The Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on Saturday marks a turn-the-page moment in racing from the end of the Triple Crown. Orb, Oxbow, Palace Malice plus the other top 3-year-olds will return soon enough in the Haskell and Travers. But for now the attention will be on the older horses.
The Foster has only six entrants, but it’s a top field, with all having won a Grade 1 stakes. An asterisk goes next to the favorite, Successful Dan (2-1), who finished first in the 2010 Clark Handicap but was disqualified to third.
These older horses should be the real stars of racing. I’m convinced that racehorses do not fully peak until they’re 4. But many of the best ones do not get to race that long.
Successful Dan is a 7-year-old gelding with only 12 career starts. He’s made them count with eight wins, and a Foster win would make him a millionaire.
Take Charge Indy (5-2) is finally rewarding the faith his trainer, Patrick Byrne, placed in him. He ran a career-best race last out, winning the Alysheba at Churchill.
Ron the Greek (3-1) is the defending champ of the Foster, having beaten the eventual Horse of the Year, Wise Dan, by a head. Ron the Greek is my choice to win. Last time out, he had everything go against him in the slow-paced Charles Town Classic, yet rallied to be beaten by less than a length.
Fort Larned (3-1) could be a big overlay because of two bad races in a row. He won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, but in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, that victory seems like a lifetime ago.
■ DOMINGUEZ RETIRES — Three-time Eclipse Award-winning rider Ramon Dominguez, 36, announced his retirement Thursday. With 4,985 career wins and more than $191 million in purse earnings, he is among racing’s all-time greats.
Dominguez suffered a severe head injury in a Jan. 18 spill at Aqueduct.
“As a result of my injuries and upon the advice of my treating physicians, it has been determined that I will no longer be able to pursue my career as a jockey,” he said in a statement.
Riding racehorses is among the few jobs in sports in which serious injury, and even death, is an occupational hazard. In terms of danger, the closest thing is being a racecar driver. The standard line is a jockey has the only job in which an ambulance follows him around the track during a race.
■ PAYNTER RETURNS — Grade 1 winner Paynter makes a remarkable comeback in the seventh race tonight at Hollywood Park. Since winning the Haskell at Monmouth Park on July 29, Paynter has battled life-threatening issues of pneumonia, colitis and laminitis.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.