Time is running out at the Spa. The Saratoga meet draws to its conclusion at the end of this holiday weekend. But, there is still plenty of top-class racing in this final week of the summer meet.
This weekend, Picks and Ponderings will preview all three Grade I events at Saratoga this weekend. This article focuses on the pair of top-level stakes races on Saturday, the Woodward Stakes for older horses and the Spinaway Stakes for juvenile fillies. A separate piece focuses on Monday's Hopeful Stakes, the final graded event of the meet, which is open to open two-year-old company.
Horse Racing Radio Network will also provide live audio coverage of both of these races. Their brodcast runs from 5:00pm-6:00pm EDT. HRRN's coverage streams on its website. As with all NYRA racing at Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct, audio of these races is streamed on the NYRA website, and HD video is available to anyone with a free NYRA account.
Both races in this piece are scheduled for Saturday, September 3 at Saratoga. The morning line for the Spinaway was not available at original publish time. Edited later on Thursday, September 1 to add morning lines for the Spinaway.
Race 9: Spinaway Stakes (GI), two-year-old fillies, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 5:11pm EDT
The Spinaway Stakes is a Grade I, $350,000 race for two-year-old fillies. In addition to the largest share of the purse money, another coveted prize awaits the winner: the first Win and You're In berth for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) on November 5. The race takes its name from Spinaway: a seven-time winnner whose daughter Handspun (Hanover) produced 1905 Belmont Stakes winner Tanya (Meddler), one of just three fillies who has won that race so far. Spinaway's racing career ended in 1881, and the race run in her honour was inaugurated the same year. Run at distances as short as five and a half furlongs, it has been run consistently at its current seven-furlong distance since 1994.
Tanya won the race named in her granddam's honour in 1904; she remains the only winner of a Triple Crown race to have won the Spinaway. Just two Spinaway winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Oaks the next year: Ashado (2003) and Cicada (1961). Well befitting its Breeders' Cup Win and You're In status, three winners of the Spinaway have gone on to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) later that year: Meadow Star (1990), Flanders (1994), and and Countess Diana (1997). All three of those fillies won three-year-old Champion honours. Other Champions and modern-day stakes namesakes also won the Spinaway: La Prevoyante won the 1972 edition, and Ruffian won the race two years later.
Legendary racecaller Tom Durkin made his final call in the 2014 Spinaway Stakes, when he called Condo Commando home to a splashtastic victory.
This year's version of the Spinaway drew a field of seven, all of whom are trying seven furlongs for the first time. It drew a few front-end types, with RUNAWAY DOLL, CHERRY LODGE, and YOU KNOW TOO all having shown early speed. This space will side with a bit of a price who has a lot of room for upside: PRETTY CITY DANCER. This Mark Casse trainee has an off-pace style, and showed last out in the Debutante at Churchill that she can handle adversity and still come back with the best of it. She has not raced since the beginning of July, but has a solid string of works and runs for a trainer who wins at 16% off similarly long lays. PRETTY CITY DANCER also gets a rider change to Irad Ortiz -- not Casse's usual, but a rider who has been extremely effective at Saratoga, and been solid with the couple of mounts Casse has given him. She should stretch out as well; full sister Conviction won at two turns, and half-sister Lear's Princess was a Grade I winning router who broke her maiden going seven furlongs. All in all, there is a lot to like, and the price should be fair.
Then, we look to the Todd Pletcher barn. He has a pair in here, and both have an argument to be made. CHERRY LODGE looks the more appealing of the pair by a slight margin. She has started just once, but it was a solid run. She won a five and a half furlong maiden special at Saratoga, showing she can handle the surface. Though she was along the front end, like a couple others in this race seem likely to be, she showed real gameness, with something in reserve at the end. And, between the two Pletchers, his "A" jockey John Velazquez turns up on CHERRY LODGE -- not SWEET LORETTA, with whom he won the Schuylerville (GIII) earlier in the meet. Even so, SWEET LORETTA rates a chance as well. She has won both her starts so far, including that stakes victory. Her off-pace style should get a setup here. And, even though she loses Velazquez, she gets a more than capable rider in Javier Castellano. She also has a right to like the stretch out, being by Tapit out of Ithinkisawapudycat, a mare who was stakes-placed at seven furlongs.
A note about RUNWAY DOLL. Yes, she broke her maiden at Saratoga -- but that came in the slop, and she did it as easily as she wanted to. But, there are too many questions to take at a short price. Is she as effective on a faster track as she is in the mud? How will she handle other speed in the race? These are too many questions in order to take her at a relatively short price, and she seems an uninspiring betting prospect here.
