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Two division titles on the line this Saturday

WorldlyTwo division titles will be on the line this Saturday in the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs and in the Grade I Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park. While the Stephen Foster will see the best older male horses in the East, top older fillies and mares will duke it out to see who’s the best in the West. 

In a division without any real leader in the East, the Stephen Foster will be an important piece to the puzzle in figuring out who will contend in the Breeders’ Cup Classic this fall. Last year saw a scintillating renewal of the Foster, when Claiborne Farm’s Blame came roaring down the stretch to win his first Grade I, and later went on to win a Breeders’ Cup for the ages when he took down the mighty Zenyatta. This year’s Foster field doesn’t hold a horse with as much obvious talent as Blame, but several contenders could use this Grade I race as a stepping stone as a start to a promising campaign.

Among the most formidable starters in the Stephen Foster are Giant Oak, Crown of Thorns, Apart, Regal Ransom, Mission Impazible, and Worldly. In short, most of the challengers in this 11-horse field have a shot. 122-pound highweight Giant Oak knows Churchill well, but his biggest boast at this track came via disqualification, when he was put up as the winner in the Grade I Clark Handicap over Successful Dan after the two engaged in a game of bumper cars down the stretch. Giant Oak finished 5th last time out in the Alysheba at Churchill, beaten only ½ a length in a wild blanket finish bested by First Dude’s nose. Giant Oak’s last victory came in the Grade I Donn Handicap this past January; he is an honest horse who always run his race, but his inconsistency is tough to figure out.

West Coast invader Crown of Thorns is seeking his first Grade I win; he is coming off a victory in the Grade II Mervyn Leroy Handicap at Hollywood Park over Sidney’s Candy, but has only been able to finish second in his four Grade I tries. In his lone outing over dirt, Crown of Thorns finished 7th to Amazombie going 6 ½ furlongs; if you throw out that race, this horse is consistently in the money and is looking for his chance to shine. If he can overcome his knack for finding bad luck, and takes to Churchill’s main track, Crown of Thorns could finally break out into the top of his division.

Apart is looking to emulate last year’s Foster winner, Blame, by winning for trainer Al Stall and in the silks of Claiborne Farm. Though not as consistently as Blame, Apart is coming off a win in the William Donald Schaefer Handicap at Pimlico, the very same race Blame won on his way to snaring his Foster trophy. Apart won the Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill last fall over a field of talented foes, but lost three races before winning the Schaefer, finishing behind Mission Impazible in two of those tests. Mission Impazible bested Apart and Giant Oak in the Grade II New Orleans Handicap in March, but finished 7th in his only start since then, the Alysheba. Regal Ransom was second by a nose in that now-infamous Alysheba; the hard-trying horse has never won a Grade I race, and hasn’t won since an allowance/optional claimer at Saratoga last year, but has finished a game second in his past two stakes starts against good horses. Worldly is another horse to look out for in the Foster. Last time out, Worldly defeated the highly-touted Al Stall trainee Bind in an allowance race at Churchill Downs.

Blind LuckThe Grade I Vanity Handicap will be missing its 3-time-winning star, Zenyatta this year, but it will be a thrilling edition, nonetheless. In what is shaping up to be a 3-way dogfight, the Vanity will pit Blind Luck against the talented Switch and St. Trinians over a surface on which all three have excelled. Blind Luck is no stranger to Switch; the last time these foes met, Switch defeated her in the Hollywood Oaks, the year the Jerry Hollendorfer-trainee would go on to win the Eclipse for 3-year-old filly. The Sadler-trained Switch will try to turn the tables on Blind Luck once again this year, but both of them will have to contend with St. Trinians, who will be mighty happy to return to the surface over which she’s found the most success. St. Trinians finished first in her last start, the Grade II Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park, but was disqualified for interference and placed fourth. She will be looking to avenge that poor mark on her record against two of the gamest fillies in town. Blind Luck was on a 5-race runner-up streak until she won her most recent start, the Grade II La Troienne at Churchill Downs. Garrett Gomez, who piloted her to break that slump, will be back in the irons in the Vanity. Switch is coming off two second-place finishes in a row, her most recent defeat handed to her by the brilliant Havre de Grace.

St. Trinians and Switch both became famous for giving the great Zenyatta a scare, forcing the big mare to run her guts out to win by a slim margin. Now that the show horse isn’t around, it’s time for a new hero to rise in the West. Will that horse be Blind Luck, risen from the ashes, or someone waiting in the wings?

The Grade I $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap will air live from Churchill Downs on HRTV. Post time is slated for approximately 6:25pm ET.

The Grade I $250,000 Vanity Handicap will air live from Hollywood Park on TVG. Post time is slated for approximately 7:35pm ET.

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