In the bourbon business, it’s best to have a good product and, absent or in addition to that, a really good story.
As noted last year, Stephen Foster’s connection to Kentucky is debated other than a tune and lyrics. But his night at Churchill Downs is again a good product, story notwithstanding.
Here are picks for the Stephen Foster Handicap and other stakes Saturday at the Louisville races. Will be updated later to reflect any scratches.
Race 5 | Grade III Matt Winn Stakes | 1 1/16 miles
1. Ax Man
2. King Zachary
4. Funny Duck
Comment: Ax Man appears fastest of these. King Zachary was an impressive winner in the race after the Kentucky Derby and has a respectable shot. Combatant exits the Derby and has multiple graded stakes placings. Funny Duck stays on dirt but will be a play-against both because the mud may have helped in the Pat Day Mile and he’ll probably have to be faster than he’s ever raced to win this.
Race 6 | Grade II Wise Dan Stakes | 1 1/16 miles turf
1. World Approval
2. Mr. Misunderstood
3. Shining Copper
Comment: World Approval reunites with jockey John Velazquez and is the clear class choice. Mr. Misunderstood is the best chance to upset with two stakes wins over this turf course. Shining Copper also is a graded stakes winner on this lawn and may have needed the last race off the ship to Barbados.
Race 7 | Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap | 1 1/8 miles
1. Blue Prize
Comment: Blue Prize was a dominating winner of the Falls City Handicap here last fall and gets the nod here. Valedorna rates a strong chance off her win in the Grade III Doubledogdare. Farrell rounds out the trio of top contenders, having finished a respectable second in the Grade I La Troienne. The extra distance may not be to her liking. Apologynotaccepted was second to Valedorna in the Doubledogdare and got run over by the Forever Unbridled train in this last year, finishing second.
Race 8 | Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap | 1 1/8 miles
1. Backyard Heaven
3. Irish War Cry
Comment: Backyard Heaven was an impressive winner of the Grade II Alysheba here and is the bet. Pavel rates a chance and offers some value having run in the best races among these over his career, but is hard to bet with confidence for the win. Irish War Cry won his first race since the Grade II Wood Memorial in a soggy rendition of the Grade III Pimlico Special. Tenth here in the Derby a year ago, he’s among the classiest in this field but also the most inconsistent. And liking Backyard Heaven, Hawaakom is an exotics play.
Race 9 | Grade III Regret Stakes | 1 1/8 miles turf
1. Beyond Blame
2. Secret Message
3. Romantic Moment
Comment: A wide-open Regret. Beyond Blame gets a slight edge at a little bit of a price based on her rough trip in the Grade III Edgewood. Secret Message can improve on firm ground in her second with Graham Motion. Romantic Moment rates a shot.