Older horses will seek their final chance to win a graded stakes at the prestigious Saratoga Race Course meet when a field of nine assembles for Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward Stakes.
Named in honor of William Woodward Sr., who owned the prestigious Bel Air Stud, the 1 1/8-mile event over the main track has been used as a resume builder on recent Horse of the Year campaigns for the likes of Cigar, Skip Away, Mineshaft, Ghostzapper, Saint Liam, Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, Havre De Grace and most recently, Gun Runner. Inaugurated at Aqueduct and previously run at Belmont Park, the Woodward has been contested at the Spa since 2006.
G M B Racing's Tom's d'Etat will attempt to keep his undefeated record at Saratoga alive while also looking to net his first graded stakes win. The lightly-raced 6-year-old son of Smart Strike has won all three of his starts at Saratoga, which include a maiden victory at third asking in August 2016, a nine-length victory against winners the following year where he garnered a career best 106 Beyer Speed Figure and defeated stakes winners Far From Over and Bodhisattva. In his most recent start, he won the Alydar on August 2 at Saratoga.
|Uriah St. Lewis
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
|Albert Stall, Jr.
"We've hit everything we've wanted to hit. He's been training over the Oklahoma training track with two nice breezes and seems pretty comfortable over there," Stall Jr. said. "We've always felt he has Grade 1 talent, we just hope he has the chance to prove it. The New York-bred [Mr. Buff] is in there with some speed, so we definitely want a stalking trip. We don't have any interest in being on the lead. He did that in a couple of races and we feel like he's a better finisher coming from off the pace with a target."
A two-time stakes winner, Tom's d'Etat won his stakes debut in December in the Tenacious at Fair Grounds. Prior to the Alydar, he was twice graded stakes placed at Churchill Downs when finishing second in the Grade 2 Alysheba and third in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster.
Bred in Kentucky by SF Bloodstock, Tom's d'Etat is out of the stakes winning Giant's Causeway broodmare Julia Tuttle, whose dam Candy Cane is a full-sister to multiple champion producing stallion Candy Ride.
Tom's d'Etat will leave from post 9 under two-time Saratoga leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr., who seeks his first Woodward victory.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has saddled three Woodward winners in Lawyer Ron (2007), Quality Road (2010) and Liam's Map (2015) and will send out a trio of contenders for this year's Woodward.
Already a Grade 1 winner, Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable's Vino Rosso won the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita in May and was a recent third behind McKinzie in the Grade 1 Whitney. The chestnut son of 2008 Woodward winner Curlin has recorded two works since the Whitney, the most recent being a five-furlong bullet in 58.60 over the main track on Friday morning - the fastest of 22 recorded works at the distance.
"He breezed super on Friday," Pletcher said. "It was a real strong breeze. He came out of it with some good energy and has been galloping well this week. It seems like he's in good form. I think he's become a more consistent workhorse, although I thought his last breeze was arguably the best breeze he ever had. He galloped out real strongly and looks great. His appetite has been good and his energy has been good."
Pletcher said he looks forward to giving Vino Rosso another chance to become a multiple Grade 1-winner.
"It would be another Grade 1 and it's a prestigious race with a horse that's a big-time stallion prospect," Pletcher said. "It would be another feather in his cap and he looks great."
Vino Rosso will emerge from post 3 under Hall of Famer John Velazquez, a four-time winner of the Woodward.
Pletcher also will saddle Let's Go Stable's Wooderson, who was a recent second behind Tom's d'Etat in the Alydar.
The son of Awesome Again and half-brother to 2009 Horse of the Year and Woodward winner Rachel Alexandra has won three times, one of which was a third out graduation at Saratoga last July.
"It was a good race. He was closing a bit at the end but just got there too late," Pletcher said of the Alydar effort. "He's a horse that we figured would get better with age all along and it seems like he's starting to find his rhythm."
Two-time Saratoga leading jockey Jose Ortiz will guide Wooderson from post 8.
Rounding out the Pletcher trio is Bal Harbour, who recorded a career-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure when finishing second by a head to War Story in the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup in July.
Owned by Red Oak Stable, the chestnut son of First Samurai seeks his first graded stakes win, but has been a stakes winner three times having notched wins in the 2017 Sapling at Monmouth, the 2017 Smooth Air at Gulfstream and the 2018 Gio Ponti at Aqueduct.
"He lost a tough one to a warrior in War Story," Pletcher said. "He's training great, so we'll see what he does."
