2015 Woodward Day Stakes Preview

The curtain came down on Arlington International’s stakes program last week with the Arlington-Washington Lassie for two-year-old fillies.  This weekend, the curtain comes down on the Saratoga meet.  The calendar has flipped to September, and it means Labor Day – the closing day of the Saratoga meet – is this weekend.  The Picks & Ponderings pair once again will tackle Saratoga and once again provide a look at the stakes action.  But this week we provide two separate pieces.  Our first of two pieces is herein, and it covers the Saturday of the Labor Day weekend that is headlined by a pair of Grade Ones on the dirt: the Spinaway at seven panels for frosh fillies and the Woodward at nine panels for the male handicap division.  A pair of Grade Threes, the Saranac for sophomores and the Glens Falls for older females, round out the program.

Additional coverage comes from Nicolle Neulist, who in a separate piece will tackle the closing day program of Saratoga.  The Grade Two Bernard Baruch serves a supporting feature to the traditional feature of closing day, the Grade One Hopeful.

NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) will provide live television coverage of Woodward Day in a one-hour program to air live from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm ET.  The featured Woodward and the Spinaway are slated to be in this television time.  Horse Racing Radio Network will also live-stream the Travers Day festivities on its website as part of its Saratoga Saturdays. That broadcast will run from 4:00-6:00pm EDT, covering the quartet of stakes to be picked and pondered below.  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.

Selections are made “turf only” in races scheduled for the turf.  At publish time the rails on both turf courses are slated to be placed at the zero setting.  All races previewed in this piece are slated for Saturday September 5th.

Saratoga Race Course — Race 8 — G3 Saranac Stakes — One and one-eighth miles on Mellon Turf –post time 4:33 pm ET

The town of Saranac may be close to Canada, but the lake is closer to Saratoga and the river is in the state of New York.  An Empire geographic nameplate through-and-through, it’s fitting that the Saranac Stakes has bounced around New York racetracks past and present.  First run in 1901 at Saratoga, the race was cancelled in the 1940s due to the Second World War and emerged in 1948 at now-shuttered Jamaica Racetrack.  Aqueduct played host to the Saranac intermittently from the 1950s to the 1970s, and in 1977 the race moved to Belmont Park.  A switch in surfaces from dirt to turf came in 1979 and the race has been on grass ever since.  A move back home to Saratoga for the Saranac came in 1994 after being a spring-time race.  For three-year-olds aiming for a pot of three hundred thousand, this grassy event counts that year’s Triple Crown winner Whirlaway (1941), Saratoga stakes nameplate De La Rose (1981), former Gulfstream stakes honoree Sabin (1983), and 2007 Arlington Million winner Jambalaya (2005) as its winners.

Grass races at the meet have seen Bill Mott play the role of apple cart upset type, and often Jose Lezcano has been aboard.  While this could be a case of going once too often to the well, GO AROUND does have something going for him regardless of trainer: an ability to stay close to a slow pace.  Saratoga turf races are often slow-paced affairs, and that’s how GO AROUND graduated three back while doing his work on the lead.  It was at ten furlongs at Belmont, and he’s got a first-level allowance win at nine and a half panels from his last outing.  There, GO AROUND proved he didn’t need the lead as he made a professional inside-outside move.  GO AROUND is by Medaglia d’ Oro, and today’s nine furlong distance should hit him between the eyes more than the longer distances he’s won at.  With NONNA’S BOY on the engine, this one could get a crafty stalking trip in the first trailing flank.  The aforementioned Lezcano/Meet team (22% wins/47% in the money/+90% ROI) unite here.  Chad Brown is in the thick of a training title fight with Todd Pletcher, and Brown puts three in the box for the G3 Saranac.  The lowest of those on the morning line maker’s odds is TAKEOVER TARGET.  He was a neck behind Divisidero – the best American three-year-old turf horse of the Spring and two and a quarter lengths back of Force The Pass – the best American three-year-old turf horse of the Summer – in the Pennine Ridge and Belmont Derby, respectively.  Without either foe in the box, he won the G2 Hall of Fame Stakes over the local weeds.  Neither foe is in the box for the G3 Saranac, and as a Harlan’s Holiday baby he’ll do fine at nine furlongs.  He makes sense in this race, but Chad Brown horses take gobs of money and he’s one to use defensively.  Locals will remember WORLD APPROVAL, who shows up in this field.  Last time he was wide around the second turn in the G2 Hall of Fame Stakes.  Two back he annexed the G3 American Derby at Arlington.  Skipping the G1 Secretariat may have been best despite the Arlington win and the free pass to the Secretariat that race bequeaths, as his Hall of Fame Stakes and the presence of quality Euros proved that WORLD APPROVAL may not have been ready for that bunch, and getting his chances among the Junior Varsity turf three-year-olds helps.  Yet in the G3 American Derby and the Pennine Ridge he was in the same zip code as the then in-form Divisidero.  With a better trip he can certainly be in the picture turning for home.

