We approach the final weekend at Saratoga with some major graded stakes remaining in the Capital Region, including a last look at Gun Runner before the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
One of the biggest races during the Saratoga meeting takes center stage on Saturday afternoon. The $750,000 million Grade 1 Woodward Stakes for 3-year-olds and upward drew five horses, including Whitney winner 2-Gun Runner (pictured).
The horse to beat and current leader in the NTRA polls, is coming off a win in the Whitney earlier in the meet when he drew off by 5 ¼-lenghts against six other rivals. The 4-year-old son of Candy Ride was established as the clear 2-5 favorite by morning line oddsmaker Travis Stone. He'll look to become the first horse since Lawyer Ron in 2007 to complete the Whitney-Woodward double at the Spa.
The final Saturday card of the meet will also host the Grade 3 Saranac, the Grade 3 Glens Falls and the Grade 1 Spinaway. Fox Sports 2 and MSG+ will carry the races live in a two-and-a-half hour telecast starting at 3:30 p.m. So if you’re headed down to the Wing Fest this afternoon, set your DVR to watch when you return home.
Trainer, jockey and owner categories will be decided this weekend for the Saratoga meet. After Friday’s races, Jose Ortiz (54) holds a four-race advantage over brother Irad in the jockey standings. Chad Brown (37) holds a two-win edge over perennial meet favorite Todd Pletcher (35) in the training category. Michael Dubb (12) trails Klaravich/Lawrence (13) by one in owner wins.
Last year at this point, Jose was up 6, Brown up 2 and Dubb up one over the same rivals. Pletcher has nine in today and Brown has seven races. The Ortiz brothers are both scheduled to ride in 11 races today.
The Grade 3 Saranac (Race 9) on paper looks like a duel between 4-Bricks and Mortar (8-5) and 2-Yoshida (5-2), but Woodbine shipper 1-Mr. Havercamp (8-1) looks to be live for the Phillips barn who rarely ships in to Saratoga. It kicks off the all-stakes Pick-4 that includes the Spinaway, Woodward and Glens Falls.
The Spinaway also looks like a two-filly race with 4-Pure Silver (Even) and 1-Separationofpowers (6-5) (a Pletcher vs. Brown matchup) squaring off in the Grade 1 race for 2-year-old fillies. If the pace melts down, look for 3-Lady Ivanka (9-2) to pick up the pieces.
The Woodward looks to be a walk for Gun Runner, but the Spa isn’t known as the Graveyard of Favorites for no reason. It would be a monumental upset by any of the four challengers. I give 1-Neolithic (6-1) the best shot of the four based on class alone. It will be Gun Runner’s final prep before the Classic, as the connections plan to train him up to the $6 million race at Del Mar on Nov. 4.
That means the Jockey Club Gold Cup may factor as a big race in the 3-year-old division since the best older horse is passing on the race. The race has been mentioned as a possible stop for Travers winner West Coast. It is the main opportunity on the NYRA circuit for 3-year-olds to face older on Oct. 7 at Belmont Park.
The Grade 3 Glens Falls is a complete puzzle and I could see going seven deep in the Late Pick-4 (and may have to). It’s a competitive race with several who ran in the Waya earlier in the meet and some newcomers. I’ll favor 8-Harmonize (7-2), but 7-Sarandia (9-2) did not disappoint in the Beverly D at Arlington last month.
Speaking of Woodbine, looks like Plate runner Aurora Way (5-2) will look for some class relief in an allowance in Toronto later this afternoon in Race 9.
We’ll close the post with a tip of the cap to Songbird, the marvelous filly that won 13-of-15 career races, several that yours truly was able to witness. She was retired this week due to injury, following her narrow loss to Forever Unbridled last weekend in the Personal Ensign.
One of her best races was one of her two losses in last year’s Distaff to Beholder. I was watching on the apron as the 3-year-old was nipped at the wire by the three-time champion. She’ll take her place on Union Avenue when she becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.