06/12/2009 11:00PM

Einstein targeting a surface sweep

Benoit & Associates
Einstein and jockey Julien Leparoux, winning the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, will be seeking their third straight Grade 1 win on three different surfaces in Saturday's Foster.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The first half of the 2009 racing season has showcased a number of outstanding horses based in North America, including Rachel Alexandra, Mine That Bird, Zenyatta, and Well Armed.


But in every weekly poll conducted by the NTRA since May 4, the No. 1-ranked horse has been Einstein, which says quite a lot about where the 7-year-old Brazilian-bred has been and where he might go. Having won the on grass in his last two starts, Einstein will be gunning for an unprecedented triple when he goes postward Saturday in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.

In this nascent era of synthetic surfaces, only Lava Man has won Grade 1 races over three different surfaces. But no horse has done it in the same calendar year - and certainly not in consecutive races. If he can prevail Saturday in the $600,000 Foster, Einstein will become the first to pull off that extraordinary feat, all the while strengthening his hold on the unofficial top spot atop the Thoroughbred world.

"He's a special racehorse," said Helen Pitts, who trains Einstein for the Midnight Cry Stable. "If he can do this Saturday, I think he'd show a whole lot of people just what a great horse he is."

Since early in his 25-race career, which began in October 2005, Einstein has been known primarily as a turf specialist. From his first 18 races, 14 were on turf, and two more were transferred from turf to dirt. In those races, Einstein became a three-time Grade 1 winner.

In his last seven races, however, he has proven what a versatile runner he is. Three races on dirt during that span include a runner-up finish to Curlin here last fall, and in his first and only synthetic try, he captured the March 7 Santa Anita Handicap. Then he showed off for the huge crowd here on Kentucky Derby Day, May 2, by winning the Woodford as the favorite.

"He tries very hard and he is very smart," said jockey Julien Leparoux, who will be aboard for the fifth straight race Saturday. "He knows when it is time to reach down."

Einstein will break from post 3 in the 28th running of the Foster, a 1 1/8-mile fixture that anchors what should be a memorable afternoon at Churchill. Four other graded stakes also will be run, and the engraved trophies for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks will be given away to the respective winning connections during a brief ceremony between races.

Under the handicap conditions, Einstein will carry high weight of 124 pounds, spotting his opposition from 2 to 11 pounds. Asiatic Boy, making his North American debut after previously competing on three continents, looms a major danger, assuming he puts his best foot forward for new trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. The 6-year-old Argentine-bred enters with a bankroll of more than $3 million, highest in the field.

"I've been extremely impressed with him," McLaughlin said.

Most of the others bring solid credentials. Researcher has won 10 of 17 starts and most recently defeated Commentator in the Charles Town Classic over his home track. Macho Again has won the Derby Trial, . Bullsbay, based in Maryland, is 3 for 3 over the Churchill main track. Florida shipper Finallymadeit, making his 45th start, is less than $7,500 short of the $1 million earnings mark, while Arson Squad has earned nearly $900,000 in a career spent mostly in the upper stakes ranks. Only Alphabet Magic, who raced for a $40,000 claiming tag two starts back, appears overmatched.

The Foster goes as the 10th of 11 Saturday races, with the other four stakes surrounding it as races 7, 8, 9, and 11. First post is 12:45 p.m. Eastern, with the Foster set for 5:29. Exclusive live television coverage will be provided by HRTV.

While a series of thunderstorms hit this area Wednesday and Thursday, the forecast for Saturday calls for clearing skies and a high temperature of 84.

:: KING: (DRF Plus)