As marquee races go, this isn’t the Kentucky Derby. But you could do a lot worse than the Stephen Foster as the headline race of your meet, abbreviated and all.

By My Standards-Stephen Foster
By My Standards won his first stakes race, last year’s Louisiana Derby. He faces his biggest challenge to date against tough, seasoned Tom’s d’Etat in the Stephen Foster. (Image: Eclipse Sportswire)

The Grade 2 Stephen Foster not only headlines Saturday’s strong 11-race, four-stakes card at Churchill Downs, it provides an enviable headline for Churchill Downs’ abbreviated spring-summer meet. That ends Sunday without the Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks in the rear-view mirror. Both races were postponed until the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Featuring some of the best older male horses in the country, the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster serves as a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” challenge event for the Breeders’ Cup Classic – that event’s flagship race. And winning the Stephen Foster bodes well for Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders. Five Stephen Foster winners ended their seasons in the Classic winners’ circle: Black Tie Affair (1991), Awesome Again (1998), Saint Liam (2005), Blame (2010), and Gun Runner (2017).

That’s good company for any horse to keep, and there are some solid horses trying to join that club. Those include two of the best older horses in the country, and one audacious contender trying to break into their club.

The Picks Begin Here

Any serious discussion about this Stephen Foster starts with even-money morning-line favorite, Tom’s d’Etat, and 5/2 second-favorite By My Standards. Both are enjoying outstanding seasons, both deserve their favorite and second-favorite status, and both deserve betting attention, especially in exotics and in Churchill Downs’ Guaranteed Pick 5.

And both face each other for the first time. This is more a byproduct of Tom’s d’Etat being 7 and By My Standards being 4. Last year, they raced in largely different circles. Many top-level stakes races are confined to either juveniles, 3-year-olds, or 4-and-up. Ergo, there would be few opportunities for these two to connect before this year.

Stephen Foster

Morning Line (Jockey)

  1. Fearless, 12/1 (John Velazquez)
  2. Pirate’s Punch, 15/1 (Mike Smith)
  3. Alkhaatam, 30/1 (Declan Cannon)
  4. Multiplier, 10/1 (Tyler Gaffalione)
  5. Tom’s d’Etat, Even (Miguel Mena)
  6. By My Standards, 5/2 (Corey Lanerle)
  7. Silver Dust, 10/1 (Adam Beschizza)
  8. Owendale, 4/1 (Florent Geroux)

Tom’s d’Etat contented himself by winning his only race in 2020, April’s Oaklawn Mile, where he beat Improbable. All that Bob Baffert colt did was win the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup in his next start. Tom’s d’Etat is the only one in the eight-horse field with a Grade 1 win – last year’s Clark at Churchill Downs — and he chalked up triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in his last seven starts.

If there is a question mark with Tom’s d’Etat, who finished third in last year’s Stephen Foster, it’s him entering this duel without regular rider Joel Rosario. Miguel Mena fills in for Rosario, who rides at Belmont Park.

By My Standards is Living Up to His

By My Standards, meanwhile, warmed up for his duel with Tom’s d’Etat by winning all three of his 2020 starts, including the Grade 2 New Orleans Classic and Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. The Bret Calhoun-trainee won five of his last six races, with the lone outlier being an 11th-place clunker in last year’s Kentucky Derby. His career-best 102 Beyer from the Oaklawn Handicap reflects his current form.

“I hope I’m wrong, but maybe we’ve finally run into a young Turk we can’t handle,” Tom’s d’Etat trainer Al Stall Jr. told the Daily Racing Form. “We’ll just have to see what happens.”

What’s likely to happen in a race with not a lot of early speed is, By My Standards will either set that pace or ride just off of it. He’ll make his move on the final turn. The key is when Tom’s d’Etat – stalking the entire way – will make his.

The Dark-Horse Closer

Should either horses tire or their riders miscalculate, there’s Owendale (4/1) to pick up the pieces. The prototypical deep closer, this Brad Cox-trainee employed his stretch drive to win the Blame Stakes in May.

It wasn’t enough, however, to catch Tom’s d’Etat in last year’s Clark. Overtaking either Tom’s d’Etat or By My Standards is a big ask. Overtaking both requires insane early fractions up front, and a perfect trip. Owendale is the only other horse who could win, but he’s better served underneath in exotics.

The pick: By My Standards, in a squeaker. The Stephen Foster is a favorite trap. Only 21% of favorites win this race, with Gun Runner being the only one in the last 11 outings. Expect Tom’s d’Etat to be odds-on by post time. By My Standards, meanwhile, is the only horse who can hang with him in a speed duel.