Why I'm betting Tom's d'Etat in the 2019 Stephen Foster Handicap

Profile Picture: Keeler Johnson

June 13th, 2019

There will be no shortage of quality horses for handicappers to choose from in Saturday’s $600,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (G2) at Churchill Downs.

The 1 1/8-mile event is the highlight of the racing weekend in North America, offering a hefty purse and a “Win and You’re In” berth to the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). On five occasions, the Stephen Foster winner has gone on to achieve Classic glory, making it a key prep for the prestigious $6 million race.

Among the entrants in the 2019 Stephen Foster are #6 Gift Box, the gallant winner of the Santa Anita Handicap (G1); #4 Seeking the Soul, who was victorious in the 2017 Clark Handicap (G1) over this track and distance; and #12 Yoshida, the late-rallying winner of the 2018 Woodward Stakes (G1). Their grade 1-winning credentials will make them short-priced contenders Saturday, particularly Gift Box, who defeated the high-class McKinzie in the Santa Anita Handicap.

I’m inclined to play against them all, at least to some extent. Seeking the Soul and Yoshida are pace-dependent closers who will need perfect setups to prevail in the Stephen Foster, while Gift Box is unexpectedly running back less than three weeks after a tough race in the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), where he pressed a fast pace and finished second.

I’ll focus on #9 Tom’s d’Etat. The well-bred son of Smart Strike has shown flashes of brilliance during his career, including in November, when he won a one-mile optional-claiming allowance at Churchill by 7 1/4 lengths. If you draw a line through his poor effort over a sloppy, sealed track in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), Tom’s d’Etat’s form looks excellent, culminating with a runner-up effort in the 1 1/16-mile Alysheba Stakes (G2) on May 3 at Churchill.

I was impressed by Tom’s d’Etat’s performance in the Alysheba. While he was no match for McKinzie, who ran out of his skin, Tom’s d’Etat looked like a winner on the far turn and ran a huge race of his own. He pulled 3 3/4 lengths clear of third-place finisher Seeking the Soul and posted strong speed figures of 101 (Beyer) and 106 (Brisnet).

Tom’s d’Etat has the tactical speed to work out a clean trip in this large field, and has a 5-2-2-0 record at Churchill. Since he’s yet to win a graded stakes race, he could be overlooked in the wagering a bit, which makes him an appealing win bet and a perfect horse to key in the exacta.

$15 to win on #9 Tom’s d’Etat $2 exacta: 9 with 4,6,10 ($6) $3 exacta: 4,6,9 with 9 ($9)

Good luck!