Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Kitodan Goes From Claim To Fame For Foster

When a trainer drops a claim on a horse, it’s done with the expectation that the runner will at least make their money back and hopefully earn a few trips to the winner’s circle.

Kitodan put trainer Eric Foster on the fast track to that goal on June 4, when he closed like lightning to win the Audubon Stakes at Churchill Downs by a head, blowing up the tote board in the process at field-high odds of 40-1.

It was just three weeks earlier when Foster claimed the 3-year-old Point of Entry colt for $80,000 out of a Churchill optional claiming race, in partnership with Douglas Miller and William Wargel. In the Audubon, Kitodan more than earned back his claim price with the $116,990 winner’s share of the purse, and he delivered Foster his first stakes victory in 11 years of training.

As a veteran of the Ellis Park platoon of Kentucky horsemen, dating back to his youth in nearby Owensboro, Foster is used to being an underdog when he ships east to Louisville or Lexington. In fact, he rather prefers the role; especially when it pays off.

“We thought we had a shot,” Foster said. “I guess next time, we’ll be expecting him to win, but it was kind of nice not having those high expectations. You get let down so much, whether it’s gambling, or if you own a horse or train a horse, or when you’re rooting for a horse, you just get let down a lot, so you hate to get your expectations up real high and set yourself up.”

Kitodan’s breakthrough stakes victory was the latest highlight of what has already been a career season for Foster. His earnings in 2021 were nearly double his previous high-water mark, and he has already surpassed that total in 2022. In addition to earning his first stakes win this season, Foster picked up his first graded stakes placing earlier this year when Johnny Unleashed finished second behind Golden Pal in the Grade 2 Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland.

Foster said the improved performance over the past two years is due in large part to a greater investment in his racing stock, whether that means claiming at a higher price point or spending a little more at auction.

“There’s not any secret to it,” he said. “It’s just hard for a guy that’s starting out like I did to breed your own or buy something cheap at the sale. Even though it doesn’t sound like a lot to some people, $80,000 is a lot to claim a horse for. There are guys that have been doing this their whole life and haven’t claimed a horse for $80,000, and I feel blessed to be able to do that.”

It’s been a steady, home-grown climb for Foster to get to this point. He started going fast in the saddle in local barrel races, where he became a nationally-ranked competitor.

“As a young man, I actually led the nation in barrel racing at several points, and was ranked in the top five in the world several years in a row,” he said. “My dad, Stewart, hauled me all over the country. We stayed on the road weekly.

Eric Foster was a nationally-ranked barrel racer in his youth.

Foster went on to work at Ellis Park under local trainers including Franklin Cooper, James Mattingly, Shirley Green, and John Hancock. He also worked in the Kenny McPeek barn when the trainer had Tejano Run.

“I was a pretty good rider, and I seemed to get all the bad actors,” he said. “Back then, anyone that was having any trouble, I usually got nominated to ride those.”

Foster briefly hung his own shingle as a trainer during his early 20s at the turn of the century, and then he returned to training full-time after a decade-plus hiatus.

“I couldn’t quit thinking about [the horses] and came back to them,” he said.

Looking at his form, Kitodan didn’t appear to fit the profile of a claiming horse. He entered the May 15 optional claiming race on a three-race winning streak, which started in the Gulfstream Park barn of trainer Jose Delgado and owner Joker Racing. Kitodan dominated a starter optional claiming field by 5 1/4 lengths, and he was picked up out of that race by trainer Mike Maker and owners Paradise Farms Corp. and David Staudacher for a $35,000 tag.

Under Maker’s guidance, Kitodan closed hard to win another Gulfstream starter allowance by a neck, then he shipped north to Turfway Park, where he earned his first black type victory in the Rushaway Stakes by a convincing 3 1/2 lengths.

Kitodan was entered for an $80,000 claiming tag the following race at Churchill Downs, and he finished a late-closing third before ending up in Foster’s barn after the race.

Why was a newly-minted stakes winner who was clearly maintaining strong form put in for the tag? Foster speculated the decision was rooted in economics and the condition book.

“They claimed him for $35,000 and won an allowance at Gulfstream, then they went and won the Rushaway,” he said. “They had already made money, and now they’re going to sell him for double what they gave for him. They’re in it to make money, and they couldn’t lose at that point.

“Unless they just waited for this race, it might have been the only spot to run,” he continued. “I’m stuck like that with another horse I’ve got. Once you run those conditions out, there’s not a lot of races.”

In the Churchill winner’s circle following the Audubon, Foster admitted facing a similar conundrum with Kitodan, mostly entering him in the race because his options were somewhat limited off the claim.

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With that being said, Foster is slow to take too much credit for Kitodan’s stakes win.

“This horse here, you claim him and run him back three weeks later, how much credit can you take for it, other than finding him and being gutsy enough to do it?” he said. “I’m blessed.”

The Foster team is a small one, with the key players being himself, wife Brooklyn Foster who manages the barn, and assistant trainer Juan Medina. Their operation is based on a 16-acre farm in Utica, Ky., near Owensboro.

Eric will still ride several horses in the mornings, but said he hasn’t gotten on Kitodan, who he described as “a handful.”

However, he has spent plenty of time aboard Johnny Unleashed, a Colonel John gelding that he bought for $10,000 on the last day of the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, shopping out of the back ring. Foster has handled every aspect of the horse’s training from breaking to the racetrack, and the gelding has rewarded him with $286,406 in career earnings, and the trainer’s first graded stakes placing.

Johnny Unleashed will aim to continue Foster’s upward trajectory on Saturday at Churchill Downs, when he’ll compete in the Mighty Beau Overnight Stakes, going five furlongs on the turf.

“I’m thinking he’s gonna have a good shot,” Foster said. “I’m proud of him.”

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Kitodan Goes From Claim To Fame For Foster appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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