2023 Stephen Foster Stakes Odds & Picks

Some major players take to an unaccustomed stage on Saturday with Ellis Park hosting the million-dollar G1 2023 Stephen Foster Stakes, which has drawn a power-packed field including G1 winners Proxy and Stilleto Boy and the resurgent Ken McPeek pair Smile Happy and Rattle N Roll.

Breeders Cup Odds

Stephen Foster Stakes

G1, $1,000,000, 1m 1f dirt, 4yo+, 4.26pm CT

The spotlight shines brightly on little Ellis Park on Saturday, when a deep, strong field for the Stephen Foster – a win-and-in for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November – headlines an afternoon moved from its usual home at Churchill Downs owing to concerns regarding the safety of the racing surface.

This is a hot-ticket contest with plenty of old rivalries renewed, a case in point being the rematch from the mile-eighth G2 Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park in April, when Proxy (4-1), Last Samurai (6-1) and Stilleto Boy (6-1) ran hard to the line together and were separated by a head and a nose.

Given Last Samurai’s affection for Oaklawn it takes something extra to beat him there, and the late-running Proxy – third in this race 12 months ago, and improved since – can be upgraded for doing so. On Proxy’s previous start he was beaten a neck by Stilleto Boy in the ten-furlong G1 ‘Big Cap’ at Santa Anita, again finishing fast into a strong pace but just coming up short, and he is likely to be suited by today’s pace set-up with two or three likely to vie for the lead.

One of those will be Stilleto Boy, who rarely wins – four-for-22 – but is usually in the mix and has shown improvement in his three starts of 2023. He needs everything to go right, though, and won’t get his own way out front. Last Samurai is much better at Oaklawn than anywhere else, and he’s always opposable on his travels.

Kenny McPeek sends two in the same ownership and the better of them is Smile Happy (3-1), who turned in a career-best last time when an authoritative winner of the G2 Alysheba at Churchill Downs over a mile-sixteenth. He stalked, pounced and drew away, with early leader West Will Power (7-2) beaten two and three-quarter lengths into third and Last Samurai a distant fourth.

Smile Happy is upwardly mobile and there’s likely more to come, with the pace set-up a positive for his powerful stalking style. West Will Power has been performing consistently well and was an easy winner of the mile-eighth G2 New Orleans Classic at the Fair Grounds in March, with Rattle N Roll (4-1) fourth, beaten six and a half lengths, and Happy American (20-1) fifth.

West Will Power’s best chance is to get on the lead and stretch them, but he’ll have company out there and there’ll be plenty of closers coming at him late.

McPeek’s second-string Rattle N Roll is three-for-three at G3 level since that defeat, stealing the Pimlico Special, over a mile and three-sixteenths at Pimlico, by a nose from stakes debutant and guaranteed pace angle Speed Bias (12-1) before taking the Blame at Churchill Downs (Happy American third). This is a major class hike, though, and he’ll require a lifetime best.

2023 Stephen Foster Stakes Odds & Betting Picks

HorseJockeyHorse Racing Odds by Jazzsports
ProxyJoel Rosario+400
Stilleto BoyKent J. Desormeaux+600
Speed BiasLuis Saez+1200
Rattle N RollBrian Joseph Hernandez, Jr.+400
Smile HappyCorey J. Lanerie+300
West Will PowerFlavien Prat+350
Last SamuraiCristian A. Torres+600
Happy AmericanJames Graham+2000

This looks set up for a late closer and PROXY, a G1 winner who ran arguably a career-best last time, should be in prime position to take full advantage.

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