Trainer Austin Smith has confirmed Tuesday that Windy Hill Farm’s Nates Mineshaft,
a 7 ¼-length winner of both the Lone Star Park Handicap (Grade III) in
his most recent start and the New Orleans Handicap (GII) earlier at Fair
Grounds, will compete in Saturday night’s 31st running of the $400,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs.
Nates Mineshaft, a 5-year-old ridgling by Mineshaft, also was under
consideration for the Firecracker Handicap (GII), which will be run on
the Matt Winn Turf Course on July 1, the closing day of the 2012 Spring
Meet. But Smith updated his star’s Stephen Foster status from
“probable” to “definite” on Tuesday.
“It’s a Grade I and he doesn’t have to ship anywhere,” Smith said.
“It’s going to be a tough race, but you have to find out what you’ve
The 2012 Stephen Foster for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on the
main track will make history as it will be the first renewal of the race
run under the lights. It is the main event among four stakes races
scheduled that evening as part of the “Downs After Dark” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka racing program.
After completing his 4-year-old campaign in a $25,000 claiming race
at Fair Grounds in December, a race which he won by 4 ¾ lengths, Nates
Mineshaft has established himself in the first half of 2012 as one of
the top older horses in training. He has won four of his five starts
this year, highlighted by victories in the Mineshaft (GIII), New Orleans
Handicap (GII) and the aforementioned Lone Star Park Handicap.
“It took me a while to figure him out,” Smith said. “He’s a nice,
quiet horse and I think he needed some TLC and I learned to train him
differently. He’s really blossomed.”
Nates Mineshaft’s lone off-the-board performance this year came over
the Churchill Downs track in the Alysheba Presented by Besilu Stables
(GII) on Kentucky Oaks Day when he finished sixth of eight.
“That was more my fault than the horse’s,” Smith said. “There was some speed in the race and I told (jockey) Jesse (Campbell) to rate him. At Lone Star, we let him roll (on the lead) and it worked out a lot better.”
Smith said Campbell, who was aboard Nates Mineshaft for his last six races, will have the Foster mount.
Saturday’s Stephen Foster will mark the first time the race has been
part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In" Challenge Series. The
Stephen Foster winner will earn an automatic starting berth in the $5
million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita, his entry
fees to the Championships will be paid by the Breeders’ Cup and the
winning stable will receive a $10,000 travel allowance.