Selections:

#5 GO AROUND (7/2)

#3 TAKEOVER TARGET (8/5)

#7 WORLD APPROVAL (5/1)

Longshot: Typically on turf courses, being speed means you get swallowed up in the lane.  Not so at Saratoga, which has played to speed and slow paces.  Those in front have held on well, and in this race #2 SKY HERO (12/1) projects the speed of the speed.  SKY HERO is one of two in here from Mark Casse’s shedrow, the other being the more regarded WORLD APPROVAL.  SKY HERO led nearly all the wall last time in a first level allowance over the local strip.  While losing to stuck-in-neutral type ENGLISH MINISTER isn’t going to flatter the form, that’s okay when you’re trained by Not Chad Brown or Not Todd Pletcher or Not Bill Mott.  It means he’ll hold his quote and be worth inclusion if he can hang on going out on the lead.

Saratoga Race Course — Race 9 — G1 Spinaway Stakes– Seven Furlongs on dirt –post time 5:11 pm ET

One of two races slated for national television, the Grade One, $350,000 Spinaway Stakes is the filly complement to the Hopeful they’ll run on closing day.  Additionally, the Spinaway is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race, and the winner here advances – should they desire – into the BC Juvenile Fillies field.  Two fillies in the nineties took victories at the Spa and paired them with Breeders’ Cup triumphs: Meadow Star (1990) and Flanders (1994), and both were named divisional champions as two-year-old fillies.  In the pre-Breeders’ Cup era, stakes namesakes like Forward Gal (1970), La Prevoyante (1972), and Ruffian (1974) were Spinaway winners and eventual two-year-old filly champions.  For years contested at six furlongs, the race moved to seven furlongs in 1994 and honors Spinaway (by Leamington out of the Eclipse mare Megara), who was a successful racehorse and broodmare in the 19th century.  She’s also the second dam of the first filly to the Belmont Stakes (in 1905), Tanya.

Ruffian runs off the screen (literally and figuratively) in the 1974 G1 Spinaway Stakes.  She concluded her two-year-old season with no losses and divisional championship hardware.

A half-dozen maiden winners square off in the Spinaway, and as the seven furlong distance is an unknown to all these horses – it’s yet another exercise in progression handicapping and pedigree scrutinizing.  Although you could have had her for $65,000 last time, Luis Saez and Jeremiah Englehart jockey/trainer production ANNA RAE put up a sparkling win last time at five and a half furlongs in winning her maiden claiming debut at first asking.  A double-digit winner with a figure comparable to what others have earned in their graduations (whether in career start one or otherwise), ANNA RAE rallied from off quick fractions last time and the presence of TONASAH gives her a potential target.  Sometimes two-year-olds haven’t learned how to pass yet and here’s a runner that moved from mid-pack.  In being by Tiz Wonderful out of a Prized mare, an extended sprint should be fine considering breeding on both sides of the pool for routes.  Yet the open length win came at five and a half panels.  ANNA RAE’s figure in her maiden claimer victory at first asking is similar to CONSTELLATION’s in her maiden special weight.  CONSTELLATION worked closer to the pace in her debut and while short field dynamics play to her favor, the fact she won’t get a free right on the front end negates such advantage.  The post-race works like fine on CONSTELLATION, suggesting that she has every right to run a race equal to or better than what was seen.  The morning line favorite will be RACHEL’S VALENTINA – a regally bred frosh fllly out of Rachel Alexandria.  She rallied from the back of the pack to win at first asking and posted the best debut figure of all.  Start two and facing winners will be a tougher test for her.  The public made her the even money (and a nickel over) favorite and expecting anything above that on the tote is foolish.  Her pedigree and her connections make her one that’s going to take money every time she sees the starter.  Seven furlongs should be no issue based on that Bernadini – Rachel Alexandra pedigree that would do fine around two turns.  Two main issues make her a defensive use, however.  One is her reputation that makes her attract money.  The other is the propensity for Bernadini offspring to do well in the first start against maidens and then look average against winners and beyond.  Perhaps she’s better than that, but at a low tote quote it’s cause for pause.

Selections:

#4 ANNA RAE (12/1)

#5 CONSTELLATION (3/1)

#2 RACHEL’S VALENTINA (5/2)

Longshot: ANNA RAE?  Paul sunk my battleship.

