2014 Woodward Day Stakes Preview

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With only the Washington Park Handicap (GIII) on the stakes schedule at Arlington this Saturday, Picks and Ponderings has plenty of time to take one last road trip to the Spa.  This weekend is the final one of the Saratoga meet, and Saturday’s card features four graded stakes.  The card features two Grade I races: the Woodward Stakes for the handicap horses, and the Forego Stakes for the sprint division.  The Forego is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.  The card also has two Grade II events: the Bernard Baruch Handicap (GII) for older middle-distance turf runners, and the Prioress Stakes (GII) for three-year-old filly sprinters.

As part of NBC Sports Network’s series of Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” races, the Woodward and the Forego will be televised live.  The telecast runs on NBCSN from 6:00pm-7:00pm Eastern Time.

Morning lines for the races were not available at original publish time.

Updated on August 28 to include morning lines and to reflect the planned scratch of FALLING SKY in the G1 Forego.  Updated on August 30 to reflect the scratch of Micromanage in the GI Woodward.

Race 5: Bernard Baruch Handicap (GII), three-year-olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the inner turf, post time 3:15pm EDT

When not advising Presidents (like W. Wilson and F. Roosevelt) on fiscal policy, Bernard Baruch was involved with the thoroughbred industry as an owner, best known for winning the 1925 Carter Handicap with horses in nom de course Kershaw Stable.  The grass race that bears his name has been a Saratoga staple since 1958.  Almost always in the mile category, it contains a winners’ roll call of double winners like Shakis, Breeders’ Cup Mile winners like Lure and Steinlen, Canadian Hall of Fame members like Overskate, and American Hall of Famers like Fort Marcy.

Selections in this Grade Two, $250,000 race are made “turf only”.  It marks the return of WISE DAN, the two-time Horse of the Year that is the current (and on my ballot, too) NTRA poll top thoroughbred.  He returns off a layoff induced by colic surgery and recovery, and must concede a minimum of eight pounds to the other entrants.  Yet, WISE DAN doesn’t face anyone like Seek Again or Kaigun in here.  His pressing off-the-pace style will be certainly flattered by three speeds on the front end, and he closed with aplomb when there was a wicked fast pace to score last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile.  The works have been fine, and both Seek Again and Kaigun, the two horses he defeated this year, came back to win Grade Twos.  The issue with him is health: is he the same he worse he was before the colic surgery?  Questions aside, he’ll be the odds-on favorite and a good way to wager the race is either to take a swing against or look for those that are used with in conjunction.  In either school of thought, PARIS VEGAS could be that type.  PARIS VEGAS could benefit if all the speed in the race – FIVE IRON, SAYEED, and BIO PRO – mix it up on the front end.  Sure, that amount of speed is helpful to WISE DAN, but PARIS VEGAS was second in last year’s Baruch with quick fractions yet an even fourth down at Laurel with a slow pace.  While he hasn’t won since an “NC” allowance last year at Pimlico, he’s nibbled in quite a few stakes.  Luis Saez has the mount on this runner for trainer Elizabeth Voss.  Grade One winner BOISTEROUS cuts back to a mile and a sixteenth in today’s G2 Baruch.  Perhaps twelve furlongs is too far, as last year and this year he ran out of the money in summertime graded races at a mile and a half.  He looked in sharp form winning an allowance at Keeneland in the Spring and third behind WISE DAN and Seek Again on Derby Day at nine panels.  Perhaps the cutback in distance wakes him up, and always an asset to have Javier Castellano climbing aboard your runner.

Selections:

#5 WISE DAN (3/5)

#7 PARIS VEGAS (12/1)

#4 BOISTEROUS (5/1)

Longshot: Don’t be fooled by the trainer change on #1 OPTIMIZER (30/1). New trainer Jose Fernandez is a Calumet lieutenant who takes over for D. Wayne Lukas.  Chances are Fernandez has been with the horse more than others and isn’t starting from scratch. OPTIMIZER returns in his start since the G2 Elkhorn in Spring, where he set the pace then threw out the parachute.  He hasn’t run a quality race since last year’s Manhattan, where he was second to Point of Entry and ahead of a next-out Arlington Million winner.  Yet, all the credible races are in 2013. 2014 has seen two starts, an even ninth and the aforementioned Elkhorn.  He’s been on the Calumet Farm, putting in some long and short works and getting back into race shape.  While the trainer change is a bit suspect, what’s more useful is that in seven outs with this new conditioner, there are three wins and two more money finishes when coming off long lays.  — PM

