2016 Fall Stars: Woodford Stakes Preview, and Saturday Picks

Opening weekend at Keeneland, with its stakes-laden Fall Stars cards, continues on Saturday.  We previewed Friday’s pair of graded stakes in a separate piece.  Here we move on to the meet’s second day, which features five graded stakes races replete with horses aspiring to go to the Breeders’ Cup.

We will have picks for all five graded races at Keeneland on Saturday, and detailed analysis of the Woodford Stakes (GIII).  Despite its Grade III rating, the Woodford is as classy a turf sprint as you’ll see in the United States outside the Breeders’ Cup.  It drew an overflow field of twelve, plus two also-eligible entries.  The field features major Breeders’ Cup contenders Mongolian Saturday and Undrafted.  In addition to Mongolian Saturday, there are three other locally connected horses in the field.  Bradlee Rainwater trainee Mongol Bull came in second in the Woodford behind No Nay Never two years ago.  And, trainer Scott Becker sends out a pair of runners who have won graded stakes at Arlington: 2013 Hanshin Cup (GIII) winner Hogy and 2015 Arlington-Washington Futurity (GIII) winner Shogood.

Three of the races offer Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In berths.  The Shadwell Turf Mile (GI) awards its winner with a ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, and the field includes 2016 Arlington Million (GI) winner (and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up) Mondialiste.  The Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (GII), a Win and You’re In for the Filly and Mare Sprint, drew another local graded stakes winner from this year: Chicago Handicap (GIII) winner Sarah Sis.  The Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (GI) offers a bid to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.  The race drew no locals, but it does feature Saratoga stakes winners Gunnevera and Bitumen, and Classic Empire will get a chance to redeem himself after his poor start in the Hopeful (GI) last out.

The First Lady Stakes (GI) and the aforementioned Woodford Stakes round out the graded portion of the program.  The First Lady features Tepin, in her final tune-up before her Breeders’ Cup Mile defense.  Locally based Secret Someone, third in the Modesty Handicap (GIII) earlier this summer, will also see the starter in the First Lady.

NBC will broadcast live from 5:00pm-6:00pm EDT; this broadcast will feature the Shadwell Turf mile and Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity from Keeneland, as well as the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) from Belmont.  Free live streams of Saturday’s graded stakes races at Keeneland, just as with all races there, run both on the Keeneland website as well as on the Horse Races Now mobile app.  Horse Racing Radio Network will broadcast on their website as well as on Sirius satellite radio channel 93 from 4:00pm-6:00pm EDT; this broadcast will feature graded stakes action from both Keeneland and Belmont.

Selections for the Woodford Stakes, the Shadwell Turf Mile, and the First Lady are for turf only.  Morning lines were not available at original publish time.  Edited Thursday, October 6 to add morning lines.  Updated Saturday, October 8 to account for the scratch of ALSVID in the Woodford, and to account for the changed post time after the Keeneland power outage.

Race 5: Woodford Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select (GIII), three-year-olds and up, five and a half furlongs on the turf, post time 4:00pm EDT

As with so many of the stakes races at Keeneland, the Woodford Stakes takes its name from a place nearby.  Keeneland itself is not in Woodford County, but renowned Thoroughbred breeding farms including Lane’s End Farm, Ashford Stud, Three Chimneys Farm, and WinStar Farm call it home.  The Woodford Stakes has been run at Keeneland since 1997, though it was named the Nureyev Stakes for its first six runnings.  It earned its current Grade III designation in 2009.  It has been contested at five and a half furlongs on the turf since its inception, except for 2015 when it washed to the dirt due to rain.

This year, Illinois-bred SHOGOOD will attempt to become the second horse bred in the Land of Lincoln to win the Woodford Stakes.  Durable mainstay Fort Prado won the 2007 running, and also finished third the next year.  Other winners of the Woodford who have also made their mark in local stakes include Chamberlain Bridge (2008), winner of the 2010 Arlington Sprint, and Havelock (2011, 2013), winner of both the 2011 Arlington Sprint and the 2012 Hanshin Cup (GIII).

