Pool Play closed sharply to edge out Mission Impazible in the Grade 1 $500,000 Stephen Foster Stakes. In a day in which the Churchill Downs track was slowly upgraded from sloppy to good to fast, a 36-1 Mark Casse runner shocked the crowd when he crossed the finish line first in the field of 11 older males.
Regal Ransom, who looked like an improving horse and ready to make a big performance, led throughout much of the 1 1/16 mile race, but was overtaken by the field going into the turn. He ultimately finished last.
Mission Impazible appeared to be heading for his first Churchill Downs victory going into the stretch, but just near the finish, Pool Play came along on his outside and took the gray colt with a winning margin of a neck.
Pool Play appeared to be more suited to the turf, running his last three races, all graded stakes, over the grass. His prior starts were on the synthetic, over which he garnered two wins late last year.
Trainer Mark Casse said of the horse trying the dirt for the first time, "It all started when he was training at Palm Meadows over the dirt surface there and Norman [Casse] would call me and say, 'Dad, this horse loves the dirt!' We didn't get to run him on dirt down there [Gulfstream Park], but then we brought him here and started thinking about it again. He was working really well and I called [owner] Bill [Farish, Jr.] and told him that we could go the grass route, but it'd be nice to see if he can run over the dirt because there is a little race they'll run here in the Fall for $5 Million [Breeders' Cup Classic].
Miguel Mena was the winning rider. The jockey said of his surprising win, "This is probably the biggest win of my career. It is my second Grade 1 win [previously won 2010 Grade 1 Test at Saratoga aboard Champagne d'Oro), but this time is more special because it's at my home track, Churchill Downs. Louisville is my home and I'm very happy to win such a big race here.
Apart, under the patient hands of jockey Julien Leparoux, finished 1 1/4 lengths back in third, with Duke of Mischief and jockey Joe Bravo another 1/2 lengths behind them in fourth.
Pool Play returned $75.20, $29.40, and $14.60 for a $2 wager. This was the third highest win payoff in the 30th running of the race. The highest payoff in Stephen Foster Stakes history was Seek Gold in 2009, who paid $185.40 in 2006.
Mission Impazible paid $8.40 and $5.00. Apart returned $4.40. The $2 exacta paid $767.40, the triple returned $5,745.80, and the super paid $35,512.60.
Photo: Jessie Oswald