#6 PRETTY CITY DANCER (7/2)
#5 CHERRY LODGE (2/1)
#1 SWEET LORETTA (5/2)
Longshot: #4 FUN (12/1) was a well-beaten second behind SWEET LORETTA in the Schuylerville, but she was wide for quite a bit of the trip, suggesting she could improve with a better go of things in the Spinaway. She took a step forward from her winning debut to that stakes placing, a positive sign. FUN will appreciate the pace setup here, with RUNWAY DOLL, CHERRY LODGE, and YOU KNOW TOO all looking like front-end types. She also has every right to relish the extra furlong, being by Harlan's Holiday out of an Empire Maker mare who has produced a winner at six and a half panels (FUN's full sister, Blast). FUN will have to take a step forward here, but with all seven horses trying seven furlongs for the first time, there is some uncertainty. With the other longshots being a maiden who looks a bit too slow (SPECIAL RISK) and a frontrunner with no excuse against weaker last out (YOU KNOW TOO), FUN looks the best of the real price horses.
Race 10: Woodward Stakes (GI), three-year-olds and up, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 5:46pm EDT
The Grade I, $600,000 Woodward Stakes is the final graded stakes of the Saratoga meet for the handicap division. The race is named after William Woodward, Sr., a banker who developed Belair Stud into one of the premier breeding and racing operations in the country. He campaigned two Triple Crown winners: Gallant Fox and his son Omaha. Woodward died in 1953, and the first edition of the Woodward Stakes was contested the next year. The race was contested mainly at Belmont, though occasionally at Aqueduct, through much of its history. The Woodward moved to Saratoga in 2006. It has been run at distances as short as 1 1/8 miles, and as long as 1 1/2. It has settled at its current nine-furlong distance since 1990.
Some of the all-time greats have won the Woodward. Though Forego's name carries on in a sprint race at Saratoga, he could go long with the best of them, and won the Woodward four consecutive years (1974-1977). Sword Dancer, the namesake of a Grade I turf stakes at the Spa, won this race twice (1959, 1960). The unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar counted the 1995 Woodward as part of his historic streak -- and also achieved his final career victory in the 1996 edition. A pair of Triple Crown winners have won the Woodward at age four: Seattle Slew (1978) and Affirmed (1979).
Cigar bounces back from his defeat in the Pacific Classic with a four-length victory over L'Carriere in the 1996 Woodward Stakes.
If you're looking for something cute, you're not going to find it here. There will come a day to oppose FROSTED. Maybe it will be Breeders' Cup Classic day, maybe.sooner. That day is not today.
FROSTED is the best horse here. FROSTED is the fastest horse here. And, FROSTED loves a mile and an eighth. In five tries at the distance, he has three wins and two seconds to show for it. Though he just took the front and ran with it last out, his more typical style has him sitting in striking range, a few lengths off the pace. That should work here with BRADESTER likely to take the lead, and SAMRAAT and perhaps BREAKING LUCKY to keep him honest. Regular rider Joel Rosario knows how to time a move with FROSTED, and he should have plenty of horse. FROSTED looks by far the most likely winner here, and this space will not oppose him in the Woodward.
Even though they run for different ownership, Kiaran McLaughlin conditions both FROSTED and MUBTAAHIJ. And, McLaughlin would probably not run MUBTAAHIJ here unless he thought the son of Dubawi could make good account of himself. This start puts him second off the ship from Dubai out to the States, and he ran a fine third behind Effinex in the Suburban in his first stateside start of the year. He keeps strong Spa rider Irad Ortiz aboard from that start. Though this will be MUBTAAHIJ's first start at nine furlongs, his strong Dubai form at a mile and three sixteenths suggests that this cutback from a mile and a quarter could suit him well. MUBTAAHIJ should be tracking a few lengths off the lead early, and should be rallying well come shallow stretch.
BRADESTER looks like both the speed of the speed and the class of the field. Though the mile category may be his best, he wired the Foster at a mile and an eighth two starts back, and finished second behind the classy Valid in last year's Iselin (GIII) at the same distance. He gets rider Joe Bravo aboard, as well. Bravo has carried BRADESTER through his current three-race win streak, and knows how to ship just about anywhere (including the Spa) for a graded stakes, and win. Furthermore, trainer Eddie Kenneally has a solid record this summer at Saratoga: three wins in fifteen starts. BRADESTER himself hit the board in his only try over the Saratoga dirt -- and it would be no surprise to see him dig in and hit the board again here.
#3 FROSTED (1/2)
#9 MUBTAAHIJ (5/1)
#4 BRADESTER (6/1)
Longshot: Is #6 SAMRAAT (10/1) really a Grade I horse? Maybe not. But, would it be a surprise to see him invade the exotics here? Not in the least. Though he has yet to win since the minor New York preps in 2014, he just keeps trying. Last out in the Suburban (GII), he fell just a neck short of Effinex -- and crossed the wire clear of MUBTAAHIJ, to boot. He was second in his only try at a mile and an eighth -- and given his breeding, he has every right to take a step forward on the cutback from a mile and a quarter last out to a mile and an eighth here. On pace, he is the most likely to keep BRADESTER honest. It also helps his case that he keeps rider Jose Ortiz, the Spa's leading jockey by wins this meet. Yes, beating FROSTED will be an enormous order. But, SAMRAAT's best is right on par here and he has enough consistency -- and flat-out pluck -- to hit the board at a price.
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