Race 8: Prioress Stakes (GII), three-year-old fillies, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 5:00pm EDT

This year marks the 67th running of the Prioress Stakes.  The race is named to honour Prioress, regarded as the first American-owned and American-bred Thoroughbred horse to win in England.  Born in South Carolina in 1853, she was a daughter of Sovereign out of the Glencoe mare Reel.  Richard Ten Broeck brought her to England to race.  After a disappointing start, she went off a 100-1 long shot in the 1857 Cesarewitch Handicap, an eighteen-furlong race.  She finished in a triple dead heat for first, and won the run-off heat.  Despite that grueling achievement, the race run in her name has been contested as a six furlong sprint since its inception in 1948.  The Prioress Stakes was originally run at Jamaica Racetrack, but moved to Aqueduct in 1959 and then to Saratoga in 1987.  It was downgraded from a Grade I to a Grade II for this year, but the purse remains $300,000.

Eight three-year-old fillies head to the post for this year’s edition of the Prioress.  The name of the game is speed: though there are no true can’t-rate types in the field, everyone in this field has done most of their best work on or near the lead.  There is no real closer.  As all of these horses have shown the ability to rate, a speed duel is not a foregone conclusion.  With that as the case, though, the pace should be honest, and there should be plenty for anyone who runs in from off the pact to attack.  This should set up well for SWEET WHISKEY.  Two starts back in the Acorn Stakes, she took advantage of a hot pace set by Fiftyshadesofgold, Fashion Plate, and My Miss Sophia.  She struck the lead entering the stretch, and was just nabbed inside the final sixteenth by Sweet Reason, who then burnished her reputation as a crack one-turn filly by winning the Test (GI).  SWEET WHISKEY has not gone this short since the Old Hat (GIII) back in January, but has performed well at the distance.  She won the Old Hat by daylight, and was second beaten just a length by MISS BEHAVIOUR in the Matron (GII) at Belmont last September.  SWEET WHISKEY is a very consistent horse, as well: even her fifth-place finish in the Test last out was still only 1 1/2 lengths behind Sweet Reason, and the only race in which she finished up the track was a muddy edition of the Spinaway (GI) last fall.  SWEET WHISKEY is working strongly going into this, she broke her maiden over the dirt at the Spa.  Given the lack of rain in the forecast, she will be tough to fend off late.  MISS BEHAVIOUR also comes in here from the Test, where she finished second.  She ran close to the pace throughout, lasted better than any of the contingent in front of her early, and just could not hold off Sweet Reason’s late charge.  She shortens up to six furlongs here, her best distance.  She is a perfect three-for-three at six furlongs, with all three victories in stakes company.  She is another consistent type, with her only off-the-board finish being last year’s Delta Princess (GIII): the only time she stretched to a mile.  Jockey Javier Castellano, who rode her in her last two starts, has the call again today.  He is the top jockey at Saratoga, and cannot be ignored with a mount who fits this race so well.  SOUTHERN HONEY disappointed last out in the Test, running right off of Fiftyshadesofgold’s hot early pace before finishing ninth.  She shortens back up to six furlongs here, the same distance at which she beat older company in the Winning Colors (GII) back in May.  The Test was also her first race off of a two-month lay, so she should be fresher and stronger second off.  Pacewise, that win in the Winning Colors showed she can run exactly the sort of race she needs to win this one, where she runs from a few off.  There she had the good fortune of Socialbug setting fast fractions despite being uncontested; here, she should have a few speedballs doing that for her.  If Leparoux gets her to relax and then pounce the way she did two back, she has a great shot.

