Stonecrest Farm's Perfect Drift, an upset winner over eventual Horse of the Year Mineshaft in last year's running of the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I), will face some of the toughest handicap rivals in American racing when he bids for a second consecutive victory in Saturday's $750,000-added event at Churchill Downs.
Perfect Drift's opponents in a field of six for the 1 1/8-mile Foster include grade I stakes winners Southern Image and Peace Rules and rising star Midway Road. The race is the centerpiece of "Stephen Foster Super Saturday," Churchill Downs' second richest day of stakes competition with six races and total purses of $1.85 million.
Perfect Drift is only the fourth wagering choice at odds of 9-2 on the morning line. The 5-year-old Dynaformer gelding has failed to win in two starts this year, but trainer Murray Johnson believes his star has raced himself into top form and is ready for a big effort.
"We've got a lot of supporters and people who think we can do it and then there are the people who have sort of forgotten he even exists," he said. "We'd like to show up and show that we're still here and we're still up at the top of the group."
Three-time Foster winner Pat Day, who was aboard Perfect Drift in last year's running, will be back in the saddle aboard the Stonecrest homebred who will carry 119 pounds.
The role of favorite is expected to go to California-based Southern Image. The Florida-bred son of Halo's Image, who is trained by Mike Machowsky, has returned from an injury-plagued 3-year-old season to reel off five consecutive victories that include grade I stakes wins on both coasts. He won the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) and Malibu (gr. I)at Santa Anita and shipped east to win the Pimlico Special (gr. I).
Victor Espinoza will ride Southern Image, who has been assigned high weight of 122 pounds and has been installed as the 6-5 morning line favorite.
Edmund Gann's Peace Rules, a two-time grade I winner at 3 and victor in the Oaklawn and New Orleans Handicaps (both gr. II) at 4, will bid to give Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel his first victory in the Stephen Foster. The 2-1 second choice will carry 121 pounds and jockey Jerry Bailey, who will be seeking his third win in the Stephen Foster.
William S. Farish's Midway Road ran a strong second to Southern Image in the Pimlico Special and is the third choice at 7-2. Robby Albarado will ride for trainer Neil Howard as the son of Jade Hunter attempts to make amends for last year's upset loss by stablemate Mineshaft.
$750,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I, 5:13 ET), 3 & up, 1 1/8 mile
PP. Horse (Weight) Jockey ML Odds
1. Perfect Drift (119) Pat Day 9-2
2. Peace Rules (121) Jerry Bailey 2-1
3. Southern Image (122) Victor Espinoza 6-5
4. Midway Road (116) Robby Albarado 7-2
5. Best Minister (112) Brice Blanc 15-1
6. Colonial Colony (120) Rafael Bejarano 30-1