Betting intelligence: Stephen Foster Day at Ellis Park

June 30th, 2023

Weather could be a major factor on the blockbuster Stephen Foster Day card at Ellis Park. If the stormy forecast comes to pass, we’re looking at a wet main track, and at best, a rain-affected turf course.

With that in mind, here are contenders to consider beyond the obvious favorites. Hopefully rummaging around will unearth a bit of actionable intelligence.

Race 2 (1:14 p.m. ET)

No shortage of well-bred fillies from prominent barns in this maiden, so a couple with intriguing angles could get overlooked. #2 Petticoat (10-1) debuts for Rodolphe Brisset, who sports a 17% strike rate with his firsters. (See the video below of her working with juvenile Normandy Hero, mentioned in the fourth race.) Petticoat also appeals as a pedigree play. By Speightstown, a 21% sire in the mud, Petticoat comes from the immediate family of Speightstown as well. Thus she has the “Rasmussen Factor” of inbreeding to a superior female. #8 Theroanrunner (5-1) hasn’t been seen since flopping last fall at Churchill Downs, but two back on debut, she was fourth in the Keeneland maiden won by Julia Shining. The Joe Sharp trainee adds Lasix and figures to handle an off track, as a daughter of 20% mud sire Liam’s Map.

American Derby – Race 3 (1:43 p.m. ET)

While #4 Gigante (4-1) has claims on either surface, he’d loom larger if this is rained off the turf. The Steve Asmussen pupil showed ability on a fast main track last season, breaking his maiden at Colonial Downs and finishing a close sixth in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). Twice a stakes winner on turf, he just lasted in his reappearance in the Caesars H. over #2 Wadsworth (9-5). But Gigante could be more effective on an off track, being by 20% mud sire Not This Time and out of an Empire Maker mare. If the American Derby stays on rain-affected turf, #6 Sharar (8-1) might be worth a look. The Gun Runner half-brother to champion Lady Eli won twice during the Dubai Carnival, where the Meydan course is watered enough to maintain “good” ground. After a non-threatening U.S. debut in the Audubon S., Sharar adds blinkers for Todd Pletcher.

Race 4 (2:13 p.m. ET)

Several eligible two-year-olds make this a potentially key maiden. #1 Feel the Magic (6-1), by hot young sire Good Magic, fired a bullet out of the gate in the Churchill mud on June 19 for Michael McCarthy. As a $100,000 OBS April graduate from the de Meric consignment, he’s likely further along than the average firster. Brisset has a likely sort in the well-named #10 Normandy Hero (5-1), who’s been training sharply at Keeneland. His freshman sire Omaha Beach is connecting with 50% of his first-time starters (3-for-6).

Race 5 (2:45 p.m. ET)

#3 Have a Good Day (20-1) has the vibe of a big overlay stretching out on soft turf. Her Kentucky Derby (G1)-winning trainer, Gustavo Delgado, boasts 20% winners in the “first at route” category, and her best results came in similar conditions in France. As a juvenile, she won the 2021 Prix de Cabourg (G3) and just missed to Malavath in the Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte (G2). Although her 2022 campaign was limited and forgettable, she was beaten only four lengths by Caravel in the Franklin (G3). If this allowance is transferred to the main track, #10 Not So Close (8-1) would be overjoyed, since she romped in an off-the-turf maiden here by 14 lengths last summer. The Marylou Whitney Stables homebred takes the blinkers off, a 19% move for trainer Norm Casse.

Kelly’s Landing S. – Race 6 (3:18 p.m. ET)

#5 Marsalis (6-1) has been on the radar since the spring of his sophomore season, and the Asmussen charge could be ready to trumpet himself on the sprint scene. By Curlin and out of Grade 1 star Hot Dixie Chick, the Stonestreet Stables homebred is a full brother to multiple stakes-winning sprinter Union Jackson and a half to Grade 1 veteran Pauline’s Pearl. Marsalis is bred to cope with an off track, if he’s primed in his first start of the year. Yet to be out of the exacta, he can launch himself to bigger and better things. It would be apropos for Marsalis to make a winning stakes debut at Ellis.

