Midnight Bisou-Serengeti Empress clash in Fleur de Lis on Stephen Foster Day at Churchill Downs

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June 22nd, 2020

The Churchill Downs spring meet builds to a crescendo on closing weekend. Saturday’s Stephen Foster Day program features four stakes, two of them Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” races, including the $200,000 Fleur de Lis (G2) pitting Serengeti Empress against champion Midnight Bisou.

A Breeders’ Cup Challenge event offering a free berth to the Distaff (G1), the Fleur de Lis is contested over the same track and 1 1/8-mile trip as the Kentucky Oaks (G1) that Serengeti Empress captured in trademark front-running fashion last year. The Tom Amoss filly turned in another demolition job in the Azeri (G2) two back, but faded to 11th in the Apple Blossom (G1) last out. That was a more challenging tactical situation than she’s likely to find on Saturday, drawn as the main speed in post 4.

Midnight Bisou, the reigning champion older female and top-ranked horse overall on the NTRA poll, owns the edge not only on general form but head-to-head. In their only prior meeting in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Midnight Bisou outstayed Serengeti Empress when a clear second. Midnight Bisou didn’t appear to travel with her usual fluency on Santa Anita’s deep, tiring surface as her seven-race winning spree was ended. The Steve Asmussen star was runner-up in her only start of 2020 as well, but that was a power-packed rally to cut it close with Maximum Security in the $20 million Saudi Cup.

The $500,000 Stephen Foster (G2) presents a terrific clash of its own, with By My Standards taking on veteran Tom’s d’Etat for a Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) ticket. By My Standards has won five of his last six, his hiccup being a 12th in the Kentucky Derby (G1) that sent him to the sidelines. But he’s 3-for-3 since mounting his comeback, with sharp scores in the New Orleans Classic (G2) and Oaklawn H. (G2), both at 1 1/8 miles. Tom’s d’Etat also sports a three-race winning streak, highlighted by his signature win in the course-and-distance Clark H. (G1) last fall, and returned a good-looking winner of the Oaklawn Mile (G2). Owendale was runner-up in the Clark, but could be a stronger opponent for Tom’s d’Etat this time judging by his last-to-first coup in the May 23 Blame.

The Fleur de Lis (9TH Race) and Stephen Foster (10TH Race) are the heart of the All-Stakes Pick 4. The sequence begins with the $100,000 Bashford Manor (G3) for juveniles, featuring Asmussen’s smashing debut winner Cazadero. The 11TH and final race on the card is the $100,000 Regret (G3) for 3-year-old fillies on turf.

Churchill’s closing weekend coincides with the first of the newly added pools for Kentucky Derby Future Wager, Pool 5, that runs Friday through Sunday. Pool 6 is scheduled for July 17-19, and the last Pool 7 comprises Aug. 7-9.