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes (race 5): Only five 3-year-olds were entered in this 1 1/16-mile race: Macho Macho, Stealcase, Right to Vote, Neck ‘n Neck, and Master Rick.

* Grade 3, $100,000 Regret Stakes (race 6): Eleven well-matched 3-year-old fillies were entered in a terrific renewal of this 1 1/16-mile turf race, perhaps the deepest of the four stakes. Contenders include Colonial Flag, Coup, Left a Message, and Silver Hustler.

* Grade 2, $150,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (race 7): Royal Delta, with Mike Smith to ride, got post 5 as the 123-pound highweight and solid favorite in a field of six fillies and mares entered in this 1 1/8-mile race.

The weather forecast for Saturday calls for dry conditions and a daytime high of 90, with cooler evening temperatures. HRTV will provide extensive onsite coverage of the evening.

Although the Foster card normally is when the winning connections of that year’s Kentucky Derby are presented with their engraved trophies, track spokesman John Asher said that would be delayed by two weeks in the case of owner Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill, and jockey Mario Gutierrez. That June  30 program will be the third and last Downs After Dark card this month.