Saratoga Race Course — Race 10 — G1 Woodward Stakes– One and one-eighth miles on dirt  — post time 5:47 pm ET

The richest race of the last Saturday of the Saratoga season carries a purse of $600,000.  It’s the Woodward Stakes, a Grade One for three-and-up types going a nine-furlong lap on the Saratoga dirt.  The race pays respect to William Woodward, Sr.  Woodward was a Jockey Club president for two decades and owned, under nom de course Belair Stud, two Triple Crown winners – Gallant Fox and Omaha.  First run in 1954, a year following Woodward’s passing, the race became an early-fall fixture at Belmont Park.  The Woodward’s distances have varied between eight and twelve furlongs.  Typically, the Woodward was run on the second weekend of September and at one time compromising a Fall Handicap Triple that started with the Woodward and included the Marlboro Cup and Jockey Club Gold Cup.  In 2006, the race was moved to the first week of September (and moved upstate).  Before becoming a Breeders’ Cup prep – the race is best known for Spectacular Bid (1980) winning by walkover. In its days as a Breeders’ Cup prep at Belmont Park, four horses – Alysheba (1988), Cigar (1995), Ghostzapper (2004), and Saint Liam (2005) won the Woodward and later won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. (Cigar is a two-time Woodward winner, 1995-96). When shifted to Saratoga in 2006, the race has yet to have a Woodward-Breeders’ Cup Classic double turned.  But two fillies – Rachel Alexandra (2009) and Havre de Grace (2011) beat the boys in the Woodward en route to Horse of the Year campaigns.

Rachel Alexandra puts an exclamation point her Horse of the Year season with a wire-to-wire score against males and elders in the 2009 G1 Woodward.

Four runners in the Woodward field come from the Todd Pletcher barn.  Two more come from the shedrow of Jimmy Jerkens.  Together it’s three-quarters of the field for the second of the two television races.  WICKED STRONG may be a one-geared plodding type, but a one-geared plodding type did take advantage of the zippy splits LIAM’S MAP threw down on the front end in the Whitney last month and nailed LIAM’S MAP on the line.  In this event, with BAY OF PLENTY and COACH INGE also in the box the front end pace dynamics are not so kind this time around to LIAM’s MAP.  It sets up for someone working from off the pace, and WICKED STRONG pulled off the fast pace in the Whitney and ran an okay fourth.  As the turf experiment was simply a lab case two back, he’s getting another shot over an oval he likes (three starts, never out out of the superfecta), over a distance he likes (four starts, never out of the superfecta) and with a pace target to run down.  Jimmy Jerkens has two in here and the presence of Grade Two winner EFFINEX will make WICKED STRONG a square price – something he was from last time as he slashed down to half of his morning line quote thanks to steam.  Luis Saez has the call on WICKED STRONG.  This space went to the wedding on LIAM’S MAP in the Whitney, but isn’t staying around for the funeral.  While Pletcher may have entered COACH INGE to scratch him and keep some runners out, he didn’t keep out a runner who ran in the Whitney behind LIAM’S MAP.  While LIAM’S MAP looked home in the Whitney, he doesn’t need the lead (as per the race at Gulfstream) and if BAY OF PLENTY goes too fast for his own good on the front he could get a stalking trip.  Still, 6/5 on the morning line for a horse that was five time the odds but doesn’t a greater chance to win (BAY OF PLENTY acting as a nuisance on the front end comes to mind) makes him a defensive play this time around.  Still, it’s the Castellano/Pletcher jockey/trainer team that’s winning one of every five races they enter and cracking the top three nearly half the time.  A mildly surprising winner of the G2 Suburban back on the Fourth of July Holiday, EFFINEX passed the Whitney and reappears in the G1 Woodward.  Something obviously went wrong two back in the G2 Brooklyn as he DNFed that day.  But discarding that leaves a runner with four starts, three wins, and two graded stakes trophies.  EFFINEX got a setup when COACH INGE was pressured on the front end last out in the Suburban and made the smoothest of outside runs to get past Tonalist on the tape.  Back to nine furlongs he goes, and EFFINEX would – like his stablemate – benefit if BAY OF PLENTY hooks up with LIAM’S MAP on the front of the Woodward.