Selections:

#5 SWEET WHISKEY (2/1)

#6 MISS BEHAVIOUR (5/2)

#3 SOUTHERN HONEY (10/1)

Longshot: #2 STONETASTIC (6/1) comes into this race second off of a layoff of almost seven months for trainer Kelly Breen, who hits at 20% second off the lay.  In her first race back, she crushed a six furlong allowance optional claiming race at Monmouth, in which she faced older for the first time.  This company is tougher, but her performance last out suggests she can fit right with this field.  She did compete in graded company last year, and although she did not win any of those attempts, she was second beaten just a half-length by Untapable in the Pocahontas (GII), and third two lengths behind Vexed in the Goldenrod (GII).  There is a key difference between her previous stakes starts and this one, though: those were all routes.  This is her first sprint stakes of any sort.  She has won both sprints she has tried, and her performance last out suggests she has grown into herself over the last half a year.  STONETASTIC fits here, and will likely be a price compared to her adversaries who have raced more at three.  — NN

Race 10: Forego Stakes (GI), three-year-olds and up, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 6:12pm EDT

A three-time Horse of the Year, Forego ruled the East Coast Handicaps in the mid 1970s, winning sprints like the Carter, middle distance fixtures like the Met Mile twice, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at two miles.  And many times won while giving weight.  While the horse lived out his retirement days at the Kentucky Horse Park, the stakes initiated in 1980 and bears his name has been just as sterling as the gelding, with winners like double Sprint Eclipse winners Groovy and Housebuster along with double Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute.

The winner of this race gets a free pass to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.  Seven furlongs can be a quirky distance that gets horses who love the distance, and CLEARLY NOW fits that role of a seven furlong lover.  Seven of seven in the money at seven-eighths, he won the G3 Belmont Sprint Championship (nee James Marvin) by 6 ¼ lengths last time at the race’s distance. He hasn’t run a bad race since the G1 Met Mile, and even that race wasn’t odious: fifth beaten 5 ½ lengths.  He ran a sparkling figure last time and the “bounce” boo-birds are likely to be out.  Yet he just fired a workout over the Woodbine training track, and Canadian-based trainer B. Lynch is five for six in the money at Saratoga this meet.  From an outside draw, he should be able to carve out a nice stalking position off of WEEKEND HIDEAWAY or ZEE BROS.  The former of those gets a hard look as he’s been nibbling in state-bred stakes in New York.  Three wins and a second in four tries over the Saratoga dirt, he won the Morrissey Stakes last out traveling six and a half.  He steps up to open company and graded company today, but he did an open overnight stakes last year.  Fair to argue this might be a bit too steep in class for WEEKEND HIDEAWAY.  But he’s got Javier Castellano, the meet’s leading rider, to pilot.  The Daily Racing Form‘s D. Grening reports that FALLING SKY is slated to scratch out of this race due to some cuts/scrapes.  Originally FALLING SKY was liked in this spot.  With him defecting, this space moves up PALACE, winner last time out of the G1 Vanderbilt and three back the victor in the G2 True North.  Both of those stakes triumphs came at six furlongs, so it’s easy to argue PALACE is in quality form coming from the Linda Rice barn.  However, PALACE was soundly beaten two back at today’s seven furlong distance by CLEARLY NOW and earlier in the year was fourth in the G3 General George at Laurel in the winter, also at seven panels.  Perhaps seven furlongs is too far for PALACE, as his best wins have come at the shorter six panels.  Still, PALACE will be on the outside and does like to swing wide in the stretch, and the presence of ZEE BROS provides an adequate target.

Selections:

#8 CLEARLY NOW (7/5)

#9 WEEKEND HIDEAWAY (10/1)

#6 PALACE (3/1)

Longshot: Best known for winning two New York-based preps to the Kentucky Derby last year, #3 VYJACK (15/1) might just be a closing sprinter after all.  After two duds in longer races at four, his best races have been at one turn: a win at seven furlongs at Aqueduct and a fourth with a chartcaller’s notation of a bad start in the G1 Vanderbilt last time, behind PALACE and FALLING SKY.  VYJACK gets another go-round on Saratoga dirt (his first try was last out in the Vanderbilt), and he’ll have white-hot Irad Ortiz riding.  With some modicum of pace from WEEKEND HIDEAWAY or ZEE BROS, and going back to the distance he won at downstate, perhaps VYJACK gets the pace he needs to get back on the beam.  — PM

Race 11: Woodward Stakes (GI), three-year-olds and up, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 6:46pm EDT

The last stakes race on Saturday’s card is the $750,000 Woodward Stakes.  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 raced 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 distance since 1990.

