Moonshine Mullin, headed at the top of the stretch, responded to the challenge of Departing to spurt clear late and register a 10-1 upset in the $552,500 Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) the night of June 14 at Churchill Downs (VIDEO).
Ridden by Calvin Borel, the former $40,000 claim registered his second graded victory in a row at Churchill for owner Randy Patterson and trainer Randy Morse. Dr. Russ Beran and Dick Johnson bred the 6-year-old son of Albert the Great in Kentucky.
Moonshine Mullin prevailed by 1 3/4 lengths. Will Take Charge, the slight 5-2 favorite in the field of nine, ran on for second. Departing, who had the lead at the top of the stretch, settled for third. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile trip was 1:49.66 on a fast track.
The victory made Moonshine Mullin the first horse to gain automatic entry into the 2014 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) as part of the "Win & You're In" challenge series.
Winner of the Alysheba Stakes (gr. II) by half a length May 2, Moonshine Mullin recorded his fifth consecutive win for Morse, who earned his first grade I. The trainer claimed the bay horse on behalf of Patterson at Remington Park Nov. 30.
Moonshine Mullin surpassed $1 million in career earnings with the Foster first-place check of $328,848.
"He trained better leading up to this race than he did the race before," Morse said in reference to the Alysheba. "He drew a really good post, which meant a lot. I usually tend to be pretty conservative but when he drew the three-post with how well as he's trained the past week, I was pretty sure we were going to run him.
"If he never wins another race, it's been a great ride. But as good as he's doing, who knows? You never know, that's one thing about this sport, they come from everywhere. I'm very happy with him though."
Nine older horses contested this year's Foster, with Will Take Charge, sixth last time in the Alysheba, looking to rebound for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Also well fancied in the betting were Departing, at 3-1, Revolutionary, 7-2, and Long River at 5-1.
A committed front-runner since beginning his winning streak, Moonshine Mullin prompted the pace in the 1 1/8-mile Foster while second as 80-1 shot Jaguar Paw got the early advantage by about a half-length. Departing and Long River stalked the leaders. Jaguar Paw stepped the opening half mile in fractions of :23.98 and :47.91 before Moonshine Mullin progressed to challenge on his outside. Moonshine Mullin grabbed the lead approaching the three-eighths pole rounding the far turn while clipping off a six-furlong split of 1:12.92.
Departing, never far off under Robby Albarado, challenged immediately and seemed to have the momentum as he forged a narrow edge coming off the turn. But Moonshine Mullin responded to urging from Borel along the inside and fought valiantly to open a clear advantage past midstretch, staying busy to the wire in a terrific performance.
"Randy (Morse) has been doing so well with him," said Borel, who is 3-for-3 on Moonshine Mullin. "The first morning I was out on him working him after the Alysheba, he didn't really work like I thought he should have. But boy its funny, when a horse peaks, they peak. When I came back and worked him again about five days ago he was a totally different horse, like he had gotten his seat back under him.
"I rode him with a lot of confidence today. We were stepping up today, I know we beat some of these same horses a few weeks back and early on I was afraid it may have taken too much out of him, but as we got closer, Randy had him ready to go. He's a nice, nice horse."
Will Take Charge, leading only the deep-closing Revolutionary for much of the journey, progressed on the far turn and drove on through the lane while quite wide for Gary Stevens to get up for second over Departing, who ran out of steam late. Mylute took fourth, 2 1/4 lengths farther back, followed by Golden Ticket, Revolutionary, Long River, Prayer for Relief, and Jaguar Paw.
Stevens said Will Take Charge struggled the first part of the race, "but he really got into a nice rhythm down the backside. He gave up a lot of ground around the turn, but he seemed to be happy there. He showed up today."
Carrying 118 pounds, Moonshine Mullin paid $22, $9, and $5.20, topping an exacta worth $102.20 with Will Take Charge. The 123-pound highweight returned $4.60 and $3.40. Departing was good for $3.60 to show.
Now 2-for-2 over the Churchill main track, Moonshine Mullin ran his career record to 9-4-5 in 32 starts with earnings of $1,014,361. Since his most recent claim, he has won five of seven starts with a third and a fourth.
Moonshine Mullin, out of the Distant View mare Mullen Road, ran second to Stay Thirsty in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) in 2011. He began his career for Viking Farms and trainer Reade Baker at Woodbine, for whom he competed in the Jim Dandy.
Moved to the care of Donnie Von Hemel in early 2012, the bay was claimed away by Maggi Moss for $25,000 at Remington last August. She and trainer Steve Asmussen lost him to his current connections after three starts.
"It was awesome, absolutely awesome," said winning owner Patterson. "This was my first grade I win, the Alysheba was my first grade II win and coming down that stretch today I was just like, 'this is not supposed to happen with a claiming horse.' But he'll stay right here, I don't have any idea what will be next for him."