Selections:

#1 WICKED STRONG (5/1)

#2 LIAM’S MAP (6/5)

#7 EFFINEX (4/1)

Longshot:  Both Ortiz brothers sit in the top five of the jockey standings at publish time.  Jose sits fourth behind his brother, Irad.  Jose takes a call for Todd Pletcher – a top four trainer at the meet and one who needs little introduction.  As a team, Jose and Todd have only worked together twice in the last two months but one time saw a win at high odds and the other time was a podium finish.  By that token alone, the horse with these humans is live.  #8 PROTONICO (12/1) is said horse.  The humans make this live but his resume this year is nothing to sneeze out: a throw-out race in the Donn, then a pair of wins in the G3 Ben Ali and G2 Alysheba.  PROTONICO can work from the lead as he did going gate to wire two back but showed over the Oaks Day dirt he doesn’t need the lead to work his magic.  With LIAM’S MAP functioning as the “A” entrant from Pletcher Enterprises, we go to one of his three “B” entrants and ride a hot jockey’s hand.

Saratoga Race Course — Race 11 — G3 Glens Falls Stakes — One and three-eighth miles on Inner Turf –post time 6:24 pm ET

In the latest example of local geography turned stakes namesake, the Glens Falls Handicap pays homage to the town of Glens Falls – located a half-hour’s drive north of the Spa.  Glens Falls as a community emerged as a checkpoint between wartime forts in the eighteenth century.  Glens Falls as a stakes came about much later, in 1996.  Three years later the race was given Grade Three ranking – which it carries in the 2015 renewal.  Two hundred thousand dollars is the purse in this stakes for fillies and mares going a three-turn eleven furlongs on the grass.  The race was washed off the turf three times in its history (2000, 2001, 2013).  Notable heroines include Honey Ryder (2005), who hit the podium in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf twice and Keertana (2008), a stakes nameplate at Churchill Downs.

The top four from the G3 Waya Stakes on Whitney Day take another spin on the Saratoga sod.  In that race at twelve furlongs, GOLDY ESPONY got to walk the dog on the front end through cozy splits.  The presence this time around of new-shooter CEISTEACH, who stood firm on the lead last out in the G3 Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware.  Those two on the front could pressure each other – think back a week to the Travers – and EASTERN BELLE could reap the rewards.  Second in the G3 Waya, EASTERN BELLE’s screams a horse with a bad case of seconditis.  But the cure could be getting a honest pace and a clean trip – something that she hasn’t gotten in her three starts since arriving stateside.  The pace did her in when she was behind CEISTEACH in the Keertana and behind GOLDY ESPONY in the G3 Waya, and going seven wide did her in two back in the G2 New York.  While she likely needs both to get off her skid, she gets the minimum of an honest pace projected. EASTERN BELLE features John Velazquez up for conditioner Graham Motion.  GOLDY ESPONY won the G3 Waya last going gate to wire cutting out controlling splits.  It was a carbon copy of her race in a listed stakes, the River Memories, at Belmont on the Independence Day Holiday weekend.  Perhaps she can control the pace again, but the presence of CEISTEACH could scramble her chances.  Still, she’s a Chad Brown trainee who could be primed for a repeat of her Waya – and trained up to it with him in the thick of a race for the training title.  Brown’s “B” entrant is REGARDEZ, and she gets a nod here.  The top Saratoga rider (as of publish time), Irad Ortiz climbs aboard.  REGARDEZ cleared the twice-other-than allowance condition last out at Saratoga.  This is her first start around three turns, but she’s Grade Three placed in Ireland (which shows perceived class) and is by Champs Elysses – who handled North American courses with aplomb and was a three turn G1 winner.  While she’ll need stablemate GOLDY ESPONY and CEISTEACH to get into a protracted duel, the paper pages suggest she’s got the back class and paternal breeding to handle a three-turn eleven furlongs.

Selections:

#3 EASTERN BELLE (3/1)

#6 GOLDY ESPONY (2/1)

#9 REGARDEZ (4/1)

Longshot: The G3 Glens Falls projects on pace to be a a two speed number.  As such, if one speed doesn’t go the other could be home free – and that’s dangerous on the Inner.  To put it another away If GOLDY ESPONY breaks badly or scratches, then #4 CEISTEACH (6/1) moves up.  Regardless, she’s a live runner.  Trainer Tom Proctor is a fine conditioner of grass fillies, as evidenced by Keertana – who won this race back in the day and proved to be a stakes nameplate.  In fact, two back CEISTEACH won the Keertana Stakes.  It may be circular, but CEISTEACH showed she can go on the front end and control terms when winning the G3 Dick Memorial at Delaware.  Working from the front was also how she won two back at Churchill.  Yet CEISTEACH doesn’t need the lead for success, as she showed a rating gear last fall at Arlington in a first-level allowance.

All videos courtesy NYRA/Youtube.

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