Noble Bird Holds Off Determined Lea for Foster Win

Noble Bird wins the Stephen Foster
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (June 13, 2015) — John C. Oxley’s 4-year-old Noble Bird became the first horse to qualify for the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic this year by holding off a determined Lea to win the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs Saturday evening. One race earlier, G. Watts Humphrey Jr.’s homebred Frivolous scored a 32-1 upset to capture the Fleur de Lis Handicap (G2), and gained an automatic start into the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Both Noble Bird and Frivolous earned their Breeders’ Cup berths through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge, an international series of 78 stakes races whose winners gain automatic starts into a corresponding race of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be held October 30-31 at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.

On a steamy night of great celebration for Thoroughbred racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner, American Pharaoh, who paraded before a crowd of 28,968 in front of the grandstand and the in the paddock earlier in the evening, Noble Bird became a challenger to American Pharaoh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, shooting to the lead early in the stretch of the seven horse field and digging in gamely in the final strides to defeat the 1.8-1 favored Lea by a neck in 1:47.94 for the 1 1/8 miles over a fast track.

As a part of the enhancements of the Challenge series, Breeders’ Cup will pay the $100,000 entry fee for Noble Bird to start in the $5 million Classic at 1 ¼ miles.

Trained by Mark Casse, Noble Bird, a Kentucky-bred son of 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone, out of Anyhow, by two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow, won his fourth race in 10 lifetime starts, scoring his first career stakes win. The chestnut colt won for third time in four starts this year, and came into the Foster off a second place finish in the Alysheba Stakes by a head on May 1 at Churchill.

“I’ve been around a lot of good horses and he’s been working about as good as I have seen a horse train – just week after week,” said Norman Casse, assistant trainer to his father. “He just ran in the Alysheba and ran a really big race in that, and he’s just gotten better from there and he rewarded our confidence. I just think that’s a testament to how gutsy this horse is. He’s trained extremely well and he wanted to win just as bad as we did.”

The Bob Baffert trained Hoppertunity finished third, 5 ½ lengths behind Lea, and was followed in order by Majestic Harbor, Cat Burgler, Commissioner and Pagonol.

Watch the Stephen Foster replay:

The 5-year-old mare Frivolous proved to be very serious in the 1 1//8 mile Fleur de Lis, despite her long odds. A Kentucky-bred daughter of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, Frivolous, trained by Victoria Oliver and ridden by Jon Court, won her second career Grade 2 stakes race, pressing the pace set by Yahilwa in the nine horse field. Shifting three wide at the end of the far turn, Frivolous shot to the front and increased her margin to 1 ½ lengths over 1.70-1 favorite Sheer Drama at the wire. Frivolous covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.22 over a fast track.

As a part of the Challenge series enhancements, Breeders’ Cup Ltd will pay the $40,000 entry fee for Frivolous to start in the $2 million Distaff at 1 1/8 miles.

A winner of the Grade 2 Falls City at Churchill last November, Frivolous did not start 2015 well at all. She trailed the field in both her starts this year prior to the Fleur de Lis, including a 20 1/4 length defeat most recenlty in the La Troienne (G1) on May 1.

“It’s a very big win for her. I’ve always believed in the filly,” said Oliver. “She dances every dance. I don’t know what happened on Oaks Day, but she showed up today. She loves this track. I don’t know where we’ll go next but we’re just going to enjoy this win and look for a race a little later. This was a ‘Win and You’re In’ so we’ll just pick our spots and hopefully get here there in the fall.”

Tiz Windy, Yahilwa, America, Gold Medal Dancer, Glorys Last Chance, Pearl Turn and My Sweet Addiction completed the order of finish.

Watch the Fleur de Lis replay:

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge series on NBC Sports continues Saturday, June 27 with the Gold Cup at Santa Anita.