‘Talent is still there’ for Backyard Heaven, State Dinner headliner

‘Talent is still there’ for Backyard Heaven, State Dinner headliner
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

Even off an 11-month layoff, the Grade 2 winner Backyard Heaven shows as the 9-5 favorite to beat in Sunday’s $100,000 State Dinner Stakes at Belmont Park.

“If he’s back,” said Ken Ramsey, who campaigns the 5-year-old son of Tizway with his wife, Sarah, “we’ll know. I’ve got my fingers crossed.”

And then it’s on to Backyard Heaven’s namesake facility, with the horse’s origins in Ramsey’s morning views of Saratoga’s Oklahoma Training Track — right at the gap, where he’s a wave away from some of the nation’s best horses and their charges each summer.

Backyard Heaven made it to Saratoga last year, too, going from allowance winner in March to topping the Kentucky Derby hero Always Dreaming in Churchill Downs’ Alysheba (G2) in May. But back under the Twin Spires for the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1), the Chad Brown trainee ran up the track.

Connections blamed heat and thick humidity that led to some other wonky results that evening. But then Backyard Heaven missed the board again in Saratoga’s Whitney Stakes (G1).

“Chad said there must be something wrong with the horse,” Ramsey said. “We didn’t detect it until after we had him analyzed,” but a scan revealed soreness in each of Backyard Heaven’s feet. Vets called for six months or more away from training.

Backyard Heaven has worked consistently at Saratoga, including two bullet breezes leading into the State Dinner, a 1 1/16-mile test including the 2018 winner Sunny Ridge, multiple graded winner Prince Lucky and Candygram, a patiently handled 4-year-old making his stakes debut.

“The talent is still there,” Ramsey said of Backyard Heaven. “Chad has been working him against some pretty good horses and likes his chances Saturday.”

For Ramsey, this time of year also means the unveiling of his next batch of 2-year-olds, none of which have run yet this season. He said runners were sent to Brown, Wesley Ward, Mike Maker and Danny Gargan.

“We’re looking to have a big meet at Saratoga,” Ramsey said.

One to watch is trained by Ward. Aye Aye Sir, a $47,000 Midshipman colt, harkens back to Ramsey’s military service.

“I was in the Navy, so when the officer gives you an instruction, you salute and say, ‘Aye aye, sir,’” Ramsey said, years later with a laugh. “That means that you understand and will obey.”

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