Race 7 (3:50 p.m. ET)

#1 Call Me Midnight (30-1) will never inspire confidence with his patchy record, but we’ll be kicking ourselves if he becomes the latest Keith Desormeaux longshot special on a track where he’s run well in the past. He’s played that role already when somehow stunning future champion Epicenter in the 2022 Lecomte (G3). Underperforming ever since, Call Me Midnight came closest when beaten just a head in the off-the-turf Dade Park Dash here last summer. His inconsistency makes him hard to read regarding track conditions as well, but you’d expect a son of Midnight Lute to tackle mud if he’s on his game.

Fleur de Lis (G2) – Race 8 (4:22 p.m. ET)

Unlike the principals who are proven on an off track, that’s terra incognita for #3 Royal Take Charge (6-1). Even so, it’s significant that the methodical Al Stall Jr. pitches her into a Grade 2 at this stage. The late-blooming daughter of Will Take Charge (an 18% mud sire) is a half-length away from being undefeated. She powered clear in a 1 1/8-mile allowance last out while still looking a tad green, implying that there’s more to come.

Wise Dan (G2) – Race 9 (4:55 p.m. ET)

#1 Harlan Estate (10-1) needs to improve from a late-running third in the Arlington (G3) to turn the tables on #8 Set Piece (4-5) and #4 Get Smokin (5-1). That said, his surface versatility is a plus given the uncertainties. Successful on turf and all-weather, the Kantharos gelding was a close second in the 2021 Prince of Wales S. at Fort Erie in his lone dirt start. Jockey Declan Cannon has a +7.15 ROI with Whit Beckman runners in the past 60 days. #6 Kittansett (12-1) is a dual-surface winner too, on both turf and dirt. Notably, two of his wins came in off-the-turf events, including a maiden-breaking romp in the slop at Fair Grounds, and he missed narrowly in that scenario here in 2021. Trainer Paulo Lobo wins 26% in the “third off the layoff” category, although the son of American Pharoah might have anticipated that by winning last out.

Stephen Foster (G1) – Race 10 (5:26 p.m. ET)

If #3 Speed Bias (12-1) catches a flyer from the gate on a sloppy track with an aggressive Luis Saez in the saddle, the improving son of Uncle Mo might hang on for a long way. He has recently played second fiddle to both members of Ken McPeek’s dynamic duo, #5 Smile Happy (3-1) and #4 Rattle N Roll (4-1), so he’s good enough to mix it up. In his lone prior start in the slop at Oaklawn, Speed Bias was runner-up to Smile Happy. In his latest, Speed Bias nearly upset the 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special (G3), where he was just nipped by Rattle N Roll. The cutback to 1 1/8 miles helps the Ron Moquett pupil, who appeared to be going very easily at Pimlico as he kicked well clear of the rest. Speed Bias has drilled a pair of bullets in the interim, reinforcing the idea of forward tactics.

Tepin S. – Race 11 (5:58 p.m. ET)

#9 Klassy Bridgette (15-1) would be particularly interesting if this is transferred to the main track, given her 2-for-2 record in the mud at Oaklawn. Yet she’s worth considering if she really does get to try turf here. Young sire Army Mule (24% mud sire) is also getting graded turf performers, namely Herecomesthebride (G3) heroine Danse Macabre and Blue Norther S. winner Broadway Girls, runner-up in the Honeymoon (G3) last out. If the Tepin S. stays on the grass, French import #4 Wonderfull Lady (8-1) is logical. Although her wins have come on better ground, the daughter of Almanzor could be more equipped to cope with softer conditions than her American-bred rivals. She represents the high-percentage tandem of Brendan Walsh and Tyler Gaffalione, who are clicking at 27% together over the past two months.