Entering the lane last in a field of 11, Pool Play came nine-wide under Miguel Mena, passed the entire field, and got up in the final couple jumps to edge Mission Impazible by a neck for his first grade I victory. The 6-year-old son of Silver Deputy has spent most of his career racing on Polytrack at Woodbine for trainer Mark Casse, with his last three starts coming on turf.
Casse decided to give the dark bay/brown horse a chance on dirt in the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster and he responded with a career-defining victory. The final time on the fast main track was 1:50.52.
"I wanted to learn something today," Casse said. "I wanted to learn, 'Do we have to stay on synthetic surfaces? Do we go to turf? Or can we maybe dream? A dream about the Breeders' Cup.' So now we're going to do a lot of dreaming."
The winner was bred in Ontario, Canada by Windfields Farm.
Mission Impazible, who put away Duke of Mischief in the stretch and looked to be in line for his first grade I win, settled for second under Javier Castellano. Apart was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third with Julien Leparoux aboard.
A wide-open betting race that saw Regal Ransom go off as the 9-2 choice began with the favorite outworking Crown of Thorns, Worldly, and Mission Impazible into the first turn to take the lead. Regal Ransom and Alan Garcia led the way through splits of :23.96, :48.74, and 1:13.37 with Mission Impazible sitting just to the outside.
Apart was also in contention when they rounded the final turn, as was Charles Town Classic (gr. III) winner Duke of Mischief, who circled five-wide to take a brief lead into the lane under Joe Bravo.
Duke of Mischief and Mission Impazible dueled for much of the stretch, with Mission Impazible finally putting his rival away at the sixteenth-pole. But by that time Pool Play was flying down the center of the track, and he collared Mission Impazible in the final strides for the huge upset.
"The fractions were pretty soft so I didn’t want to get him too far back. I tried to save some ground with him and not go too wide," Mena said. "He was handling the track perfectly the whole time and turning for home I wheeled him out and he just exploded.
"This is probably the biggest win of my career. It is my second grade I win but this time is more special because it’s at my home track, Churchill Downs. Louisville is my home and I’m very happy to win such a big race here."
Pool Play entered the race winless in three turf starts this year, last out finishing runner-up in the 1 1/2-mile Elkhorn (gr. IIT) at Keeneland. In 2010 he won two of 11 starts, both of them coming on the Woodbine Polytrack. His lone graded-stakes victory came in the 2009 Durham Cup (Can-III) at Woodbine.
"It all started when he was training at Palm Meadows over the dirt surface there and Norman (Casse) would call me and say, ‘Dad, this horse loves the dirt!’ We didn’t get to run him on the dirt down there, but then we brought him here and started thinking about it again," Casse said. "He was working really well and I called Bill (Farish) and told him that we could go the grass route, but it’d be nice to see if he can run over the dirt because there is a little race they’ll run here in the fall for $5 million (Breeders’ Cup Classic).”
The winner improved to 6-6-5 from 28 starts and has now earned $909,556. Out of the Cox’s Ridge mare Zuri Ridge, he was purchased for $180,000 at the Keeneland November 2008 breeding stock sale.
The longest shot on the board, Pool Play returned $79.20, $29.40, and $14.60. The exacta (8-11) returned $767.40 and the trifecta (8-11-3) was worth $5,745.80.