Havelock makes a last-to-first run to win the 2013 Woodford Stakes.

MONGOLIAN SATURDAY is the one to beat here.  Yes, he has not raced since July, and he has had a disappointing handful of outings while trying the globetrotting thing.  But, this company is significantly softer than he faced at Sha Tin, Royal Ascot, or Newmarket.  The far outside gate should be no problem for MONGOLIAN SATURDAY, either; he had the 14 hole in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint last year and took home the top prize.  That Breeders’ Cup was over the same five and a half furlong trip here at Keeneland.  MONGOLIAN HOLIDAY is dependable enough to sit off the pace if he needs, and good enough to stay five and a half panels right near a hot pace.  And, MONGOLIAN SATURDAY has been working sharply going into this start.  The biggest question is the rider change to Carlos Montalvo, since he does not have the same kind of big race experience as his previous stateside rider Florent Geroux.  Still, it raises no red flags that Florent Geroux does not return to the irons: he is at Belmont to ride Sea Calisi and Beach Patrol.

With that out of the way?  The layoff and the rider change open up just enough room for error, and this space is going to try to beat him with a dependable old hand who has rounded back into some nice form this year: HOGY.

HOGY was second by a neck last out at Kentucky Downs, going six and a half furlongs.  Still, sprints at Kentucky Downs can be friendly to speed horses, and winner Successful Native went gate to wire.  And, HOGY is not just an extended sprinter.  In ten turf dash starts, he has five wins and two seconds.  Even though he was off the board in his one turf dash start this year, the race was his first off a seven-month lay, and he finished fourth beaten not even a length.  HOGY has two more races under him since then, both solid efforts, and should be sharper here than he was in the Mighty Beau.  HOGY has the tactical ability to sit just about anywhere off pace.  That helps him significantly, as there are several speedy types in this field (BUCCHERO, SHOGOOD, FRONT POCKET MONEY, MONGOLIAN SATURDAY, and CONDOMINIUM if he gets in off the AE list), but enough rating or pressing ability all around to avoid a complete collapse.  Finally, he has some success with rider Shaun Bridgmohan; Bridgmohan rode HOGY to a blowout allowance win at Churchill last fall.  All in all, HOGY is a solid horse at a square price, and he looks to be in the right form to upset this.

BIG ROCK makes his stakes debut here, after rattling off a pair of allowance wins at Saratoga.  Both of those victories came in five and a half furlong turf sprints.  Those were BIG ROCK’s first two tries going dash distances on the grass, and only his eighth and ninth career starts.  The four-year-old has had a light come on sprinting over turf, and trainer Christophe Clement comes here to see if his charge can continue that form.  BIG ROCK will have to improve from his last two here: the company is classier, and he does need a step forward speed-wise.  But, he is lightly enough raced to have further potential for improvement, and his stalking style should fit well in the race.

One horse who will take interest at the windows — but who this space is taking a stand against on top — is UNDRAFTED.  Leave him in your pocket for a month from now, perhaps: he showed in 2014 that he can handle the downhill course at Santa Anita nicely.  Six, six and a half furlongs?  That’s UNDRAFTED’s bag.  Five and a half, like he faces today?  It’s not his best.  Consider him underneath; his class may carry him to a piece.  But, for win wagers and multi-race tickets?  Avoid this underlay.


#7 HOGY (10/1)


#4 BIG ROCK (6/1)

Longshot: #10 GALTON (20/1) gets a serious class test here.  But, he comes in second off the lay, and his first race off that break was a decisive two-other-than win at Kentucky Downs.  Since that race, GALTON has posted a pair of sharp works, suggesting he will be ready for this.  Though he has more often been going long, he does have turf dash form, with two wins and a second in four tries.  He tends to rally from midpack in sprint races, a style that should work well here.  GALTON will have to take a step forward, but his race first off the lay was good enough to show he is back in good form, and a step forward from that gets him into the exotics at big odds.


Below are all of Nicolle Neulist’s picks for Saturday’s graded stakes at Keeneland. This will be updated as they finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment, or tweet us at @picksponderings!


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