Front-running Bradester wins Stephen Foster

Bradester won the Stephen Foster Handicap on Saturday night at Churchill Downs.
Bradester won the Stephen Foster Handicap on Saturday night at Churchill Downs. Coady Photography

Joseph Sutton doesn’t make many trips to the racetrack. Aside from an annual venture to Churchill Downs for Kentucky Derby week and the occasional trip to Gulfstream Park or Saratoga, the Houston-based owner often must settle for the nail-biting task of cheering on his horses from afar.

The scene that played out beneath the Twin Spires Saturday night was one Sutton was grateful he had a front-row view of, because he would have kicked himself forever for missing it.

An ebullient Sutton celebrated his first Grade I win as an owner after nearly two decades in the sport when his charge Bradester led every point of call under jockey Joe Bravo en route to half-length win over Eagle in the Grade I, $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap.

The 1  1/8 -mile Stephen Foster was the headline event of a Churchill card that featured four other graded stakes.

“We finally did it; we’ve worked so hard for this,” Sutton, who co-bred Grade I winner Unbridled Belle, exclaimed as he jumped onto the track to greet the 6-year-old horse named for his grandson, Brady.

While Bradester’s journey to a career pinnacle isn’t quite the lengthy march his owner had endured in the business, the son of Lion Heart has been knocking on the door for some time without a top-level triumph to show for it. His front-running ways had powered him to multiple Grade II and Grade III victories — including a triumph in the 2014 edition of the Grade III Ack Ack at Churchill Downs — but his only prior try in a Grade I saw him finish ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland last October.

Trainer Eddie Kenneally opted to give Bradester a freshening after that outing and in his second start back off the layoff, the venerable bay runner delivered the best effort of his 23-race career, cutting fractions of 23.64 and 47.58 as he loped along under confident handling.

“He’s been a durable and hard-knocking horse and it’s great to finally win a Grade I,” Kenneally said. “He was coming into the race great so we decided to take a shot. For a 6-year-old he’s … been lightly raced and he’s a horse that runs well fresh, so we gave him the winter off after the Breeders’ Cup.

“Looking at the form he is the true speed of the race. I felt like if he could dictate the pace all alone on the front end that he could run them into the ground, which he did.”

Bravo first teamed up with Bradester during his seasonal-bow victory in the Majestic Light Stakes at Monmouth Park on May 21, a race that was captured in nearly identical fashion as his latest triumph.

With Grade I winner Majestic Harbor rating about a length off in second, Bradester was allowed to lope along without pressure and had a 1  1/2 -length advantage to play with as he came off the final turn. Majestic Harbor and Eagle, who made his run on the far outside, kept doing their best to cut into the leader but Bradester had too much class as the 9-to-1 shot hit the line in 1:48.85 over a fast track.

“He got a phenomenal ride by Joe. He won the race on the turn,” Kenneally said. “He opened up 3-4 lengths on the turn and they just couldn’t get them. He rode him with so much confidence.

“(Sutton) and I both decided this was the time to take a shot. Thankfully (Sutton) was able to come up tonight. He lives in Houston and he rarely comes out to the races.”

Eagle got up for second over Majestic Harbor while 3-to-5 favorite Effinex never threatened and came home sixth.

“I was done early. I hate to say it,” said Gary Stevens, jockey of Effinex. “I wasn’t traveling like a winner at any point during the race. I was just hoping things would change. A lot of times with these good horses you can’t really tell what you got. We got into the turn and I was empty.”

With the victory, Bradester improves his record to nine wins from 23 starts and $1,056,532 in earnings.

In the day’s other graded stakes, Pleuven tracked pacesetter Kasaqui, drew even with that rival with an eighth of mile to run and inched clear late to post a three-quarter length victory the Grade II, $200,000 Wise Dan Stakes; Paid Up Subscriber delivered her first stakes victory in winning the Grade II, $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap; Gun Runner, third in the Kentucky Derby, scored a handy win in the Grade III Matt Winn; and Auntie Joy captured the Grade III Regret Stakes.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: 859-231-1676, @horseracinghl