BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE SERIES OPENS WITH STEPHEN FOSTER & FLEUR DE LIS FROM CHURCHILL DOWNS THIS SAT., LIVE AT 8 PM ET ON NBCSN
Winners Receive Automatic Berths into Breeders' Cup World Championships
Two-Hour Telecast to Include 'Victory Lap' from Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah
NEW YORK (June 11, 2015) - The first automatic berth into the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic is on the line Saturday evening at Churchill Downs in the Stephen Foster Handicap, which will be televised live on NBCSN, beginning at 8 p.m. ET. Saturday's two-hour program will also include a special live tribute to Thoroughbred racing's 12th Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
The 1 1/8 mile Stephen Foster Handicap (GI), and the 1 1/8 mile, $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap, for fillies and mares, 3-years-old and up, with a berth into the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff up for grabs, marks the 2015 debut of the "Breeders' Cup Challenge: Win and You're In Series," featuring 10 programs on NBC and NBCSN from some of America's most iconic racetracks, all leading to the 32nd Breeders' Cup World Championships at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 30-31 on NBC and NBCSN.
NBCSN's coverage of the Breeders' Cup Challenge Series on Saturday features host Laffit Pincay, III, analysts Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey, the Hall of Fame jockey and five-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner, and reporters Kenny Rice and Donna Brothers.
The 3-year-old American Pharoah, who last Saturday became the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, will parade in front of the crowd at Churchill Downs near the beginning of the telecast. Owner Ahmed Zayat, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza will be on hand for the official engraving of the 2015 Kentucky Derby trophy.
The Stephen Foster begins qualifying for potential challengers to American Pharoah in the Breeders' Cup Classic. The field is led by the Bob Baffert-trained Hoppertunity, ridden by Martin Garcia, who finished third behind Shared Belief and California Chrome in the Santa Anita Handicap (GI) on Feb. 7. Hoppertunity is one of two millionaires in the Foster field with a career record of 4-2-1 from nine races and earnings of $1,130,675 Baffert will also start Cat Burglar has finished third in the past two runnings of the Pimlico Special and was third in the 2014 Brooklyn (GIII) at Belmont Park. He has won three of 10 races and will break from the outside post under Espinoza.
The versatile Lea, a 6-year-old homebred son of First Samurai trained by Hall of Famer and all-time Churchill Downs win leader Bill Mott, will attempt to become the latest horse to enjoy success in the Stephen Foster on the heels of a previous outing in the Dubai World Cup, the world's richest race run at Dubai's Meydan Racecourse in late March. Lea, ridden by Joel Rosario, won the Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in 2014 was runner-up to Constitution in this year's renewal of that 1 1/8-mile race. Lea has a career record of 7-3-3 in 15 races and has earned $1,898,618. The colt's owners won the 2010 Stephen Foster with their homebred Blame, who returned to Churchill Downs.
Seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher will send Commissioner to the Foster post in search of the colt's first Grade I victory and the trainer's first triumph in the race. The 4-year-old son of A. P. Indy carries a two-race winning streak that includes a win in the May 15 Pimlico Special preceded by a victory in the Grade III Skip Away at Gulfstream Park. Commissioner is best-known for back-to-back runner-up finishes to Tonalist in the 2014 Belmont Stakes, a race in which he finished ahead of fourth-place Kentucky Derby-winner California Chrome, and in the Peter Pan (GII), both run at Belmont Park.
The field for the 2015 Stephen Foster Handicap (from the rail out with jockey, assigned weight and morning line odds): Commissioner (Castelllano, 120, 3-1), Lea (Rosario, 120, 7-5), Paganol (Robby Albarado, 114, 20-1), Noble Bird (Shaun Bridgmohan, 116, 10-1), Hoppertunity (Garcia, 121, 5-2), Majestic Harbor (Lanerie, 115, 12-1) and Cat Burglar (Espinoza, 116, 8-1).
A field of nine fillies and mares was entered for the Fleur De Lis, which is joining the Breeders' Cup Challenge for the first time. Harold Queen's Sheer Drama is the morning line favorite at 2-1 following a runner-up finish to the now-retired Molly Morgan in the $300,000 La Troienne (GI) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day. Prior to that strong outing the Florida-bred mare was an easy winner over House Rules and Molly Morgan in the Grade II Royal Delta and runner-up to House Rules in the Rampart (GIII), both of which were run at Gulfstream Park. Sheer Drama is a half-sister to Big Drama, who scored the biggest win of his career in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Sprint (GI) at Churchill Downs.
Pamela Ziebarth's 5-2 second choice, My Sweet Addiction, a 5-year-old daughter of two-time Breeders' Cup Classic (GI) winner Tiznow, collected the first stakes victory of her career in her front-running one-length triumph in Santa Anita's $300,000 Vanity (GI) on May 9. The breakthrough victory under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith was her second consecutive win and it improved her career record to 4-2-3 in 19 starts and lifted her earnings to $328,106.
The field for the Fleur De Lis from the rail out (with jockey, weight and morning line odds): America (Joel Rosario, 116, 10-1), Tiz Windy (Julien Leparoux, 116, 8-1), Pearl Turn (Jesus Castanon, 115, 15-1), Yahilwa (James Graham, 117, 15-1), Glorys Last Chance (Ricardo Santana Jr., 113, 30-1), Frivolous (Jon Court, 116, 20-1), Sheer Drama (Bravo, 120, 2-1), My Sweet Addiction (Smith, 121, 5-2) and Gold Medal Dancer (Luis Quinonez, 118, 3-1).
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The Breeders' Cup administers the Breeders' Cup World Championships, Thoroughbred racing's year-end Championships. The Breeders' Cup also administers the Breeders' Cup Challenge qualifying series, which provides automatic starting positions into the Championships races. The 2015 Breeders' Cup World Championships, consisting of 13 grade I races and purses totaling $26 million, will be held October 30-Oct. 31 at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., and will be televised live by the NBC Sports Group. Breeders' Cup press releases appear on the Breeders' Cup Web site, www.breederscup.com. You can also follow the Breeders' Cup on social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube