Einstein, a leading candidate for 2009 Horse of the Year midway through the season, will try to make history by becoming the first horse to win grade I events on dirt, turf and synthetics in the same year in the $600,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs June 13 .
Lava Man is the only horse to have won grade I races on all three surfaces, but he did it over the course of three seasons. Einstein, trained by Helen Pitts, has already bagged the March 7 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) on the Pro-Ride surface and the May 2 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. I) at Churchill this year, and will be looking for the trifecta on a strip where he has already won twice.
Einstein will face seven rivals in the nine-furlong Stephen Foster, an event in which he finished runner-up to eventual Horse of the Year Curlin in 2008. He was assigned top weight of 124 pounds.
Owned by Midnight Cry Stable, Einstein outdueled Cowboy Cal by a head to win the Turf Classic for the second straight year. It was his fourth grade I score on turf and upped his career earnings to more than $2.6 million from 25 starts.
A 7-year-old son of Spend a Buck—Gay Charm, by Ghadeer, Einstein’s biggest win on natural dirt came in last November’s Clark Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill. His only defeat in three tries on the Churchill dirt came in last year’s Stephen Foster when he was beaten 4 1/4 lengths. But the dark bay is vastly improved since then.
“I think the older he’s gotten the more mature he’s gotten, and that has helped him,” Pitts said. “He’s always loved the game, but he might understand it more now. He seems to get better with age.
“It would be very special (to win three grade I races on different surfaces). He’s already proven that he is a special horse but to accomplish that would be terrific. This might not be his best surface, but he sure likes the dirt at Churchill better than anywhere else. He’ll handle anything.”
Bred in Brazil by Fazenda Mondesir, Einstein drew post 3 and will be guided by regular rider Julien Leparoux. He was installed as the 2-1 favorite.
Pitts has said that Einstein may be pointed to the Aug. 8 Arlington Million (gr. IT) for his next race.
Assigned 122 pounds was Argentine-bred Asiatic Boy, who has spent most of his career racing in the Dubai and will be making his American debut. The 6-year-old son of Not for Sale has won four group stakes at Nad Al Sheba for previous trainer Mike de Kock. One of them came earlier this season in the Invasor Al Maktoum Challenge-Round 3 (UAE-II) March 5.
A little more than three weeks later Asiatic Boy finished 12th to Well Armed in the $6 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I). In the same race the previous year, he was runner-up by nearly eight lengths to Curlin.
Kiaran McLaughlin has taken over training duties of Asiatic Boy (7-2) and has worked the bay several times at Belmont since arriving in the states. McLaughlin assigned Alan Garcia to ride and they drew post 7.
“He’s trained very well since we’ve had him. He’s a neat horse to be around and has done everything right,” McLaughlin said. “He’s a good mover and has a great attitude; he wants to do it.
“He didn’t fire in the World Cup, but he might have bled. I’m not sure of that, but Mike de Kock said he would benefit from lasix, so I’m reading between the lines there. So he’ll get lasix for the first time this race.
“We have a lot of respect for Einstein, he a multiple grade I winner. But this might be his third best surface, so we figured we’d take a shot in a $600,000 grade I.”
The pace figures to be set by either Finallymadeit or Researcher, both coming off victories. Rolbea Thoroughbred Racing’s Florida homebred Finallymadeit went wire-to-wire in the May 25 Memorial Day Handicap (gr. III) at Calder Race Course for his second graded stakes win this year. Eduardo Nunez will ride for trainer Javier Negrete. This will only be Finallymadeit’s second start outside the Sunshine State in 45 career tries. The hard-knocking veteran is less than $7,000 shy of the $1 million earnings mark.
Rutledge Farm’s Researcher comes out of the April 18 Charles Town Classic, a race he won by 2 1/4 lengths on his home track. The 5-year-old Two Smart gelding has won six of his last seven starts, including the Queens County Handicap (gr. III) last December at Aqueduct.
Graham Motion trainee Bullsbay also enters off a win. The 5-year-old son of Tiznow scored in the Alysheba Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs May 1 for his first graded stakes triumph. Bullsbay (10-1) is a perfect 3-for-3 in Louisville.
West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again was never a factor when finishing sixth in the Alysheba. In his previous race the 4-year-old Macho Uno colt scored in the March 14 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) in the slop at Fair Grounds.
Also in the race is Arson Squad, who will be making his first starts since finishing 11th in the Dubai World Cup. The Rick Dutrow trainee won the Meadowlands Cup Handicap (gr. II) last October. This will be his Churchill debut. Garrett Gomez gets the mount on the Pennsylvania-bred.
The Stephen Foster is the fourth of five graded stakes at Churchill on June 13. Post time is set for 5:29 p.m. EDT