We approach the final weekend at Saratoga with some major graded stakes remaining in the Capital Region.
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 a full field of 14 horses. That’s a big improvement over last year’s five-horse field due to the presence of Horse of the Year Gun Runner.
The final Saturday card of the Saratoga meet will also host the Grade 3 Saranac, the Grade 2 Glens Falls and the Grade 1 Spinaway. They will be the final four races in an all-graded stakes Pick 4.
One of four graded stakes, the Woodward, Race 11 with an approximate post time of 6:47 p.m., will be carried live nationwide on NBCSN as part of its broadcast from Saratoga from 5:30-7 p.m.
Trainer, jockey and owner categories will be decided this weekend for the Saratoga meet. After Thursday’s races, Irad Ortiz (48) holds a 12-race advantage over Javier Castellano in the jockey standings. Last year’s winner Jose Ortiz (35) has crept up into third after a rough start to the meet. Chad Brown (37) holds a huge lead over perennial meet favorite Todd Pletcher (18) in the training category.
The Woodward will be the stakes return of Gunnevera, shelved most of the year after his third-place finish in the Pegasus in January and dismal eighth in Dubai.
The 1-2 finishers of the Whitney have passed on the race. Diversify and Mind Your Biscuits will look elsewhere to move forward towards the Breeders’ Cup in November. With a full field of interesting competitors, it looks to be an excellent betting race, with the lowest odds on Gunnevera at 4-1.
Let’s take a closer look at the Woodward by post position (trainer, jockey, ML odds in parenthesis):
1 – Yoshida (Mott, Rosario, 5-1). Trying to duplicate Catholic Boy’s turf to dirt move from last weekend in the Travers, Mott will have this son of Heart’s Cry make the shift to the main track for the first time in his career. His last two fifth-place finishes don’t look as bad as they may seem just a couple lengths behind the winner. It’s hard to take a shot on his first time over the surface however. Will wait and see.
2 – Imperative (Quartarolo, Cohen, 30-1). This horse loves Charles Town. Unfortunately the race is in Saratoga. The 8-year-old war horse will try and put another feather in his cap in his 41st career race. The gelded son of Bernardini didn’t fire on the West Virginia Derby undercard and will make his first ever start at the Spa. He’s not impossible, but looking elsewhere.
3 – Patch (Pletcher, Saez, 20-1). Ran a solid third in the Alydar and you’ll have to keep an eye on this one. One of three TAP horses in the field, he gets third call rider Saez who’s had a so-so meet. If he keeps moving forward after his last effort he could be a factor in the exotics.
4 – Tapwrit (Pletcher, Velazquez, 6-1). Last year’s classic winner has only hit the board once in five tries since that win in the Belmont Stakes. He was a disappointing fourth in the Whitney finishing 10 lengths behind Diversify. He’s not exactly a horse for the course over the main track here (0-for-3) not hitting the board in any of his three races. Not seeing it.
5 – Hence (Asmussen, Santana, 20-1). On the other hand, the son of Street Boss comes in third off the layoff after two solid efforts east of the Mississippi. This trainer-jockey combo has a 26 percent strike rate in the last 60 days and looks like he’s sitting on a big race for Steve A. The 9-furlongs looks like his optimal distance and we like him to hit the exacta. Dangerous.
6 – Term of Art (Cox, Alvarado, 30-1). Three of the top four finishers in the Mountaineer Grade 3 race show up here. The second-place finisher (by a neck) to Leofric also comes in at the peak of the form cycle, where Cox is hitting at a 27 percent rate (62 percent ITM). Only his 0-for-3 and off the board at the distance makes me hesitate. He’s a toss, but he’s my last toss.
7 – Kurilov (Brown, Ortiz, 10-1). Ran a decent Alydar after four straight turf starts for Chad. He’s a tough one to figure out and he could move forward off that effort and proved he can handle the main track. I’m counting that the Mountaineer race was tougher than the non-graded stake here, so we’ll keep him way underneath in the exotics.
8 – Discreet Lover (St. Lewis, Franco, 8-1). Really hard to get behind 1-for-14 at the distance even with the sharp Parx workout on Aug. 21. Finished a well beaten third in the Whitney behind two of the top horses in the country over the sloppy track. Just can’t get past the record at the distance.
9 – Gunnevera (Sano, Zayas, 4-1). Has some past success over the Saratoga surface and comes in second off the long layoff since the Dubai World Cup. Will be the likely post time favorite and should be in the mix coming off his decent return in a tune-up at Gulfstream. Could easily win, but we’ll have him in the trifecta.
10 – Seeking the Soul (Stewart, Castellano, 9-2). One of the few Grade 1 winners in the field, last year’s Clark winner ran his first race since the Pegasus at Indiana Grand in July and was just headed out of a win. Castellano, who just wins big races at the Spa gets the mount and Dallas Stewart can end the meet on a high note. The pick.
11 – Leofric (Cox, Carmouche, 20-1). Has not missed the board since 2016 over his last eight races and comes in off the big Grade 3 win at Mountaineer in what looks like what could be a key race. The son of Candy Ride comes in third off the layoff for Cox, who sports the aforementioned solid stats under this scenario. Should not have a problem with the distance with the up-and-down Carmouche in the irons.
12 – Sunny Ridge (Servis, Ortiz, Jr., 8-1). Been away since early July when he won a non-graded stake at Belmont. Retains the meet leading jockey, which is a good sign. The 5-year-old son of Holy Bull wouldn’t surprise if he showed up underneath. The outside post could be a major hindrance going into the first turn, so we’ll sit this one out.
13 – Zanotti (Guerrero, Davis, 20-1). Big speed figures. Bad post. Little-known trainer. Bobbled at the start of what looks like a strong Monmouth Cup (G3). Can’t get past the outside post and the energy he may have to exert to get into position early. Son of Gio Ponti looks like a really nice horse.
14 – Rally Cry (Pletcher, Smith, 20-1). Mike Smith in to ride the morning line favorite in the Spinaway for Baffert, picks up the mount on last year’s runner-up to Gun Runner. The son of Uncle Mo will have to contend with the far outside post and the short run up to the clubhouse turn. He prepped with a sprint race earlier in the meet that did not work out as planned. He has back class, but need to see one before backing in a Grade 1.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Seeking the Soul; 2 – Hence; 3 - Gunnevera; 4 – Leofric
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.