The return to Churchill Downs by Always Dreaming, winner of last year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), looked promisingly triumphant—for four furlongs. Then another Cinderella story twisted the plot in the $400,000 Alysheba Stakes presented by Sentient Jet (G2) May 4.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Backyard Heaven, trying stakes company for the first time, stalked the Derby winner patiently under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. and turned the 1 1/16-mile race into a two-horse contest. At one point, the leaders had opened a 6 1/2-length gap from the rest of field. Backyard Heaven took command heading into the final turn and proceeded without challenge to the wire, winning by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:41.73. Always Dreaming faded in the stretch to finish fifth.
"I am astonished," said Ken Ramsey about beating Always Dreaming and several other tough competitors, including multiple graded stakes winners Good Samaritan and Hoppertunity. "This is a good bunch of horses, and he just put the Derby winner away. (Trainer) Chad (Brown) laid the race out with the jockey just exactly how he wanted to run it, and it unfolded like he had seen it in a crystal ball."
Stephan Smoot and Wesley Hawley's Hawaakom closed from last place to finish second by three-quarters of a length over Good Samaritan, who is owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, SF Racing, and Head of Plains.
Backyard Heaven paid $6.40, $4, and $3. Hawaakom paid $13.20 and $5.20, while Good Samaritan paid $2.80.
John Velazquez, who rode Always Dreaming, said the colt started out right, was relaxed, and moved along nice and easy.
"Then when that other horse (Backyard Heaven) came to him on the backside, he just stayed at the same pace," the jockey said. "He didn't pick it up at all. I don't know what else I can say."
Brown said because Always Dreaming looked like the lone speed in the seven-horse field, he told Ortiz to stay close.
"If he is Always Dreaming from last year, then I told him you're going to have your hands full, and I respect the horse," Brown said. "But if he's not, then you'll be able to engage him, take him out, and hopefully hang on. They set a fair pace, and it was a beautiful ride."
Brown said he thinks the 4-year-old son of Tizway—Cappagh Strand, by Grand Slam, will stretch out to a mile and quarter. In the meantime, he said there are some good nine-furlong races to consider, including the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1), which will be run at Churchill Downs June 16.
Ramsey said he is already penciling in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) on his wish list for the horse's 2018 campaign. Churchill Downs is the host this year.
"I'm happy Ken is optimistic. I'm optimistic, too, but I'm also realistic," Brown said. "I do think there is a grade 1 or another grade 2 with his name on it."
With his Alysheba victory, Backyard Heaven—named for the Ramsey's Saratoga Springs home that backs up to the Oklahoma Training Track—became the first graded stakes winner for his sire, Tizway. A multiple grade 1 winner on the track, the son of Tiznow started his stud career at Spendthrift Farm before being sold in June 2017 to take up stud duty in South Korea.