Backyard Heaven Looks Tough in Stephen Foster Handicap
It’s certainly possible that someone could upset #6 Backyard Heaven in Saturday’s $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) going nine furlongs at Churchill Downs.But just because it’s possible doesn’t mean that it’s likely, and indeed, Backyard Heaven looks so good on paper that he’s been installed as the 6-5 morning line favorite despite the fact that he’s facing a quality field of eight rivals.
With just four starts under his belt, Backyard Heaven is easily the least-experienced of the Stephen Foster entrants. But the Chad Brown-trained four-year-old has also been unstoppable since finishing second in his debut last September, subsequently rattling off three straight wins with eye-catching BRIS speed figures of 102, 106, and 105.
Even better, Backyard Heaven’s most recent victory came in the 8.5-furlong Alysheba Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, in which he battled for the lead with 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming through testing fractions of :23.86 and :46.79 (the two opened up a 6 ½-length lead in the process) before drawing off to win with ease by 4 ½ lengths. From start to finish, Backyard Heaven ran fast, as he flew home the final five-sixteenths of a mile in a solid :30.88 seconds to stop the timer in a quick 1:41.73. I think he’ll be very tough to beat in the Stephen Foster.
#8 Irish War Cry might not be the most consistent colt in training, but he relished a sloppy, sealed track in the 9.5-furlong Pimlico Special (gr. III) last month and romped by 4 ½ lengths in gate-to-wire fashion, an effort reminiscent of his win in the Wood Memorial (gr. II) and runner-up finish in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) last season. Meanwhile, #9 Pavel has been keeping very tough company in recent starts, facing the likes of Grade 1 winners Gun Runner, Collected, West Coast, City of Light, Accelerate, Mubtaahij, and Thunder Snow, among others. Although the Stephen Foster is a Grade 1 race, overall it seems a bit easier than some of the other races Pavel has tackled during his career, so in essence this appears to be a small drop in class that could help Pavel contend at a nice price.
But if you’re looking for a longshot, why not #2 Patch at 10-1? The popular one-eyed colt finished third in the Belmont Stakes last year, and following a long layoff, he returned in an 8.5-furlong allowance race on May 12th at Belmont Park and turned in a performance that really caught my attention. Reserved near the back of the pack early on, Patch appeared to be going nowhere around the turn, but kept grinding away through the homestretch and somehow got up to win by a neck. It’s not as though Patch benefited from a pace meltdown—the leaders weren’t really slowing down and hung on to finish second and third—and the 107 BRIS Late Pace rating that Patch received further indicates how well he ran.
I'll key Backyard Heaven on top of a trifecta and spread a bit underneath:
$2.50 trifecta: 6 with 2,8,9 with 1,2,4,8,9 ($30)