Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Departing, whose strong 3-year-old campaign included a run in the Preakness Stakes (Grade I) and wins in three derbies, completed his serious preparation Monday for his bid for Saturday night’s 33rd running of the$500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (Grade I) at Churchill Downs.
The 4-year-old War Front gelding breezed four furlongs in :49.40 for trainer Al Stall Jr. under jockey Robby Albarado, who will be in the saddle for the Foster. He covered the distance in fractions of :12.40 and :24.80 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.20 and six furlongs in 1:15.60.
“I told Robby not to let him do anything – if you look pretty on him he’s going to go in :47, so you need to restrain him,” Stall said. “Robby said it’s a good thing we did, because he went :49, and as soon as we hit the wire he re-broke. We got him to the seven-eighths pole in about 1:13 flat, completely on his own and under wraps. So he’s there and we’re looking forward to running on Saturday.”
The only 2014 outing for Departing was a 1 ¾-length triumph in a one-mile allowance race at Churchill Downs on April 30. It was his first outing since a disappointing fourth-place run behind Broadway Empire as the odds-on favorite in the $400,000-added Oklahoma Derby (GIII) at Remington Park on Sept. 29.
“I was very happy with that first race,” Stall said. “I thought he ran well and had a little adversity, which should help him for this race. We’re ready and we’re excited.”
Prior to his Remington Park run that ended his 3-year-old season, Departing had won three of four races and all were derbies run in different states. The string started with a victory in the Illinois Derby (GIII) at Hawthorne, followed by a sixth-place run behind the victorious Oxbow in the Preakness that preceded easy romps in the West Virginia Derby (GII) at Mountaineer Park and Louisiana Downs’ Super Derby (GII).
Stall said there was no physical problem that led to Departing’s long stretch away from the track. He said his young star simply needed some time on the farm.
“It was just plain old time,” Stall said. “I want to say ‘I’ and not ‘we’ – I went to the well with him one time too many as a 3-year-old. He ran a tremendous race in the Super Derby. It was 98 degrees that afternoon, but we knew we’d be 1-5 for $400,000. I’m not saying greed took over, but we were rolling with him. He acted fine and everything was fine, but he had just done a little too much.
“He came here from Oklahoma for a few days and then went to Claiborne Farm and hung out. He showed up at the Fair Grounds and he’s done what he’s supposed to do between three and four. He’s filled-in and he’s picking it up. He’s not a big horse, but he looks like he’s gone the right way and his works have been great.”
Stall is eager to see how Departing compares to his rivals in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster, which has attracted foes that are expected to include reigning 3-year-old champion and Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) winner Will Take Charge; Pimlico Special (GIII) winnerRevolutionary, who ran third to Orb in last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI); Moonshine Mullin, an upset winner over Will Take Charge in the $300,000-added Alysheba (GII) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day; and Golden Ticket, runner-up in the Alysheba, a dead-heat winner with Alpha in the 2012 Travers (GI) and runner-up to Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Fort Larned in last year’s Stephen Foster.
“He’s doing nice and we’re fresh, and we’re trying to plan for the second half of the year,” Stall said. “It’s a rare thing in horse racing, but we’re on schedule.”
Departing enters the Stephen Foster with a career record of 10-7-0-1 and his earnings of $1,438,300 make him one of four millionaires in the race. The others are Will Take Charge ($3,669,568), Prayer for Relief ($1,682,413) and Revolutionary ($1,347,600).
Another Stephen Foster contender reported to be doing well in the days leading up to the race is Randy Patterson’s Moonshine Mullin, who surprised Golden Ticket and Will Take Charge in the 1 1/16-mile Alysheba.
The Randy Morse-trained Moonshine Mullin completed his major preparation for the Stephen Foster on Saturday with a four-furlong breeze in :50.20 at Churchill Downs.
The 6-year-old son of Albert the Great, who was claimed by Morse for $40,000 out of an allowance optional claiming race at Remington Park in November, brings a four-race winning streak into the Stephen Foster. Morse said the Alysheba win under jockey Calvin Borel was a “great thrill,” but added Moonshine Mullin’s win in a 1 1/16-mile Oaklawn Park allowance race that preceded his big day at Churchill Downs could have been more impressive.
“Looking back at it now with hindsight, the race he ran Oaklawn that day might have been good enough to win the Oaklawn Handicap (GII),” Morse said. “His race there, to me, was better than his race here (in the Alysheba). We almost didn’t run him in the Alysheba because it was a little quick to come back.
The Stephen Foster will not be Moonshine Mullin’s first experience against Grade I competition. He ran sixth to Stay Thirsty in the 2011 Travers (GI) following a 37-1 runner-up effort behind that rival in the Jim Dandy (GII). His trainer at the time was Canada’s Reade Baker, and he has spent time since in the barns of trainers Donnie Von Hemel and Steve Asmussen.
The Alysheba victory lifted Moonshine Mullin’s record to 8-4-5 in 31 races and boosted his career bankroll to $685,513. A victory in the Stephen Foster would be Morse’s first in a Grade I race, but the trainer said the win by his former claiming horse in the Alysheba has already provided a wonderful memory.
“It was great,” Morse said. “If he never wins another race, beating that field in the Alysheba was tremendous.”
Darley Stable’s Long River is scheduled to arrive at Churchill Downs on Wednesday to complete his preparations for the Stephen Foster. TrainerKiaran McLaughlin’s 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy ran fifth in the Charles Town Classic (GII) last time out and lost by a neck to Romansh in his previous start in the Excelsior (GIII) at Aqueduct.
Long River is out of Round Pond, a daughter of Awesome Again who scored the greatest win over her racing career at Churchill Downs in a 13-1 upset in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI).
Trainer Brad Cox said Michael Langford’s Carve, who ran a good third to Will Take Charge and Revolutionary in the Oaklawn Handicap, remained “possible” for the Stephen Foster after a sharp five-furlong work on Monday at Churchill Downs. The 4-year-old First Samurai gelding covered the distance in 1:00.80, which ranked as fifth-fastest of 24 moves at the distance.
STEPHEN FOSTER HANDICAP PRESENTED BY ABU DHABI (GI)
Saturday, June 14, $500,000-added, 3 & up, 1 1/8 M, 33rd running
Horse Trainer Assigned Weight Status
Will Take Charge D. Wayne Lukas 123 Likely
Departing Al Stall Jr. 118 Likely
Moonshine Mullin Randy Morse 118 Likely
Revolutionary Todd Pletcher 118 Likely
Golden Ticket Kenny McPeek 117 Likely
Prayer For Relief Dale Romans 117 Likely
Bellarmine Kenny McPeek 115 Possible
Long River Kiaran McLaughlin 115 Likely
Carve Brad Cox 114 Possible