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Stephen Foster Stakes Odds, Picks, Predictions: Wide Open Breeders Cup Classic Win and You’re In Race

Dave Friedman

by Dave Friedman in Horse Racing News

Updated Jul 1, 2023 · 7:23 AM PDT

Stilleto Boy, trained by Ed J. Moger, Jr., during workouts at Del Mar Race Track.
Nov 2, 2021; Del Mar, CA, USA; Stilleto Boy, trained by Ed J. Moger, Jr., during workouts at Del Mar Race Track. Mandatory Credit: Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports
  • Saturday’s $1 million Stephen Foster Stakes provides a berth in the Breeders Cup Classic to the winner
  • This will be the first ever Grade 1 race run at Ellis Park
  • Will Proxy or Stilleto Boy win their second G1 race, or will Smile Happy, Rattle N Roll, West Will Power, Last Samaurai or a longshot capture their first top division victory?

Six of eight entrants in Saturday’s Stephen Foster Stakes have earned over $1 million yet there is little consensus as to who the best of the field is in the Stephen Foster Stakes odds. With varying opinions can come value. For several reasons, this is a unique edition of the Foster.

When it was announced that the final three weeks of Churchill Down’s meet would be run two hours west of Louisville, at Ellis Park in Henderson, KY, it created a lot of firsts. The high end racing normally reserved for Churchill, is now being taken on the road.

None of the horses in the Foster have ever won at Ellis Park, and only two of them have run at the track. On the flip side, more than half the field has won at Churchill Downs. With uncertainty can come opportunity. Let’s look carefully at the field.

2023 Stephen Foster Stakes Odds

Horse Odds
Smile Happy +300
West Will Power +350
Proxy +400
Rattle N Roll +400
Stilleto Boy +600
Last Samurai +600
Speed Bias +1200
Happy American +2000

With no convincing favorite, if you can pick the winner the price will be acceptable. Smile Happy is the shortest favorite at +300 odds, but West Will Power at +350 and Proxy and Rattle N Roll at +400 are all priced similarly.

The Stephen Foster was a Grade 1 race from 2002 until 2018 and saw legends like Gun Runner and Curlin win. Recently it has been downgraded to a G2, but after Maxfield and Olympiad prospered the last two years, the Grade 1 status was returned.

Temperatures on Saturday are expected to be in the high 90s and a thunderstorm rolling through is fairly likely. Fan Duel TV has coverage of the race.

Let’s look closely at the contenders.


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Two Horses Are Proven at the Grade 1 Level

In a wide open affair, how do you distinguish between the entrants? Two horses have experienced success at the highest level. Proxy won November’s Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, and Stilleto Boy took March’s G1 Santa Anita Handicap in Southern California.

Proxy and Stilleto Boy, along with Last Samaurai faced off on April 22 in the Oaklawn Handicap.

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Going a mile-and-an-eighth, the same distance as the Foster, Proxy rallied from fifth to win despite going wide. Stilleto Boy beat Proxy by a neck in March out west when they traveled a-mile-and-a-quarter. Proxy typically comes from behind, while Stilleto Boy usually positions himself near the front. In the Oaklawn Handicap, horses were permitted to race while using the anti-bleeding drug lasix. At Santa Anita in the Spring lasix were not allowed, and they are a no go in Kentucky on Saturday.

Stephen Foster Stakes Contenders

Smile Happy and West Will Power both have a pair of grade 2 victories on their resumes. Smile Happy is coming off a career best effort, when he beat West Will Power, and Last Samurai going a mile-and-a-sixteenth in Louisville.

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Smile Happy has run three times as four year old, and produced two of his best career efforts. This will be the top competition he has faced aside from last year’s Kentucky Derby, when he finished eighth.

West Will Power dominated a solid group of horses in March’s New Orleans Handicap. Before that race he had most recently finished second behind Last Samurai to open 2023, and second to Proxy closing out 2022.

There are No tosses on Saturday

You can’t really eliminate any of the horses as viable win candidates. Speed Bias has been second in three straight races, two against horses in this event. He is aptly named, as he would prefer to be on the lead. If he were an unchallenged leader, could anyone run him down?

Last Samurai has normally been behind these rivals, but not far off, and beat West Will Power in February, while finishing ahead of Stilleto Boy in April. A fair pace, where he can get first run on the closers and sit just off the leaders would be his potential road to victory.

Rattle N Roll, the stablemate of Smile Happy for trainer Kenny McPeek, is an improving four year old. He has won three straight Grade 3 races. He beat Happy American earlier this month, and Speed Bias in May. He’ll be rallying late and hoping the tactics work against the best field he has faced.

Happy American won back-to-back races bridging the end of last year and start of this one. Those were against slightly lesser competition. He has lost to horses in this event in three straight events. Happy American needs a very fast tempo that tests the speed horses and sets up his late run.

Stephen Foster Stakes Prediction

The horses are really close in terms of ability and resume but with no significant favorite, this is all about picking the most likely winner. That is Smile Happy, who may be over bet based on his most recent race, but clearly has upside as a four year old running against primarily against older horses who aren’t going to get dramatically better. Because there are several speed horses, Smile Happy may sit a perfect trip, just off the leaders, but getting first run on the deep closers.

Alternatively, Stilleto Boy at +600 offers value. His top races are as good as anyone in the field, his win two races ago is among the best anyone in the field has, and he was very competitive with Proxy and Last Samurai in April.

Stephen Foster Picks: Smile Happy (+300)

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