Friday’s $400,000 Alysheba (G2) marked the return of Always Dreaming to Churchill Downs, but the 2017 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner was no match for rising star Backyard Heaven. Trained by Chad Brown, the Ken and Sarah Ramsey runner passed his stakes and two-turn tests with flying colors.
Indeed, Backyard Heaven served it up to front-running Always Dreaming in the early going. If you didn’t know which one was the reigning Derby winner, you’d think it was Backyard Heaven, for he always appeared to be the controlling presence as he forced the pace. Always Dreaming was feeling the pressure through splits of :23.86 and :46.79 on the fast track, and not traveling with much encouragement for backers of the 9-5 favorite.
When Backyard Heaven struck the front at the six-furlong mark in 1:10.85, Always Dreaming was already beaten. But the winner wasn’t done in the hands of Irad Ortiz Jr. Opening up by 4 1/2 lengths down the lane, Backyard Heaven got the mile in 1:35.36 and blitzed a final sixteenth in :6.37 to clock 1:41.73 – not far off Successful Dan’s track and stakes record of 1:41.04 set in 2012.
The 26-1 Hawaakom, last early, made late headway on the rail to take runner-up honors from Good Samaritan, the co-second choice with Backyard Heaven at 2-1. Hoppertunity chugged on for fourth, followed by Always Dreaming, Giuseppe the Great, and Hence. Awesome Slew, who projected a good stalking trip here, scratched in favor of another tilt at Saturday’s Churchill Downs S. (G2). The Mark Casse pupil just missed by a head in last year’s edition.
Backyard Heaven now sports a mark of 4-3-1-0, $334,240. His previous starts had come around a one-turn mile in New York. Second in his belated debut at Belmont Park last September, the dark bay promptly scored at Aqueduct in December and cleared his entry-level allowance condition back at the Big A on March 17. His lofty BRIS Speed rating that day 106, following on a 102 from his maiden, hinted that he’d handle the class hike.
In the postrace interview, Brown revealed that they’d regarded Backyard Heaven as a “Kentucky Derby quality” horse, but illnesses prevented him from making it to the races in time.
Brown mentioned the June 16 Stephen Foster H. (G1), also at Churchill, and longer-term, the August 4 Whitney (G1) at Saratoga, as potential targets.
Bred by Waymore LLC in Kentucky, Backyard Heaven sold for $160,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. The four-year-old son of Tizway is out of Cappagh Strand, a Grand Slam half-sister to Grade 3-winning sires Astrology and Lunarpal as well as stakes scorers Lunarlady and Lunargal. This is the extended family of current Robert B. Lewis (G3) victor Lombo, who runs in Saturday’s Pat Day Mile (G3).
Quotes from Churchill
Trainer Chad Brown on Backyard Heaven: “He was training very, very well. I have to give my assistant Whit Beckman credit, as he’s had him all winter up there. He’s done a fabulous job with this horse. We momentarily thought about running him at Charles Town for a lot more money, but we thought he would need just a little more time and I really wanted the opportunity to bring a horse down here for the Ramseys. They’ve been so helpful to my career. My very first winner was here at Churchill Downs for them.
“People saw this horse this week and said to me, ‘well, Ken must have wanted you to run here…’ Not really — he never asked me or told me where to run. I thought the horse was good enough and it was something I could deliver for his family and his team. I’m very happy for them. They’ve been very patient with this horse. If it wasn’t for them, he wouldn’t be in my barn.
“I told Irad to leave out there and that (Always Dreaming) looked like the lone speed; stay very close, but turn it into a two-horse race. I didn’t want to try and bury Always Dreaming early. I wanted it to be a two-horse race. If he has more, so be it. If we have more, so be it. Good Samaritan is a really good horse I knew would pick up the pieces if we got into some silly duel — and that’s what Irad did. He gave the other horse a fair chance; we had a fair chance and when it came time to engage him and take him out, he did and luckily he had enough to hold on.”
Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez on fifth-placer Always Dreaming: “It started out right. He was in a great spot. He was relaxed and he was moving along nice and easy. Then when that other horse (Backyard Heaven) came to him on the backside he just stayed at the same pace. He didn’t pick it up at all. I don’t know what else I can say.”