Bal Harbour will break from post 2 under two-time Saratoga leading rider and Hall of Famer Javier Castellano who seeks his third Woodward triumph.
Hall of Famer Bill Mott will send out Yoshida in search of a record fifth Woodward victory for the conditioner.
Owned by China Horse Club, WinStar Farm and Head of Plains Partners, Yoshida won last year's Woodward and will attempt to be the first horse to score back-to-back triumphs since Lido Palace [2001-02]. The 5-year-old Japanese-bred son of Heart's Cry, out of graded stakes winner Hilda's Passion, was second in the Grade 1 Whitney last out and boasts the highest lifetime earnings in the field with $2,370,770. The well-rounded Yoshida owns Grade 1 triumphs on both dirt and turf. Three starts prior to winning last year's Woodward, he won his 4-year-old debut in the Grade 1 Old Forester Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.
Jockey Joel Rosario will pilot Yoshida from post 7.
Chester and Mary Broman's Mr. Buff has found plenty of success against his New York-bred counterparts but will seek his first graded stakes victory when breaking from the rail. The gelded chestnut son of Friend Or Foe is a four-time stakes winner, last out taking the Evan Shipman over the Spa main track in runaway fashion. He captured the Jazil against open company on January 26 at Aqueduct, where he recorded a 102 Beyer.
Mr. Buff is trained by John Kimmel, who saddled Premium Tap to a Woodward victory in 2006. He will be piloted by Jose Lezcano.
Completing the field for the Woodward are Mongolian Groom [post 4, Luis Saez], Preservationist [post 5, Junior Alvarado] and Forewarned [post 6, Anthony Salgado].
The Woodward is slated as Race 11 on Saturday's 12-race Woodward Racing Festival card, which also features the Grade 2, $250,000 Prioress in Race 3, the Grade 3, $200,000 Saranac in Race 6 and the Grade 2, $250,000 Glens Falls in Race 10. First post is 12:30.
The Woodward will be the centerpiece of Saturday's Saratoga Live broadcast airing on FS2 from 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern, and regionally on MSG+ from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern.
Preservationist looks to make amends in G1 Woodward Stakes
Centennial Farms' Preservationist will look to regroup in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward Stakes at nine furlongs on the Saratoga main.
The 6-year-old son of Arch posted a three-furlong blowout on Thursday morning over the Oklahoma training track which he completed in 36.66 seconds. In his previous work last Thursday, he went six furlongs in 1:13.30.
A five-time winner of nine starts, Preservationist won his stakes debut two starts back in the 10-furlong Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont Park over dual Grade 1-winner Catholic Boy, where he registered a 108 Beyer Speed Figure. Last out, Preservationist set the pace in the nine-furlong Grade 1 Whitney, before retreating to fourth, beaten 7 3/4 lengths to McKinzie.
"He pulled up [from the Whitney] well and it looks like he's training well. We blew him out a little this morning and his work last week was good, so we're taking another shot," said trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who saddled Shaman Ghost to a Woodward victory in 2016.
Jerkens said he is pleased with post 5 for Preservationist in the Woodward, where he will he will again be piloted by Junior Alvarado.
"A mile and an eighth around two turns is different from a mile and a quarter around a turn and a half," said Jerkens. "The key to those races is to have an easy rhythm. That's not always going to work out, but he's got a nice post. He can tuck in a little and save some ground and make a gradual run from there on. Hopefully he's good enough."
The Woodward field features two Grade 1 winners in Vino Rosso and last year's Woodward victory Yoshida, but Jerkens said multiple New York-bred stakes winner Mr. Buff is a possible concern with speed from the inside post.
"Mr. Buff, from his post, he's certainly the speed of the race. He's dangerous if he can dictate," Jerkens said. "He's improved a lot since last year. He showed, even in the debacle last time, he got hung up in the gate, broke in a tangle and still won. He shows he's got something more to him than previously thought."
Jerkens said he isn't concerned about bringing Preservationist back four weeks after his Whitney outing.
"A lot of people like to wait for the next one but a lot can happen to horses in seven weeks' time, so as long as you think you're doing well, you might as well take a shot," Jerkens said.
Preservationist broke his maiden at third asking, two starts after emerging off of a 16-month layoff. After defeating winners for the first time last February, he did not return to action until 11 months later where he ran third. Since that effort, he has won three of his last four starts.
Bred in Kentucky by Emory Hamilton, Preservationist is out of the Dixieland Band broodmare Flying Dixie, who is a half-sister to dual turf graded stakes winner Hungry Island.
