Searching for a score in the 2020 Stephen Foster


The Grade 2, $500,000 Stephen Foster Stakes brings together a field of eight quality horses in the Breeders’ Cup Classic division, each hoping to earn an automatic spot into the gate for the Nov. 7 running of the race at Keeneland, just 72 miles down the road from Churchill Downs. Leading the field in terms of accomplishments is Tom’s d’Etat, winner of the Grade 1 Clark Stakes presented by Norton Healthcare, the fall version of the Stephen Foster. Since the Clark, Tom’s d’Etat won the Oaklawn Mile Stakes in his only start of 2020 and although third in last year’s Foster he is the one to beat on paper. Owendale is among many who have top stakes credentials, having won the Blame Stakes at Churchill Downs last month after finishing second to Tom’s d’Etat in the Clark last fall.

NBC Sports will broadcast theStephen Foster as part of the “Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In” schedule. Watch the Fleur de Lis Stakes and the Stephen Foster Stakes from Churchill Downs on Saturday, June 27 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, and the NBC Sports app.

Another strong contender is By My Standards, who has a perfect 3-for-3 record this year including the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap last month in his most recent race. Silver Dust is no slouch either, having led late in the Blame Stakes last month and coming up a neck short in the Grade 2 Lukas Classic Stakes last summer at this nine-furlong distance while crossing the wire first in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Stakes and Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes in between. Pirate’s Punch finished third in the Mineshaft, as well as third in the Grade 3 Super Derby last summer and may have an edge in the pace department as the only horse who likes to lead early in the race. Multiplier won the Grade 3 Illinois Derby in 2017 at the distance of the Stephen Foster and proved he belongs with these when coming up a neck short in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in March. Fearless makes his stakes debut off an eye-catching rally from last of 11 to win an allowance race last month at Churchill Downs. Alkhaatam rounds out the field, having won his last two dirt starts, noting however he finished 11th of 12 in last year’s Foster.

Although there’s no doubt Tom’s d’Etat leads the field in terms of having earned field-high 116 and 118 Equibase Speed Figures in similar races, Pirate’s Punch may have a significant edge in terms of early speed that could help him to post the upset. Winner of four races from 14 starts, Pirate’s Punch was most impressive in two of his last four efforts when winning by five and by 11 ½ lengths, respectively. In both cases, Pirate’s Punch established the lead and got very brave to be well in front when the field turned for home, giving no horse a chance to make up any ground. It may also be that Pirate’s Punch can take back and sit off the pace as well. This is evidenced by his last effort where he rallied from fifth to get within a neck of the leader with an eighth of a mile to go, before being outfinished but only beaten a half-length and a neck for the win. Getting the No. 2 post position in the Foster, as well as the services of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, I believe the tactic will be to go for the lead from the start, especially since the only horse inside of Pirate’s Punch in the gate (Fearless) usually drops back and closes from far back. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind Pirate’s Punch has the breeding to win this Grade 2 race and to run well at a mile and an eighth. Using STATS Race Lens to look at the history of other foals of the dam, I note both were exceptional, with combined earnings of $2.1 million. One of those was Girvin, winner of the 2017 Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Stakes. As such, I’ll take Pirate’s Punch to get the lead from the opening of the gate and never look back in this year’s Stephen Foster Stakes.

Tom’s d’Etat doesn’t need much talking up, if any, in terms of being a strong contender to win this race. Winner of 10 races from 16 dirt starts, Tom’s d’Etat proved himself last summer at the distance when winning the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga with a career-best 118 figure.  Two races later, Tom’s d’Etat duplicated the feat with a victory in the Grade 3 Fayette Stakes at the same distance, earning a 116 figure. Winning the Clark Stakes in November at Churchill Downs with a 113 figure led to a 4 ½ month layoff. Returning as if he had never been away, Tom’s d’Etat earned a 113 figure winning the Oaklawn Mile Stakes in April. Having proven capable of winning off a layoff, there’s no problem with the 2 ½ months off since his last race and as he’s won five of eight races at the distance including three of his last four, there is nothing to knock about this talented horse. Although he rallied from sixth and eighth, respectively, in his last two races, Tom’s d’Etat raced closer up in second in the early stages of the Fayette Stakes so it is entirely possible Pirate’s Punch will not get the easy early lead I envision, and in that case it’s very likely Tom’s d’Etat will earn his 11th career win in this race.

By My Standards has really blossomed as a 4-year-old, winning in his 2020 debut by six lengths then taking two straight graded stakes. Winner of the Louisiana Derby at the distance of the Foster last March as a 3-year-old, By My Standards had already proven to be one of the top of his class, but after a poor 12th-place effort in the Kentucky Derby the colt went on the sidelines. Given time to mature, he did just that with a win around two turns off a nine-month layoff with a 102 figure, then two races later he earned a career-best 106 figure in the Oaklawn Handicap at this mile and one-eighth distance. Showing he’s fit as a fiddle with a half-mile workout one week ago that was the 11th-best of 113 on the day and with it likely he has improving to do, By My Standards could really put his mark on the division with a win in this race and by doing so, stamp his name as one of the horses to strongly consider this fall in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

I could make the case for any of the other five entrants in this race as their best efforts could be good enough to win. These horses, and their best Equibase Speed Figures, are Alkhaatam (105), Fearless (99), Multiplier (109), Owendale (108), and Silver Dust (114).

Win Contenders:

Pirate’s Punch

Tom’s d’Etat

By My Standards

Watch the Fleur de Lis Stakes and the Stephen Foster Stakes from Churchill Downs on Saturday, June 27 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, and the NBC Sports app.

