The Grade 2 Stephen Foster is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series race. But its importance goes beyond merely sending its winner to the flagship $6 million Classic.

Olympiiad-Stephen Foster preview
After winning four consecutive races, Grade 2 Alysheba winner Olympiad will take his share of wagers in Saturday’s Grade 2 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. He is the 5/2 second choice on the morning line. (Image: Coady Photography)

This year’s Stephen Foster brings us what we need in racing: a good rivalry. In this case, that’s 2/1 favorite Mandaloun against 5/2 Olympiad. Or, if you prefer, Mandaloun against Olympiad against 7/2 Americanrevolution. After all, Mandaloun and Americanrevolution are the two Grade 1 winners in the seven-horse field.

The 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster headlines Churchill Downs’ 12-race Saturday card. It caps the track’s All-Stakes Pick 5 and is the third race in its late Pick 5. Again, it sends its winner to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where four horses have won both races in the same year. That started with Black Tie Affair (1991), moved to Awesome Again (1998), Saint Liam (2005) and concluded with Gun Runner (2017). Fort Larned won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2012, then captured the 2013 Stephen Foster.

Expect the Classic to be on the minds of many of these trainers, starting with Brad Cox and Mandaloun. When it comes to rivalries, the Into Mischief 4-year-old could use another one. He lost his two chief rivals: Medina Spirit late last year and Midnight Bourbon earlier this year. Both died suddenly, leaving Mandaloun in search of new and familiar tests.

Mandaloun’s two Grade 1s come with *

Mandaloun owns two Grade 1 wins: the 2021 Kentucky Derby and the 2021 Haskell. Both came via disqualification; Medina Spirit’s drug positive in the Derby and Hot Rod Charlie’s interference in the Haskell. Take those further and Mandaloun went to the Middle East on a four-race winning streak. He left Saudi Arabia with his confidence shredded after a ninth-place finish in the $20 million Saudi Cup.

Cox gave Mandaloun the spring off after that Feb. 29 disappointment. That he brought the six-time winner back for a race as strong as the Stephen Foster tells you where he thinks Mandaloun is now.

“He’s been doing great training over this track, so it makes sense to target a race like the Foster than is at home,” Cox told Churchill Downs. “We kept our options open, but this race, you don’t have to ship and can run out of your own stall. … We couldn’t be more pleased with this training into this race. He’s really done well in his lead up to the Foster at home here at Churchill. He’s worked several times after the Saudi Cup and I think he’ll be on a much preferred surface Saturday.”

Olympiad unbeaten in 2022

Mandaloun hasn’t won a race by more than 1 ¼ lengths. Balance that out by Cox’s wizardry with older horses (see Knicks Go) and his preferred stalking style that could thrive in this field.

To do so, Mandaloun will have to find a way past Olympiad, who is the “It” horse in this field. You’d be the “It” horse in this field too, if you came in with a four-race winning streak by a combined 13 lengths. A $700,000 yearling purchase, Olympiad is 4-for-4 in 2022, averaging a 110 Equibase Speed Figure in those four victories. Those came in a January Gulfstream allowance, the Grade 3 Mineshaft and Grade 2 New Orleans Classic at Fair Grounds and the Grade 2 Alysheba at Churchill Downs.

Go one race past his troubled fourth in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, when he clipped heels and endured a wide trip around Aqueduct, and Olympiad is 5-for-6. He won a Keeneland allowance last October and expect him to stalk and pounce with that same style that brought those four 2022 victories.

Grade 2 Stephen Foster/Churchill Downs

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Caddo River, 10/1 (Ricardo Santana Jr./Brad Cox)
  2. Americanrevolution, 7/2 (Luis Saez/Todd Pletcher
  3. Olympiad, 5/2 (Junior Alvarado/Bill Mott)
  4. Title Ready, 15/1 (Brian Hernandez Jr./Dallas Stewart)
  5. Proxy, 9/2 (Joel Rosario/Mike Stidham)
  6. Mandaloun, 2/1 (Florent Geroux/Brad Cox)
  7. Last Samurai, 8/1 (Jon Court/D. Wayne Lukas)

“We through he was a nice horse since he was a 2-year-old,” Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said. “He missed a lot of time in his 3-year-old year, unfortunately. The patience that we were allowed to have with him and waited until he got right paid off. He’s a really good horse and competing at a top level.”

How high a level? Olympiad (6-1-1 in nine starts) is ranked fifth in the most current National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Top Thoroughbred Poll. The four ahead of him: Flightline, Country Grammer, Life Is Good and Jackie’s Warrior.

The third member of that rivalry-in-waiting is the horse who won that Cigar Mile: Americanrevolution. He endured his horrible trip earlier this year at the Blame Stakes, when he was forced wide throughout and had nothing left for the stretch. That fourth-place finish came by only three lengths as the 1.10/1 favorite.

Stephen Foster provides second start off layoff

It was also Americanrevolution’s only start this year. Before then, he hadn’t run since winning that Cigar Mile in early December. Dating to his maiden-breaking score at Belmont Park last June, Americanrevolution is 5-for-7. He’s run at seven different tracks in his eight-race career, winning at Belmont Park (twice), Finger Lakes, Saratoga and Aqueduct. Each time, he’s used a closing style that could factor here.

Along with those three, there’s Grade 3 winner Last Samurai, multiple graded stakes-placed Proxy and stakes placed Caddo River. He comes in riding his own three-race winning streak: all in allowances.

The seven-horse field owns 35 victories in 97 starts (36.1%). Included in that are 15 stakes and $6.7 million in earnings.