Backyard Heaven proved he belonged on the big stage when making a winning stakes debut in last month’s Alysheba (G2) before a large throng on Kentucky Oaks Day. Saturday night back at Churchill Downs, the lightly-raced four year goes for his first Grade 1 tally in the $500,000 Stephen Foster H.
The centerpiece of a five-stakes Downs After Dark program, the Stephen Foster attracted a field of nine and will be contested at 1 1/8 miles. It was won in 2017 by eventual Horse of the Year Gun Runner.
Despite having only three runs, the best being a first-level allowance win at Aqueduct, Backyard Heaven was well supported at 2-1 in the Alysheba. Pressing 2017 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming to the far turn, the son of Tizway opened up on that rival in upper stretch and strolled to a 4 1/2-length win over Razorback H. (G3) winner Hawaakom.
“He’s trained like a horse who will have no problem getting a mile-and-a-quarter,” trainer Chad Brown said after the Alysheba. “But one race at a time and we have to keep in mind he’s a lightly-raced horse for a reason: he got sick a few times, but he’s been a pretty sound horse.”
Irish War Cry has been uneven over the past 12 months ago, but put it all together last month in the Pimlico Special (G3), wiring his rivals over 1 3/16 miles in the slop. Second in the Hal’s Hope (G3) in his season opener, he next trailed a field of six in the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2), a performance trainer Graham Motion blamed on a case of thumps.
“One of the things I looked at while considering the Stephen Foster was it being run at night,” Motion said. “I think the cooler temperatures really helps this horse.”
Honorable Duty, a distant second to Gun Runner in last year’s Foster, saw his form drop off dramatically late last season, but the veteran bounced back to better form in his May 28 season debut, beating allowance foes by five lengths. The six-year-old is a four-time winner over the Churchill strip.
Another coming off a season-opening win is the popular Patch, who was just up to beat entry-level allowance foes at Belmont going a mile May 12. The one-eyed colt, who had not run since August, ran 14th in last year’s Kentucky Derby and third in the Belmont Stakes (G1).
In addition to Patch, trainer Todd Pletcher has also entered first-level allowance winner Uncle Mojo, who captured a Preakness Day allowance at Pimlico by more than a dozen lengths. John Velazquez, who rode both Patch and Uncle Mojo to their respective victories, will be aboard Uncle Mojo.
Also in the Foster lineup are Matrooh, two-for-two since being claimed by Cipriano Contreras, including a score over Polytrack in the Hanshin Cup (G3) at Arlington; 2017 Derby runner-up Lookin at Lee, a Derby Day allowance winner last month after showing rare early foot; and Grade 3 winner Pavel, unplaced in his past five starts after a promising start to his career last summer.
The Downs After Dark program, which features an appearance by Triple Crown winner Justify, begins at 6 p.m. (EDT). Post time for the Stephen Foster is 9:39 p.m.