West Point Thoroughbreds' Flashy Bull left the field behind leaving the far turn, then dug deep in the final sixteenth to hold off the fast closing Magna Graduate and Diamond Stripes to win the $829,500 Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO) in a surprise at Churchill Downs Saturday.
It was the fourth win in a row for Flashy Bull, an also-ran on the Triple Crown trail last year for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin who went off at odds of 6-1 while carrying 117 pounds Saturday. McLaughin made a last-second decision on Wednesday to enter Flashy Bull in the Stephen Foster and shipped him by van from his base at Belmont Park to Churchill Downs on Thursday.
Ridden confidently by Robby Albarado, Flashy Bull surged to the lead while under an easy hold leaving the quarter pole and opened up at the head of the stretch. The 4-year-old gray son of Holy Bull looked like he'd cruise while leading by more than three lengths at the eighth pole, but Albarado went to work with his right hand to get the colt home just a head in front of Magna Graduate, who edged Diamond Stripes by a half-length for second. The final time was an excellent 1:48 3/5.
“Kiaran told me that I might want to give him the first jump as he’s a little racy, but with the amount of speed in the race it was pretty easy getting him back,” said Albarado, who won the Stephen Foster for the first time.
“I saw a little traffic trouble in the first turn, but I was on the outside of it so I got a clear trip the whole way. I squeezed on him turning for home, and he went right on.”
Nowhere to be seen was the 8-5 favorite Master Command, the 123-pound high weight who came under a ride from John Velazquez on the final turn but was never a factor while finishing sixth.
The 109-1 shot Mr. Umphrey, entered to ensure a fast pace, did his part, clipping off fractions of :23 1/5, :46 2/5 and 1:11 before backing out of it. Wanderin Boy, tracking the runaway leader, reeled that one in to lead briefly, but offered little resistance when Flashy Bull came with his quick move while racing on the outside on the final turn.
Magna Graduate, under Garrett Gomez, came from far out of it, picking up Diamond Stripes and Edgar Prado in the lane and streaking for the wire to come up just short.
“When I came off the turn, I thought I had dead aim on (Flashy Bull), but then he kind of kicked on a little more on the inside,” said Gomez of runner-up Magna Graduate. “My horse had to grind it out. When he came into the stretch he kicked on with a good turn of foot, but he just kind of stayed there at the end.”
Winless in seven starts while facing top company as a 3-year-old, McLaughlin has found the key to Flashy Bull, who had only a maiden win in 14 starts before beginning his current streak. Flashy Bull earned his first graded stakes win in his last start, the William D. Schaefer Handicap (gr. III) at Pimlico May 19. He owns a 5-5-3 mark in 18 starts and earned $498,863 Saturday, jumping his career total to $829,313. Jerry and Liz Squyres bred Flashy Bull, a $205,000 Ocala buy in February 2005 who is out of the dam Iridescence, by Mt. Livermore.
“It was fabulous,” said McLaughlin, who also trains reigning “Horse of the Year” Invasor. “This horse is just a different horse this year. It’s just amazing what a different horse he is from last year, from three to four years old.”
Sent off as the fifth choice in the field of eight, Flashy Bull paid $14.20, $6.60, and $4.40.
He topped a $63.20 exacta with Magna Graduate ($4.20, $3.60), who was coming off back-to-back grade III wins for trainer Todd Pletcher, who also conditioned the favorite.
The lightly raced Diamond Stripes, winner of the Pegasus (gr. III) last fall, was $3.80 to show.
It was nearly eight lengths back to Jonesboro in fourth, followed by Wanderin Boy, Master Command, Wiggins, and Mr. Umphrey.
Velazquez was disappointed by the sixth-place finish by favored Master Command, who suffered his first loss in four races in 2007. He said Master Command’s speed was neutralized by traffic problems on the first turn.
“We broke well, but I lost all chance going into the first turn,” said Velazquez. “I had to check hard and that was it. It’s really disappointing because I thought he would run big.”