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Lea Tops Stephen Foster Handicap Field

Lea Tops Stephen Foster Handicap Field: Assuming the field stays intact, there is plenty of pace in store for the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) on Saturday night at Churchill Downs. Lea gets help from the inside horse Commissioner, who has either led or pressed the pace in his last five starts. Paganol, Noble Bird and Cat Burglar also possess speed and will make sure the pace up front at least remains honest. The expected scenario suits Lea, a close-range stalker, just fine. He can make first run after those four horses hook up.

Stephen Foster Handicap 2015

Before the Dubai World Cup, Lea ran well in every dirt race entered. Two starts back, he finished second to Constitution in the Donn (GI) at Gulfstream Park, on a day the track favored speed. Lea also won the Donn last year over Will Take Charge. Photo: Kenny Martin, Coglianese Photos

Lea recently ran third in the Dubai World Cup (GI), despite a perfect setup where all the speed was killed off except California Chrome. The six-year-old son of First Samurai came home and is training well, as the bullet workout on June 6 where he finished best out of 69 horses indicates.

The “Dubai jinx” is talked about on forums, and some might not understand yet what that means. There are handicappers that believe the Dubai races in March take a lot out of American horses, causing them to not return in the same form when back in America. The theory is simply not provable, as for every example of a horse losing in his return race, there is probably a horse that ran well too. Horses do not fall under a blanket of one category and certain ones handle traveling better than others. In Lea’s case, the bullet workout is a good sign, as well as four straight workouts with either six or seven days in between each one since May 18.

Consistency in the workout tab means the horse is healthy. Spotty intervals or long gaps between workouts signals something went amiss.

Before the Dubai World Cup, Lea ran well in every dirt race entered. Two starts back, he finished second to Constitution in the Donn (GI) at Gulfstream Park, on a day the track favored speed. Lea also won the Donn last year over Will Take Charge. If the track turns up wet, he should handle that too. The win on June 1 two years ago was over the Churchill dirt surface on a wet track. Trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Joel Rosario, a ground-saving trip from the number two slot is likely going to translate into victory.

Next on the contender list is Hoppertunity, a horse with success over this racetrack as well. He won the Clark (GI) over Protonico and Constitution last fall. This year, Hoppertunity disappointed in the San Antonio Invitational (GII) when he failed to mount a rally against the talented duo of Shared Belief and California Chrome. Those two opponents were too difficult for him. There are no horses resembling their quality here, except Lea. If Lea fails, except Hoppertunity to take up the torch and mow the leaders down for Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert and rider Mike Smith.

Commissioner is next in this discussion, even though the pace scenario works against him and being on the rail usually means the horse will be sent early. Javier Castellano consistently makes good decisions in races as a jockey, although at Churchill Downs he seems a touch below his winning form elsewhere. The statistic that BRIS gives for Castellano at Churchill is four wins out of 26 mounts, which is an okay winning rate. Maybe this son of A.P. Indy handles the fast pace and fights on anyway. That would not come as a huge surprise.

Only two horses can be thrown out of the win spot. Those two horses are Paganol and Cat Burglar. Paganol, whose only two wins this year came while going wire-to-wire, wants to lead the race. But, he appears outclassed and shall accomplish nothing more than help burn out Commissioner. Cat Burglar pressed Commissioner in the Pimlico Special (GIII) and faded, while Commissioner won. There is no logical reason why Cat Burglar will last the entire way in this spot.

If on a budget, just use Lea and Hoppertunity in horizontal wagers. For a vertical wager, Lea and Hoppertunity make nice choices to wheel on top in some kind of trifecta with Commissioner, Noble Bird and Majestic Harbor mixed in with the top two picks. In the best winning-scenario for this ticket, Commissioner burns out and the possibly overlooked Noble Bird or Majestic Harbor take advantage of the pace by surprising bettors with a good finish.

Related Links:
Celebration Continues at Churchill Downs Stephen Foster Handicap

Stephen Foster Handicap 2015 Post Positions & Odds
Race 8 9:42 PM ET
1 Commissioner 3-1 Castellano/Pletcher
2 Lea 7-5 Rosario/Mott
3 Paganol 30-1 Albarado/Hartman
4 Noble Bird 10-1 Bridgmohan/Casse
5 Hoppertunity 5-2 Smith/Baffert
6 Majestic Harbor 12-1 Lanerie/McGee
7 Cat Burglar 8-1 Espinoza/Baffert