This weekend’s graded stakes action is highlighted by both the return of undefeated juvenile champion Songbird, sidelined with a fever after the Santa Anita Oaks in April, and by Churchill Downs’ Grade 1 Stephen Foster on Saturday evening.
The first graded stake Saturday afternoon is the Grade 3 Poker Stakes at Belmont Park, at one mile over the turf course. Phil D’Amato’s Obviously, returning off a four-month freshening, holds morning-line favoritism at 9-5. Takeover Target and Grand Arch have both been racing well recently, and should provide a bit of competition.
Kicking off the party at Churchill Downs’ night racing event of the season is the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes, at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. Restricted to 3-year-olds, the race has drawn Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Gun Runner, making his first start since the May 7 classic.
Over to Santa Anita, the undefeated Songbird makes her long-awaited return to the races in the Grade 2 Summertime Oaks. She faces five other sophomore fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the main track, and is listed at 1-5 on the morning line.
In Churchill Downs’ Fleur De Lis Handicap, Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable will look to get back on track after a disappointing fourth in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn in her last start. She faces tough competition in the form of Ahh Chocolate, a filly on the improve for trainer Neil Howard, who won her most recent start in a G3 at Pimlico.
Wise Dan returns to Churchill Downs to be paraded in the paddock prior to the race named in his honor Saturday night. The Grade 3 Wise Dan Stakes will be held at 1 1/16 over the turf, and features The Pizza Man as the heavy morning-line favorite.
The $ 500,000, G1 Stephen Foster highlights Saturday’s Churchill card. Effinex, to be piloted by Gary Stevens instead of his regular Mike Smith (who is engaged to ride Songbird at Santa Anita), faces a field of six other older males at 1 1/8 miles on the main track. He most recently won the Oaklawn Handicap for trainer Jimmy Jerkens, and is the heavy favorite in this spot. Majestic Harbor has been on the upswing lately, and the 8-year-old horse will be looking for his second graded stakes win of this Churchill Downs meet after taking the Alysheba on Kentucky Oaks Day. Bradester may also prove tough, most recently winning a listed stake at Monmouth in his 2016 debut.
Closing out the action Saturday night is the Grade 3 Regret at Churchill, held at nine furlongs on the turf for sophomore fillies. A fairly even bunch of 11 will enter the starting gate, with favoritism leaning toward Brendan Walsh’s Auntie Joy.
On Sunday, Monmouth Park hosts the G3 Pegasus Stakes at nine furlongs on the main track. Unified, undefeated in three career starts, faces a field of six other sophomores in his first start at the New Jersey oval. Donegal Moon and Abiding Star figure to provide a stiff challenge to the favorite.
Finally, at Santa Anita, the Grade 3 Honeymoon Stakes covers nine furlongs on the turf Sunday. A wide-open field of 10 awaits handicappers, with slight favoritism falling to Be Mine from the Phil D’Amato stable.
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