East Coast invaders Backyard Heaven and Irish War Cry headline a field of nine older horses in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap presented by GE Appliances – the centerpiece of an action-packed, prime-time Saturday program at Churchill Downs.
The 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster Handicap is the richest of five graded stakes races on Saturday's special 11-race night racing card that begins at 6 p.m. EST. Total purses on the evening are more than $1.4 million, which makes it the most lucrative racing day for horsemen at Churchill Downs outside of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks programs.
Backyard Heaven, an impressive 4 ¼-length winner of the G2 Alysheba presented by Sentient Jet, and Irish War Cry, the 4 ½-length gate-to-wire hero of the G3 Pimlico Special, are the 121-pound and 119-pound starting high weights. Fan favorite Patch will also go to the line under jockey Luis Saez.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's up-and-coming 4-year-old colt Backyard Heaven is riding a three-race win streak and looks to be the horse to beat. The New York-based Kentucky-bred son of Tizway surged past Derby winner Always Dreaming on the far turn of the 1 1/16-mile Alysheba on Kentucky Oaks Day to beat fellow Foster entrant Hawaakom by 4 ½ lengths.
“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. I'd like to keep him in good form, now, and not plan too far ahead. Take a race at a time.”
Like the Alysheba, Backyard Heaven will be ridden in the Foster by Irad Ortiz Jr. and will break from post No. 6 as the 6-5 morning line favorite.
Irish War Cry rebounded from a pair of early season defeats at Gulfstream Park to frolic home convincingly in the slop in the May 18 Pimlico Special. And in-and-out sort, Irish War Cry regained the form that was reminiscent of his wins in last year's G2 Holy Bull and G2 Wood Memorial and runner-up effort to Tapwrit in the G1 Belmont Stakes.
“It was definitely a relief to see him run well last time out,” trainer Graham Motion said. “We were very pleased of his effort and showed us what type of horse he is. I think drawing Post 8 should be fine with the longer run into the first turn. One of the things I looked at while considering the Stephen Foster was it being run at night. I think the cooler temperatures really helps this horse. I've felt pretty strongly about that and knew we'd always want to get him back into a Grade I. It's looks to be a pretty tough race but he's proven us he belongs.”
The Stephen Foster Handicap field from the rail out: Honorable Duty (ridden by Corey Lanerie, trained by Brendan Walsh, 118 pounds, 6-1 morning line odds); Patch (Luis Saez, Todd Pletcher, 116, 10-1); Hawaakom (Brian Hernandez Jr., Wes Hawley, 117, 12-1); Uncle Mojo (John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher, 114, 10-1); Matrooh (Santo Sanjur, Cipriano Contreras, 115, 20-1); Backyard Heaven (Irad Ortiz, Jr., Chad Brown, 121, 6-5); Lookin At Lee (Ricardo Santana Jr., Steve Asmussen, 115, 12-1); Irish War Cry (Jose Ortiz, Graham Motion, 119, 5-1); and Pavel (Mario Gutierrez, Doug O'Neill, 117, 5-1).
The theme for Saturday night's Downs After Dark is “Art of the Horse” and guests are encouraged to dress in pastels and bright colors to fit the art theme and summer weather. Churchill Downs, Breeders' Cup Ltd. andLouisville Visual Art have partnered to create a Breeders' Cup Artwork Exhibit, which includes an opportunity for one local artist to be showcased as the Official Artist of the 2018 Breeders' Cup World Championships. Five finalists will have their artwork on display in the Plaza on Saturday and guests may text to vote for their favorite.
Admission gates will open Saturday at 5 p.m. General admission is $10, box seats are $25 and reserved dining packages are $73. All ticket options can be purchased online at www.ChurchillDowns.com/Tickets . No one under the age of 18 will be admitted to the track unless they are accompanied by a parent or responsible adult.
All onsite parking lots are expected to reach capacity early in the evening. Churchill Downs will offer free parking and shuttle service from Papa John's Cardinal Stadium Green Lot A starting at 5 p.m. There will be free round-trip shuttle service throughout the evening. All Churchill Downs employees are directed to park in the track's infield.
The final race of the night is scheduled for 11:10 p.m.
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