STEPHEN FOSTER HANDICAP | PURSE: $500,000 | GRADE: 1 | 3-YEAR-OLDS AND UP | 1 1/8 MILES
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- And you thought the older-horse division was muddled before the Stephen Foster Handicap was run Saturday at Churchill Downs.
The aftermath leaves the division even murkier, thanks to a stunning victory by Pool Play, who at 36-1 was the longest shot in a field of 11 in the Grade 1, $561,300 Foster. Ridden by Miguel Mena, Pool Play perpetuated a bombs-away tradition in the Midwest's premier summer race for older horses on dirt when returning $75.20, following such shockers as Colonial Colony ($127.20 in 2004) and Seek Gold ($185.40 in 2006).
Trained by Mark Casse for owner Bill Farish Jr., Pool Play was making his 28th career start, but his first on dirt. Surging down the center of the track after trailing for much of the 1 1/8-mile race, he collared Mission Impazible in the final strides to prevail by a neck.
"Bill is in England for the Royal Ascot meet, and we talked right after the race," Casse said. "He asked how we did, and I said, 'We won,' and he said, 'You're kidding!' "
Regal Ransom, the most lukewarm of favorites at 9-2, set the pace in 30th running of the Foster, with Worldly, another 36-1 shot, giving closest early chase. Down the backside, Mission Impazible moved to challenge, and by the time the field straightened away, it was game on. Duke of Mischief made a huge outside move to poke his head in front near the furlong grounds, but Mission Impazible, a 7-1 shot with Javier Castellano aboard, battled back to reclaim the lead in the desperate final yards.
Meanwhile, Pool Play had saved ground until Mena wheeled him out for the drive.
"I just followed instructions," Mena said. "They said not to get too far back, and he wasn't far back, not for him. When I wheeled him out, he just exploded."
"Miguel rode a great race," Casse said.
Castellano said he was "very proud" of Mission Impazible.
"He relaxed, and he really fought for me. Unfortunately, the head-bob got us."
Apart, among the stalkers throughout, continued resolutely to finish third, another 1 1/4 lengths behind Mission Impazible. It was another half-length to Duke of Mischief, followed by Giant Oak, Flat Out, Crown of Thorns, Worldly, Equestrio, El Caballo, and Regal Ransom.
Pool Play, an Ontario-bred 6-year-old horse by Silver Deputy, earned $327,127, bumping his bankroll to $909,554. Casse credited his son and assistant, Norm, with wanting to try Pool Play on dirt.
"We'd had the horse training over the dirt all winter at Palm Meadows," Mark Casse said. "Norm kept saying, 'Dad, Dad, this horse really likes the dirt.' His breezes over the track here at Churchill were really encouraging, so we thought this would be the right kind of spot to try him in."
The 12-race Saturday program started with a track left sloppy by heavy overnight rain but eventually dried out so that it was fast by the time the Foster was run in early evening. The winning time for Pool Play was 1:50.52.
Casse said he did not know where he would run Pool Play next, only that the big race on dirt "gives us a lot of options." Pool Play has raced 20 times on synthetics and seven times on grass.
Pool Play triggered the predictable barrage of huge mutuel prices. The $2 exacta (8-11) paid $767.40, the $2 trifecta (8-3-11) paid $5,745.80, and the $2 superfecta (8-11-3-9) paid $35,512.60.
The upset by Pool Play led to carryovers of $13,407 in the $1 super high five and $19,254 in the $2 pick six for the Sunday card at Churchill.