LOUISVILLE — One upset win can count as a horse simply having a good day, benefitting from all the circumstances falling in their favor and literally running off with it.
Moonshine Mullin had one such very good day last month. After the 6-year-old horse duplicated that effort and then some in Saturday night's Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, there is no arguing right now that he has simply become a very good horse.
The handicap division will have a new player to wrangle with this summer as Moonshine Mullin — also known as the best $40,000 owner Randy Patterson has spent — notched the first Grade I wins for himself, his owner and trainer Randy Morse when he captured the $552,500 Stephen Foster by 13/4 lengths over champion Will Take Charge.
Since being claimed by Morse and Patterson for $40,000 at Remington Park last November, Moonshine Mullin has turned his 32-race career from one of an undistinguished allowance runner to the résumé of an older male that could be among the tops in the country.
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In the Grade II Alysheba at Churchill last month, his first try against graded company since the 2012 Grade III Texas Mile, Moonshine Mullin got out front and stayed there to post a half-length win over Grade I winner Golden Ticket while Will Take Charge was sixth.
Proving that outing was no fluke, the son of Albert the Great let Jaguar Paw do the dirty work on the lead in the Stephen Foster while sitting in the pounce position in second before taking over with about three furlongs to go en route to his ninth career victory.
"He's a good horse and he's been training very well," Morse said. "He trained better up to this race than he did the race before. If he never wins another race, it's been a great ride. But as good as he's doing, who knows?
"That's one thing about this sport is they come from everywhere."
Moonshine Mullin started 2014 in his usual allowance/optional claiming spot, finishing third at Oaklawn Park going 11⁄16 miles on Jan. 20.
Right around February is when Morse said the bay horse started to turn the corner form-wise. His subsequent victory at Oaklawn on Feb. 13 kicked off what is now a five-race winning streak.
"I guess we've had a little more luck," Patterson beamed. "(Watching the stretch in the Foster) I still had trouble believing it. I was like 'this is not supposed to happen with a claiming horse.' Randy deserves all the credit for picking him out."
Under handling from Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel, Moonshine Mullin tracked just off the flank of 80-to-1 shot Jaguar Paw as that one set fractions of 23.98 and 47.91 up front.
Borel still had a good hold of Moonshine Mullin as the two struck the lead entering the final turn but was soon joined by Departing, who stuck his head in front at the head of the lane.
"When a horse peaks, they peak and after the Alysheba, he didn't really work like I thought he should have," said Borel, who earned his first Grade I win since being inducted into the Hall of Fame last August. "Then I worked him again and he was a totally different horse. He had his feet back under him. Randy had him ready to go."
Race favorite Will Take Charge, who was 14 lengths behind at one point as he sat next to last in the nine-horse field, began picking off rivals on the outside under Gary Stevens but could only edge by Departing by a neck at the line to notch his third second-place finish in five starts this year.
"He struggled a little bit the first sixteenth of a mile, but he got in a nice rhythm down the backside," Stevens said. "He showed up today. He was still getting with it in the last sixteenth."
Final time for the 11⁄8 -mile distance was 1:49.66. Attendance for the Downs After Dark card was 21,671.
Where Moonshine Mullin starts next hasn't been decided by Morse and Patterson. One thing for certain is he isn't backing down in class any time soon.
"We'll see how it goes; we take one race at a time," Morse said. "He's won two graded stakes back to back, that's pretty lucky isn't it?"