Pletcher trio have eyes on G1 Woodward and G2 Bernard Baruch
Trainer Todd Pletcher sent out the trio of graded-stakes winners Vino Rosso and Noble Indy and stakes-placed Wooderson out for works on Saratoga's main track Friday morning in anticipation of their next starts in stakes on the meet's closing weekend.
Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable's Vino Rosso went five furlongs in a bullet 58.60 seconds, fastest of 21 horses at the distance including Repole's Noble Indy, who had the second-fastest time at 59 seconds. Let's Go Stable's Wooderson sped through a half-mile in 47.47 seconds, ranking third of 126 horses.
Pletcher said the three 4-year-olds are the "most likely" of his nine nominees to run in the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward August 31, though he is leaning toward keeping Noble Indy on grass for the Grade 2, $250,000 Bernard Baruch on Closing Day, September 2.
"We worked all three of them this morning and I was happy with all their works," he said. "We're sort of in the process of deciding who we're going to run. We'll assess how they come out of it and see what we're going to do here in the next few days."
Vino Rosso is coming off a third-place finish behind McKinzie in the Grade 1 Whitney Aug. 3 at Saratoga, his first race since becoming a Grade 1 winner with his three-quarter-length triumph in the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita May 27. The son of Hall of Famer Curlin owns five wins and more than $1.3 million in purse earnings from 13 starts, but is 0-for-3 at Saratoga.
"He had a very good work this morning," Pletcher said. "It seems like he's been in good form based on what we saw today."
Wooderson exits a runner-up finish behind Woodward candidate Tom's d'Etat in the Alydar August 2 at Saratoga. It was the best finish in three tries against stakes company for the Awesome Again colt, who owns a win and two seconds lifetime over Saratoga's main track.
"I thought he ran an encouraging race in the Alydar," Pletcher said. "It was a step in the right direction. This was his second good breeze since then, so it seems like he's maintaining his form."
Winless in nine tries since winning the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby last March as the favorite, Noble Indy has made each of his last three starts on the turf with one second and one third in a pair of optional claimers at Belmont Park. Most recently, he ran fourth by two lengths August 3 at Saratoga in the Lure, run at the same 1 1/16 miles as the Baruch.
"He's kind of seemed to find new life on the grass," Pletcher said. "Right now, I'd say it's more likely he'd run in the Bernard Baruch but we'll see how he comes out of this breeze and keep an eye on the Woodward, as well."
Also nominated to the Woodward is Robert LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners' Coal Front, the Group 2 Godolphin Mile winner that is 0-for-2 since returning from Dubai. He is scheduled to work Saturday with an eye on the Grade 2, $300,000 Kelso Handicap on September 21 at Belmont.
"I'd say he's most likely going to go to the Kelso," Pletcher said. "He drew the rail in the Met Mile and set a blistering pace, and then I probably made an error running him at Monmouth. It was wicked hot that day and he didn't handle those conditions at all. He was not himself in the paddock and just never really fired."
A two-time winner of the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers, Pletcher will have a relatively quiet Travers Day with five horses entered in four of 13 races including the pair of Grade 2 Bowling Green winner Channel Cat and Pillar Mountain, a winner of his last two races, in the Grade 1, $850,000 Sword Dancer.
"Channel Cat and Pillar Mountain are both going into the race off good wins and I'm happy with the way they're coming into it," Pletcher said. "Hopefully, they can make good showings."
Jose Lezcano to ride Mr. Buff in G1 Woodward Stakes
Chester and Mary Broman's 5-year-old chestnut Mr. Buff will make his next start in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward at nine-furlongs on the Saratoga main.
Trainer John Kimmel said Jose Lezcano will take over from regular pilot Junior Alvarado, who is committed to Woodward contender Preservationist. Lezcano was aboard Mr. Buff on Friday for a four-furlong breeze in 49.20 on the main track.
"Jose will be riding him and I wanted him to have a chance to breeze him a nice little half-mile," said Kimmel. "He breezed nicely, but lost a shoe in the breeze and still went in 49. He'll be ready to rock and roll."
The strapping New York-bred chestnut son of Friend Or Foe dominated the Evan Shipman on August 7 at the Spa by 3 1/2-lengths at the Woodward distance. Kimmel said the 10-time winner from 30 starts excels at two-turn races.
"He loves two-turns and mile and an eighth races," said Kimmel. "He's won six of seven two-turn races and he only lost one [the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap) and no one who was supposed to run well there that day ran well. So, we just drew a line through that effort and he's run very well since."
