Rogue Romance will receive an up to eight-pound break in the weights as he starts in a competitive field of nine entered for the $400,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) at 1 1/8 miles on June 16 at Churchill Downs.
“We’ll take all we can get,” said trainer Ken McPeek of the weight assignments. Churchill Racing Secretary Ben Huffman assigned only 115 pounds to Rogue Romance.
Versatile Wise Dan, who scorched a field including Rogue Romance in the Ben Ali Stakes (G3) on Keeneland’s Polytrack, is the highweight at 123 pounds and loves Churchill Downs as shown by his victories in last year’s Clark Handicap (G1) on dirt and Firecracker Handicap (G2) on grass. The five-year-old Wiseman’s Ferry gelding has earned $1,009,601 to date.
Rogue Romance also has displayed good form at Churchill, winning his most recent start in Louisville, a 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claiming event on May 20, by five lengths on dirt while carrying 125 pounds. In 2010, the now four-year-old finished third behind champion Uncle Mo in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill.
McPeek said the son of Smarty Jones out of Runnymede’s late star broodmare Lovington, by Afleet, is training better than he ever has in a past that includes a Grade 3 win on turf at Keeneland.
“We feel like our colt is doing better now than he ever has before,” McPeek said. “He’s been working extremely well and he’s on his home track. At some point you have to try them at the highest level.”
Rogue Romance was pointed for the classics in 2011 when he fractured a bone in his left front foot, an incident that sent him to the sidelines for most of the year. He has made three starts to date in 2012, with a strong win in a one-mile Gulfstream Park allowance/optional claiming event in 1:34.95 on March 31 preceding the Ben Ali and his Churchill victory.
Racing for Runnymede Chairman Catesby W. Clay, Rogue Romance has drawn the six post for the Stephen Foster and will be ridden by Manoel Cruz, who was aboard for the first time in the Churchill allowance win. Julien Leparoux had previously ridden Rogue Romance, but he will pilot multiple stakes winner Fort Larned from post two.
Others entered in the Stephen Foster include Wise Dan’s stablemate, Grade 2 winner and Churchill track record setter Successful Dan, but trainer Charlie Lopresti said that one would start only if Wise Dan cannot for any reason, thus indicating the Foster likely will be run with a field of eight.
Pin Oak Stable’s Alternation is weighted at 122 pounds after winning all four of his 2012 starts—all stakes including the $400,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) and the $300,000 Pimlico Special Stakes (G3). The son of Distorted Humor will become a millionaire if he wins the Stephen Foster.
Other challengers are Zayat Stables’ Nehro, a talented if somewhat unlucky son of Mineshaft, who was second in both the 2011 Arkansas Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1), and just lost the Pimlico Special last month by a nose to Alternation; Santa Anita Handicap (G1) winner Ron the Greek, who is trained by Bill Mott, the all-time leading trainer at Churchill Downs, and Nates Mineshaft, another son of Mineshaft who has won five of his last six starts, including the New Orleans Handicap (G2) and the Lone Star Park Handicap (G3).