Gunnevera will return to Saratoga Race Course for the first time since running second in last year's Travers as he headlines a full field of 14 in Saturday's 65th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward Stakes, for 3-year-olds and up.
One of four graded stakes on the last Saturday card of the Saratoga meet, the Woodward, Race 11 with an approximate post time of 6:47 p.m., will be carried live nationwide on NBCSN as part of its broadcast from Saratoga from 5:30-7 p.m.
||Ricardo Santana, Jr.
||Term of Art
|Uriah St. Lewis
||Seeking the Soul
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Margoth's Gunnevera is coming off a 6 ½-length win against optional claimers on August 10 at Gulfstream Park in his first race since running eighth in the Group 1, $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 31 at Meydan.
The Antonio Sano trainee will be running for the third time this year after starting his 4-year-old campaign third to Gun Runner in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational on January 27 at Gulfstream. After suffering a foot injury in Dubai, the Dialed In colt was given time off before his comeback three weeks ago. He will now be running at the Spa for the third straight year after winning the 2016 Saratoga Special and running second to West Coast in last year's Mid-Summer Derby.
Jockey Edgard Zayas, who was aboard for the Travers and his fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Del Mar, will be aboard from post 9.
Tapwrit will look to improve on a fourth-place effort in the Grade 1 Whitney when he returns to the Spa. The 2017 Grade 1 Belmont Stakes winner will be making his fourth start since running fourth in last year's edition of the Travers. One of three entrants for trainer Todd Pletcher, Tapwrit returned from a nine-month layoff to run third in an optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles on June 3 at Belmont Park.
The 4-year-old Tapit colt then ran fifth after tiring late in the Grade 2 Suburban at 1 ¼ miles at Belmont. Cutting back to the Woodward distance of 1 1/8 miles, Tapwrit stayed near the pace before tiring on a sloppy and sealed track in the Whitney on August 4.
"I thought his two works since the Whitney were good, we're hoping to catch a fast track and we think part of the reason he tired out in the Whitney was the sealed nature of the track," Pletcher said. "He's training where we wanted him to be, now, we need him to step up and run the race he's capable of. In training, he seems like he's in as good of form as ever. Hopefully, the surface will make a difference this time."
Owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Robert LaPenta, Bridlewood Farm, Gainesway Stable and Whisper Hill Farm, Tapwrit will be looking for his first win since his "Test of the Champion" triumph and third career graded stakes win overall, joining the 2017 Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez, aboard for the Whitney, will have the return call from post 4.
Pletcher, who is seeking his fourth Woodward win and first since Liam's Map in 2015, will saddle two other challengers in Rally Cry and Patch.
In his first start since running sixth in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup in October 2017, Rally Cry finished fourth in an optional claimer July 21 at Saratoga.
"He needed that race, it was just a wicked fast past and he chased too hard and flattened out after that," Pletcher said. "This would be a different pace scenario. He seems to do his best when he's gathered up in the bridle, and that's what we're hoping to do."
Paul Pompa, Jr.'s Rally Cry finished second to eventual Horse of the Year Gun Runner in last year's Woodward, which came after the son of Uncle Mo registered a 8 ¾-length score in the Alydar in August 2017 at the Spa, earning a personal-best 110 Beyer Speed Figure.
"He trains exceptionally well, he's always been an impressive horse to watch train," Pletcher said. "Rather than put him in another allowance race, we'll see if he can somehow get the kind of trip he got in the Alydar last year, where he was very impressive. If he runs his 'A' race, we feel like he's capable."
Hall of Famer Mike Smith will pick up the mount on Rally Cry and will break from the outside post.
Patch, who ran third in last year's Belmont Stakes, will be aiming for his first stakes win and enters off a third-place finish to Kurilov and Realm in the Alydar on August 5.
Outside of a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap, Patch has done well at the Woodward distance, running fourth in the 2017 Grade 2 West Virginia Derby and third in that year's Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.