Preservationist working towards for G1 Woodward
With a group from owner Centennial Farms on hand, led by president Don Little Jr., Grade 2 Suburban winner Preservationist breezed six furlongs over the Oklahoma training track Thursday morning in 1:13.30 ahead of an expected upcoming engagement in the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward on Saturday, August 31.
Regular exercise rider Kelvin Pahal was up for the move, Preservationist's fourth in Saratoga and first since his fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Whitney August 3, beaten 7 ¾ lengths as the second choice behind winner McKinzie.
"He went in 1:13 and galloped out in 26 and change. It was good," trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "We're probably going to run in the Woodward, God willing. He's 6 years old now and with these Grade 1s, you've got to see if they can do it."
Preservationist, exiting a front-running 4 ½-length triumph in the 1 ¼-mile Suburban July 6 at Belmont Park in his stakes debut, was sent to the front by regular rider Junior Alvarado in the Whitney and led through sharp fractions of 23.77 and 47.48 seconds before McKinzie took over after six furlongs in 1:11.30.
"I didn't agree with the tactics used, but what are you going to do? He took a shot and it didn't work out, but we'll see," Jerkens said. "I don't think we have to worry about McKinzie. He's an awful nice horse. I mean, the others are good, too, but even [Hall of Fame trainer Bob] Baffert was saying he was one of the best horses he's ever had and he couldn't believe he kept getting beat. When he says that, he knows what he's looking at."
Tom's d'Etat is 'all systems go' for G1 Woodward Stakes
Returning to the workout tab on Saturday for his first breeze since winning the Alydar on August 2, G M B Racing's multiple graded-stakes placed runner Tom's d'Etat completed four furlongs in 50.24 seconds at the Oklahoma training track.
The 6-year-old sired by Smart Strike picked up his first victory of the year from four starts in the Alydar, after kicking off his campaign with a ninth-place finish in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park followed by a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Alysheba and third-place running in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.
"It was his first breeze back. I told our rider to go in 50 [seconds] and he went in 50 and a tick. He caught a really nice racetrack and we like what we've seen so far," said conditioner Al Stall, Jr.
Tom's d'Etat is unbeaten in three starts at Saratoga Race Course. He broke his maiden at second asking by four lengths in August 2016 and added an allowance win by a widening nine lengths at Saratoga in July 2017.
Stall said Tom's d'Etat would return to face graded stakes competition in the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward on Saturday August 31 but with a new jockey aboard in 2018 Eclipse award winner Irad Ortiz, Jr who takes the mount from Joel Rosario, who is committed to riding multiple graded stakes winner Yoshida in the race.
"He's confirmed for the Woodward with Irad," said Stall. "Rosario is going to stick with Yoshida which you can understand that, but he's [Tom's d'Etat] got a great record up here and we're excited."
The Woodward Racing Festival features four graded stakes highlighted by the 66th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward Stakes, a nine-furlong test for older horses. The highly anticipated Woodward Day card also includes the Grade 2, $250,000 Glens Falls; the Grade 2, $250,000 Prioress; and the Grade 3, $200,000 Saranac.
Gunnevera Misses Workout, Ruled Out of Woodward
August 11 - Trainer Antonio Sano cancelled a planned workout for Gunnevera at Gulfstream Park West Sunday morning, ruling out a start in the Aug. 31 Woodward (G1) at Saratoga.
Gunnevera, a multiple-graded stakes winner who has earned more than $5 million, had previously missed a planned start in the Aug. 3 Whitney (G1) at Saratoga with a bruised foot that had forced the cancellation of a pair of workouts.
"His foot is fine. He just hasn't come back as good as I want," trainer Antonio Sano said. "The timing isn't good for [the Woodward]."
About the Woodward Stakes
One of the premier races for Thoroughbreds age 3 and older, this race is named for prominent racehorse owner George Nicholas Woodward and it is run at a 1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs) on Saratoga Race Course's main track.
First run in 1954, the Woodward has been won by equine greats such as Sword Dancer, Kelso, Forego, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Cigar, Curlin, and Rachel Alexandra. In addition, Spectacular Bid won the 1980 race in a walkover when no one was willing to face him.
Forego captured the Woodward trophy for four consecutive years, winning from 1974-1977 with two different jockeys. Also during that time frame, Bill Shoemaker and Angel Cordero had a stranglehold on the Woodward winner's circle, winning nine of the 10 Woodwards run from 1976-1985. Since 2005, John Velazquez has won three editions of the race.