It is closing weekend at Saratoga, which will be highlighted by the $750,000 Grade 1 Woodward Stakes for older horses Saturday.
A field of nine is set to go the 1 1/8-mile trek around the Saratoga Race Course main track. The Woodward is set for Race 11 with a post time of 6 p.m. EDT.
The 12-race Woodward Racing Festival card also features the Grade 2, $250,000 Prioress in Race 3; the Grade 3, $200,000 Saranac in Race 6; and the Grade 2, $250,000 Glens Falls in Race 10. First post is 12:30 p.m.
The Woodward will be the centerpiece of Saturday's Saratoga Live broadcast airing on FS2 from 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Trainer, jockey and owner categories will be decided this weekend for the Saratoga meet. After Thursday’s races, Jose Ortiz (52 wins) holds a four-race advantage over his brother, Irad (48), in the jockey standings. Chad Brown (38) holds a huge lead over Todd Pletcher (15) in the training category. Klaravich Stables has the lead in the owner category with 17.
Let’s take a closer look at the Woodward by post position (trainer, jockey, ML odds in parenthesis):
1 – Mr. Buff (Kimmel, Lezcano, 8-1). This NY-bred comes out of back-to-back state-bred wins on the front end for trainer John Kimmel. He picks up Jose Lezcano after Junior Alvarado, who rode both of those wins, decided to take the mount on Preservationist. The son of Friend Or Foe will likely be dueling with that horse early. Counting on the class hike to catch up to him and fade in late stretch.
2 – Bal Harbour (Pletcher, Castellano, 15-1). You can’t discount Javier Castellano at big races at the Spa, but he’s got his work cut out aboard the Monmouth shipper and son of First Samurai. He ran a game second to War Story on Haskell day in the Monmouth Cup, but waters are much deeper at the Spa.
3 – Vino Rosso (Pletcher, Velazquez, 7-2). Travers winning jockey John Velazquez has been on a roll and will try to finally get this one across the wire first at the Spa. Was wide most of the way in the Whitney and a better trip getting to the rail and making his late run is his best shot. Pletcher makes the equipment change and is 23 percent when taking the blinkers off. Comes in second off the layoff and could be sitting on a big one. Proved he is Grade 1 quality with his win in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. Dangerous.
4 – Mongolian Groom (Ganbat, Saez, 15-1). Wheels back two weeks after a big effort in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar and gets an aggressive rider in Luis Saez. A solid use underneath in the exotics after watching his run at Del Mar. Connections not shipping him across the country to run a clunker. Sneaky.
5 – Preservationist (Jerkens, Alvarado, 7-2). Will need to change tactics and not get caught in a speed duel and fade like he did in the Whitney. Seems suited for longer distances than nine furlongs, but he is a speedy 6-year-old and wouldn’t surprise if he pulled the upset. He’ll be a better price than Whitney day, but chances he gets hooked early again gives me pause.
6 – Forewarned (St. Lewis, Salgado, 30-1). Longshot son of Flat Out who loved the New York tracks. He appears to be a cut below the top horses in this race and it showed in the Whitney. This barn isn’t afraid of taking a shot, though, and will need a big meltdown to make any noise in the exotics.
7 – Yoshida (Mott, Rosario, 5-2). The son of Heart’s Cry finally hit the board since winning last year’s edition of this race. He looked to be showing the effects of the trip to Dubai in March at Churchill in the Foster, but showed himself well in the Whitney with a late run after the pace melted down. He hasn’t run solidly back-to-back in some time and draws the tepid favorite role. Not totally sold on him.
8 – Wooderson (Pletcher, Ortiz, 12-1). Third Pletcher starter in the race, who just missed catching the Tom’s d’Etat in his last start at double-digit odds. Meet leading jockey Jose Ortiz is in the irons on the Awesome Again colt, who shows a big workout Aug. 23. Rounding into form at the right time and if you throw out the Suburban, he’s had a pretty good year. Contender.
9 – Tom’s d’Etat (Stall, Ortiz, Jr., 4-1). Horse for the course at Saratoga with a 3-for-3 lifetime mark, but this is the first time facing Grade 1 company at the Spa. Impressive win in the Alydar and his running style seems to fit this group, especially if Mr. Buff and Preservationist hook up early. Likely will be stalking the leaders before making his move at the quarter pole. The son of Smart Strike, owned by Mrs. Benson’s racing stable (GMB Racing), has had a good year so far and he should be very competitive against this crew. Close to getting the nod.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Vino Rosso; 2 – Tom’s d’Etat; 3 - Wooderson; 4 – Mongolian Groom
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.