"I think the mile and an eighth suits him well and hopefully he's the type of horse who can benefit from a solid pace as well," Pletcher said. "He's not the most enthusiastic breeze horse, but he seems to show up at game time."
Luis Saez will have the call from post 3.
Kurilov ran second in the Alydar, switching to dirt after four consecutive turf starts, including three Grade 1 appearances for trainer Chad Brown. After finishing eighth in the Grade 1 United Nations on June 30 on the Monmouth turf, Brown said.
"It's a much tougher race now, but the horse seems to be doing well on the dirt," he said.
The 5-year-old Chilean-bred was a Group 1 winner in his native country, where he made his first 11 starts before first racing in North American in November. After running second to Heart to Heart by a neck in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf on November 10, Kurilov will be going for his first North American stakes win with Jose Ortiz from post 7.
Seeking the Soul won an optional claimer on the Saratoga main track last year, helping to propel him to an impressive fall in which he ran third in the Grade 3 Lukas Classic in September at Churchill Downs before winning the Grade 1 Clark Handicap on the same track in November. After running fifth in the Pegasus World Cup, trainer Dallas Stewart gave the 5-year-old a six-month layoff before returning to run second in the Michael G. Schaefer Memorial July 14 at Indiana Grand.
Seeking the Soul shipped into Saratoga last week, putting in what Stewart said was an impressive work on the Oklahoma training track Friday. Hall of Famer Javier Castellano picks up the mount from post 10.
"He's doing great; he had a good work here and wasn't blowing hard [despite it] being a very fast work," Stewart said. "He's won here already, so we're looking forward to running him Saturday."
Yoshida, who ran fifth in the Grade 1 Fourstardave Handicap on August 11 at the Spa in his first race since running fifth in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes in June at Royal Ascot, will be attempting to win at Saratoga for the first time in four starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
Yoshida, who won the Grade 3 Hill Prince in October at Belmont, started his year with a win in the Grade 1 Old Forester Turf Classic on May 5 at Churchill. Joel Rosario will ride from the rail.
Hence returned to the winner's circle for the first time since his sophomore campaign when he won the Downs At Albuquerque Handicap on August 4 for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. The winner of the 2017 Grade 3 Iowa Derby, who ran 11th in last year's Kentucky Derby and ninth in the Preakness, will be running at Saratoga for the first time since his debut in August 2016, drawing post 5 with Ricardo Santana, Jr. set to ride.
Gunnevera looking for big effort in G1 Woodward
Gunnevera shipped in well to Saratoga and has settled in ahead of Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward Stakes, trainer Antonio Sano said Thursday morning.
The Dialed In colt will be making the fourth start of his 4-year-old campaign, coming off a victory in an optional claimer on August 10 at Gulfstream Park in his first race since running eighth in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup on March 31 at Meydan.
"He's doing great; he likes the track and it's a big field, but he's in good condition and I'm hoping for a big race," Sano said.
The Woodward attracted a full 14-horse field, with Gunnevera drawing post 9. Installed as the 4-1 morning-line favorite, Sano said a crowded starting gate shouldn't be a hinderance for the three-time graded stakes winner.
"My horse is close every race, he just needs good position and no trouble with such a big field," Sano said. "I'm hoping he rates behind the pacemaker."
Owned by Margoth, Gunnevera will hope to utilize his closing speed in his first appearance at the Spa since running second to West Coast in the 2017 Grade 1 Travers. That effort at 1 ¼ miles marked the first of three consecutive triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures, as he netted a 104 in the Mid-Summer Derby before earning a 109 in a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Del Mar and a 101 for his third-place finish behind West Coast and eventual Horse of the Year Gun Runner in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup on January 27 at Gulfstream.
After winning at 1 1/16 miles in an optional claimer earlier this month, Gunnevera will be stretching out to the Woodward distance of 1 1/8 miles. He ran third at that distance in two previous starts: the 2017 Grade 1 Florida Derby and the Pegasus World Cup, after which Gunnevera was given a nearly five-month break.
