When Backyard Heaven won the Grade 2 Alysheba by 4 1/2 lengths at Churchill Downs on May 4, it looked as though he was ready to position himself atop the East Coast’s older male route division.
Six weeks later, Backyard Heaven flopped as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster there, finishing sixth behind the Southern California-based Pavel and leaving the East Coast older male division in flux.
Saturday, Backyard Heaven will look to reclaim his status in the division when he takes on seven rivals in the Grade 1, $1.2 million Whitney Stakes at Saratoga.
The Whitney, a Win and You’re In race for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill on Nov. 3, tops an 11-race card Saturday that also includes the Grade 1 Test for 3-year-old fillies, the Grade 3 Waya for fillies and mares on turf, and the Lure and De La Rose, also on turf.
The Whitney drew an intriguing field of eight, including Diversify, dominant winner of the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont last month; Mind Your Biscuits, a multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter who tries two turns for the first time; Tapwrit, the 2017 Belmont Stakes winner; and Good Samaritan, the 2017 Jim Dandy winner.
Backyard Heaven didn’t win his first race until last December. But he added two more victories including the Grade 2 Alysheba, his first try at two turns. Trainer Chad Brown is hoping that Backyard Heaven simply didn’t handle the heat and humidity that was prevalent the night of the Stephen Foster.
“We’ve been very excited about this horse,” Brown said. “The Stephen Foster was very disappointing; he just didn’t fire. If you can just draw a line through it and get back in form and get back to the way he ran in the Alysheba, I think he’ll be a horse that’s regarded on the top end of the division. He needs to redeem himself in the Whitney.”
Javier Castellano will ride Backyard Heaven from post 2.
Castellano replaces Irad Ortiz Jr., who got his regular seat back aboard Diversify, who was entered in the Whitney at the last minute. Trainer Rick Violette was going to skip the Whitney with Diversify following his huge race in the Suburban, but Violette said Diversify has shown him all positive signs, and that he couldn’t keep the horse in the barn.
While Diversify got loose on the lead in the Suburban, he could find company in the Whitney in the form of Dalmore, who will be ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr. Diversify did win the Commentator for New York-breds from just off the pace under Jose Ortiz.
“You have to make sure you get away real clean then make [Santana] have to step on the gas and then you can take back,” Violette said. “Both Jose and Irad feel his strong suit is on the lead, but his race in the Commentator was a pretty fast race.”
Mind Your Biscuits, beaten a nose in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at a mile last out, tries two turns and 1 1/8 miles for the first time in the Whitney. His trainer, Chad Summers, is confident the horse can handle it.
“I think he’s going to be better two turns,” Summers said. “I think he settles into his stride. His biggest advantage is that he’s so athletic he takes the turns well, so if he takes the one turn well hopefully he takes the two turns well.”
Tapwrit is winless in three starts since he won the Belmont. Trainer Todd Pletcher felt Tapwrit had too wide of a trip in the Suburban, where he finished fifth behind Diversify. John Velazquez rides Tapwrit for the first time.
Good Samaritan is a two-time winner at 1 1/8 miles, including the Jim Dandy here last summer. Discreet Lover ran a sneaky good third in the Suburban. Dalmore and McCraken finished second and third in the Grade 3 Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows in their most recent outs.
The Whitney and the Test will be shown by NBCSN during a live broadcast from 5-6 p.m. Eastern.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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