Classic Berth Up for Grabs in Stephen Foster Handicap

Stephen Foster

Downs After Dark returns on Saturday at Churchill Downs featuring the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) and four supporting stakes (Photo: Churchill Downs)

There is racing at the “Downs After Dark” on Saturday night with five graded stakes including the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (G1), with the winner earning a starting spot in the gate for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

The Chad Brown trained Backyard Heaven is looking for his fourth consecutive victory, taking the Alysheba (G2) over the Churchill Downs main track in his stakes debut on Kentucky Oaks Day.

The Foster is the feature race on an outstanding 11-race card with the co-feature the $200,000 Fleur De Lis Handicap (G1) for fillies and mares with the race a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).

The supporting features are the $100,000 Matt Winn (G3), $200,000 Wise Dan (G2) and the $100,000 Regret (G3).

Backyard Heaven is the 6-5 morning line favorite in the Stephen Foster and faces eight foes including several that competed in last year’s Triple Crown races.

Among the contenders are last year’s Belmont Stakes (G1) runner up Irish War Cry (5-1), the Kentucky Derby (G1) runner up Lookin At Lee (12-1) and the Belmont third place finisher Patch (10-1).

The Fleur De Lis drew a field of nine that will go 1 1/8 miles on the main track. The La Troien (G1) runner up Farrell is the 3-1 morning line favorite for trainer Wayne Catalano. The filly has won three times under the Twin Spires including the Chilukki (G2) last fall.

The top three finishers from the DuPont Distaff (G3) at Pimlico in the slop reunite. That race was won by Song of Spring (6-1) in an upset at 9-1.

Both the Foster and Fleur De Lis will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network. The 90-minute telecast gets underway at 8:30 ET.

My Best Plays Report for Saturday will include all of the stakes action from Churchill Downs and my strongest plays from Belmont Park.

Free $20 Bet, Plus Double Your First Deposit at TVG. Use coupon code WELCOME20 during checkout. Expires 03/22/2019.

Let’s head out to Churchill Downs for Saturday night’s featured race of the day:

  Churchill Downs

Churchill Downs Race 8 The Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) Post time 9:39 ET

8 Irish War Cry   5-1

6 Backyard Heaven   6-5

9 Pavel   5-1

1 Honorable Duty   6-1

Irish War Cry took the field gate to wire in the slop to win the Pimlico Special (G3) last out in a good-looking effort. The colt bounced back after a dull sixth in the Hardacre Mile (G2) at Gulfstream Park. When this guy is good he is very good but tosses in clunkers like his 10th in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and his seventh in the Fountain of Youth (G2) last year. He seems to run better when forwardly placed and there is not much early zip signed up to go here. Maybe he can finally put back to back triple digit Beyers together and is going to offer more value for the top spot than our second choice.

Backyard Heaven has won three in a row without really getting tested. He made his stakes debut over the main track here last out in the Alysheba (G2) where he dueled for the early lead and drew clear smartly to win by 4 ½ lengths with a 105 Beyer. He came back off a three-month break two back and beat Alw-1 foes with a 108 Beyer. There is no telling just how good this guy might be. This is just his second start around two turns and his first at nine furlongs. He has enough pedigree, by Tizway out of a Grand Slam mare. His only real knock is his puny price.

Pavel ran a really good third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) last fall at Belmont Park against older in just his fourth career start. But he has not been able to run back to that effort although in his defense he has been in some tough spots. He was fourth in the Dubai World Cup (G1) two back and ran into a sharp Accelerate when fourth in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) in his last outing. These are not as tough as he has been facing in his last five losses.


WIN: Irish War Cry to win at 4-1 or better.

EXACTA: 6,8 / 1,6,8,9

TRIFECTA: 6,8 / 1,6,8,9 / 1,4,6,8,9


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