Canucks vs Golden Knights picks and predictions for Game 1


Perhaps no team has been more fun to follow during the NHL playoffs than the Vancouver Canucks, and hockey bettors can still get the Canucks at +1,300 to hoist Lord Stanley’s cup. Vancouver is coming off a thrilling series win against the defending champion St. Louis Blues, but now a much more difficult challenge awaits. The Vegas Golden Knights are +350 favorites to win it all, and they’ve certainly looked the part while dropping only one playoff contest.

Game 1 of this series gets underway Sunday, so we’re here to bring you our NHL picks and predictions in this Western Conference semifinal showdown.

Vancouver Canucks vs Vegas Golden Knights betting preview

Starting Goalies

Canucks: Jacob Markstrom – playoffs – 7-3, 2.44 GAA, .929 SV% (season – 23-16, 2.75 GAA, .918 SV%)

Golden Knights: Robin Lehner – playoffs – 5-1, 2.44 GAA, .904 SV% (season – 19-10, 2.89, .920 SV%)

If this game was actually played in Las Vegas, then Markstrom could easily spend a few hours performing with Cirque du Soleil. The 30-year-old dazzled against Blues with an eye-opening array of acrobatic saves and an impressive 7-3 record. He’ll need to provide more of the same against a dangerous Vegas squad.

The Knights will likely roll with Robin Lehner, who has taken over the spot as Vegas’s starter in the crease—and rightfully so. Still, the Knights have the luxury of having Marc-Andre Fleury as their “backup.” The five-time All-Star matched an NHL record this season with his 14th consecutive playoff appearance.


Vancouver: Tyler Myers D (out), Tyler Toffoli RW (out), Micheal Ferland LW (out), Josh Leivo LW (out)

Vegas: Tomas Nosek LW (out)

Betting Trend to Know

Canucks are 0-6 in their last six Sunday games. Find the latest NHL betting trends for Canucks vs. Golden Knights.


The Canucks have been a force with the extra man during the postseason, converting 26.2% of their power plays. While the Knights are known for their offensive firepower, it’s their stingy defense that allows them to suffocate opponents—as evidenced by an 86.4% penalty kill during their playoff run. Vancouver is the only team in the league to never beat Vegas in regulation, going 0-11 all time. That’s something I just can’t ignore.

PREDICTION: Vegas ML (-175)


Each team is filled with loads of offensive talent. Vancouver’s Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller have combined for 11 goals thus far. Elias Pettersson has racked up 13 points, tied with Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon for the playoff lead.

The Knights can match Vancouver’s scorers, but they’re more balanced—Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch and Mark Stone have each lit the lamp four times during the postseason. The difference is on defense, where Vancouver has allowed the most high-danger chances of all remaining playoff teams.

PREDICTION: Over 5.5 (-110)


Though I like Vegas to win, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Canucks kept it close and continued their offensive success. I’ll take a flyer on Vancouver scoring at least three goals.

PREDICTION: Canucks total goals Over 2.5 (-100)

Canucks vs Golden Knights Betting Card

  • Vegas ML (-175)
  • Over 5.5 (-110)
  • Canucks total goals Over 2.5 (-100)
NHL Parlays

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Verlander injury shuffles Astros’ MLB futures odds

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MLB betting got a shake-up Sunday afternoon, specifically on World Series odds and AL pennant odds, with news that Astros star pitcher Justin Verlander could miss the rest of the season – or at least a significant chunk of it – with an arm injury.

Initial reports suggested Verlander had an elbow ailment, but both he and manager Dusty Baker quickly denied that. Baker called it a forearm strain and said that Verlander would be re-evaluated in “a couple of weeks.” The reigning AL Cy Young winner pitched a solid six innings in an 8-2 Opening Day rout of the Seattle Mariners on Friday.

Verlander’s injury led oddsmakers to shuffle futures book odds on the defending AL champions. Covers checked in on the MLB odds moves with a couple of Las Vegas sportsbooks.

How does Verlander’s injury affect Astros’ World Series odds?

At CG Technology books, risk analyst Rich Zanco said the Astros quickly moved from +1,200 to +1,800 in World Series futures. The SuperBook at Westgate also had Houston pegged +1,200 prior to Sunday’s news and initially went to +1,600, then dialed it a little further to +1,800.

However, there were apparently buyers on the Astros at that point, prompting the SuperBook to reel the price in to +1,400.

How does Verlander’s injury affect Astros’ American League odds?

In AL pennant futures, the Astros initially moved from +600 to +800 at The SuperBook, then ticked back to +700.

World Series odds

Team Odds to win
Los Angeles Dodgers +350
New York Yankees +350
Houston Astros +600
Atlanta Braves +1,600
Minnesota Twins +1,600
Tampa Bay Rays +1,800
Washington Nationals +2,000
Cleveland Indians +2,000
New York Mets +2,000
Chicago Cubs +2,000
Oakland Athletics +2,000
St. Louis Cardinals +2,500
Cincinnati Reds +2,500
San Diego Padres +2,500
Philadelphia Phillies +3,000
Chicago White Sox +3,000
Los Angeles Angels +3,000
Milwaukee Brewers +4,000
Boston Red Sox +5,000
Arizona Diamondbacks +6,000
Colorado Rockies +8,000
Toronto Blue Jays +10,000
Texas Rangers +10,000
Pittsburgh Pirates +20,000
Detroit Tigers +20,000
San Francisco Giants +30,000
Seattle Mariners +30,000
Miami Marlins +30,000
Baltimore Orioles +30,000
Kansas City Royals +30,000

Odds courtesy The SuperBook