Pace makes the race, and the horse racing world waited with bated breath to see whether there would be anyone in the field likely to send forth with Whitney winner MORENO.  The field is out, and that does not look likely.  Sure, it is not a slam-dunk, as three horses are adding blinkers for this race: ITSMYLUCKYDAY, NORUMBEGA, and LONG RIVER.  Both ITSMYLUCKYDAY and NORUMBEGA have flashed early speed on occasion.  ITSMYLUCKYDAY is slightly more likely to be able to go with MORENO early, but his past performances suggest he will fade badly if he starts on the front in a truly fast pace, the sort that would be inevitable if they both sent forth.  Furthermore, trainer Eddie Plesa stated that the blinkers are being used for focus, not to send him with Moreno: suggesting that if he does send, something is not going according to plan. NORUMBEGA is not likely to be capable of the early zip that MORENO has.  LONG RIVER tends to be a handful of lengths off early, and may stalk a bit closer to the pace with the blinkers added, but is another one who is probably not capable of MORENO’s early speed.  The Whitney winner has never missed the board at the Spa, never missed the board at this distance, and has a good chance of getting the pace his way again this time.  The aforementioned NORUMBEGA adds blinkers for this race, and should be able to rate off the lead.  He has been on the shelf since the Suburban (GII) almost two months ago, but trainer Shug McGaughey wins at 20% off similar-length lays and this horse has a string of good works at Fair Hill through July and August.  NORUMBEGA can handle the dirt at the Spa, and is currently two-for-two over the surface.  Finally, he gets a jockey upgrade here to Javier Castellano, the leading jockey in the colony.  Castellano had ridden MICROMANAGE and LAST GUNFIGHTER in their most recent races, and the fact that he turned up on NORUMBEGA instead suggests that he is very live for what is destined to be a great price.  MICROMANAGE was originally in this spot, but announced the morning of the race that he will be running in the Greenwood Cup (GIII) at Parx on Monday instead.  Instead, we take ZIVO in this spot.  It does not get any more honest or consistent than ZIVO: he has won seven of his last eight, with his only loss a head behind Awesome Vision in last November’s Move It Now Stakes.  He tends to run as a dead closer, which will not help him much unless ITSMYLUCKYDAY, LONG RIVER, and/or NORUMBEGA go unexpectedly crazy with the blinkers.  Still, the fact remains that few horses in training today have shown they want to win horse races the way ZIVO has.  He also showed three starts back, in an allowance optional claiming race at Aqueduct, that he can adapt to a lone speed scenario.  Spa City Fever dictated terms, and ZIVO stalked an uncharacteristically close three lengths back.  He pounced late, and won by two lengths.  Of course, MORENO is a far tougher customer than the likes of Spa City Fever, but consistency plus adaptability equal a tough horse to pass over completely.  ITSMYLUCKYDAY deserves a particular mention.  If he sends with MORENO, he is likely cooked early.  If Paco Lopez rates him early, he is likely to hit the board, though not likely to seal the deal unless someone unexpected does send forth and soften up MORENO on the front end.  He is not completely without a shot, but also likely to far too short a price to take without a favourable setup.

Selections:

#4 MORENO (2/1)

#8 NORUMBEGA (10/1)

#6 ZIVO (5/1)

Longshot: #9 LAST GUNFIGHTER (15/1) has struggled in his last two starts, including a wide and well-beaten fifth in the Whitney last out.  This time out, trainer Chad Brown makes a key change.  He switches back from Javier Castellano to Joe Bravo.  Castellano had ridden him in all three of his races this year, but Bravo and Last Gunfighter united for two graded stakes wins last year: the Iselin (GIII) and the Hawthorne Gold Cup (GII).  He has won three of his five career starts at a mile and an eighth, and Bravo showed in the Iselin last year that he can ride Last Gunfighter well fairly close to the pace.  With a good chance of Moreno having things his way or near it on the front end, that will come in handy. He also worked at the Spa leading up to this race, instead of out at Belmont as he did leading up to the Whitney, giving him a chance to learn to handle the track better.  It is still contingent on whether Last Gunfighter can find the form he has last year.  However, Brown seems to be giving him the best possible chance to improve, and the price will be right. — NN

Stakes preview authors are denoted above by initials, PM for Paul Mazur and NN for Nicolle Neulist.

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