"I didn't want to rush my horse, I took my time and told the owners when he was ready, he'd run," Sano said. "After he races, I take the time to see when he's ready for another race. The horse ran well and it was more than three weeks for the Woodward, so we decided to go."
Gunnevera will be aiming for his second win in three starts on the Spa main track after winning the 2016 Grade 2 Saratoga Special as a juvenile.
"He likes the Saratoga track; he's settled in nice," Sano said.
Sano will also saddle Bella Ciao in the Grade 1, $350,000 Spinaway for juvenile fillies on Saturday. The Flatter filly broke her maiden at second asking with a three-quarter length score on July 26 at Gulfstream Park.
Bella Ciao will now make her stakes debut in the 127th running of the Spinaway, a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in November at Churchill Downs.
Edgard Zayas, who will also ride Gunnevera in the Woodward in Race 11, will have the call in the Spinaway in Race 10. Bella Ciao drew post 9 at 30-1.
After running third in her debut at 5 ½ furlongs on July 7 at Gulfstream, she won at six furlongs later in the month and will be stretching out to the Spinaway distance of seven furlongs.
"It's seven furlongs and her first stakes, but she's training very good," Sano said. "She's a good at [closing]."
Owner-trainer St. Lewis expects strong Woodward effort from G1 Discreet Lover
Owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis's feels confident in his 5-year-old horse Discreet Lover, who will make his 43rd lifetime start in Saturday's Grade 1 Woodward. The horse by Repent arrived at his temporary stall on the Saratoga Harness track backstretch after a four-hour drive from Park in Pennsylvania. His companion, Norma's Charm will start in Friday's eight race at Saratoga.
"He doesn't ever get respect, but we don't look for respect," St. Lewis said. "We like the money. Every time we bet him across the board, we know we are going to get our money back. He is just an honest little horse who just tries all the time. I wish I could have 20 like him."
The Woodward will be the fifth start at Saratoga for Discreet Lover, who finished fifth in last year's Grade 1 Whitney and Woodward respectively. Discreet Lover has started in seven races this year, highlighted by his closing 2 1/2 length victory in the Grade 2 Excelsior on April 7 at Aqueduct. Since then, he has finished off the board at Charles Town, Pimlico and Belmont before he closed for third in the Grade 2 Suburban on July 7 at Belmont.
Discreet Lover closed well on the outside to finish third behind winner Diversify, and second-place finisher Mind Your Biscuits in the slop in his second try at the Whitney on August 4 at 38 to 1. With that effort behind him, the 60-year-old trainer from Trinidad and Tobago expects better from his horse.
"Last year, I knew it was tough against Gun Runner," he said. "I know Gun Runner was the best horse in the world. You get beat 14 lengths by Gun Runner and you are running versus the best horses in the world. Gun Runner is out of the picture and they are beating me five lengths, three lengths. Without Gun Runner, I thought I had a very good chance this year. He is getting better and better and better and better. The last race he ran a 103 Beyer for first time. I expect him to run a 107 or 108 this time. Anyone wants to beat him, they have to run that fast to beat him."
The Florida-bred has earned a reputation for facing strong horses in tough races over his career. Entering Grade 1 competition for a small operation such as St. Lewis, who oversees a barn of 26 horses at Parx, can be intimidating to some, but it doesn't bother St. Lewis.
"I am a small stable and you got Pletcher in there, you got Chad Brown in there, you might have Baffert in there, everyone knows them," said St. Lewis. "You only know of Uriah's name because of Discreet Lover. When Discreet Lover goes, you probably won't ever hear Uriah St. Lewis again unless I get another good horse. On my little race track, I don't win at a high percentage either, but they will remember my name just like some other little guys that come by.
"I expect to win. I didn't come here to run worse than first. I think we should win by two or three lengths. Easy. This horse is training spectacular. He worked about nine days ago and he came back like he didn't do anything. We don't want him to peak yet. We want him to run good. We want him to peak at the Breeders' Cup or the race in January [Pegasus]. After that, we will tell him he can go home and get a nice vacation. I want to make him a stud after that."