Older horses will seek their final chance to win a graded stakes at the prestigious Saratoga Race Course meet when a field of nine assembles for Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward presented by NYRA Bets in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Named in honor of William Woodward Sr., who owned the prestigious Bel Air Stud, the 1 1/8-mile event over the main track has been used as a resume builder on recent Horse of the Year campaigns for the likes of Cigar, Skip Away, Mineshaft, Ghostzapper, Saint Liam, Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, Havre De Grace and most recently, Gun Runner. Inaugurated at Aqueduct and previously run at Belmont Park, the Woodward has been contested at the Spa since 2006.
G M B Racing's Tom's d'Etat will attempt to keep his undefeated record at Saratoga alive while also looking to net his first graded stakes win. The lightly-raced 6-year-old son of Smart Strike has won all three of his starts at Saratoga, which include a maiden victory at third asking in August 2016, a nine-length victory against winners the following year where he garnered a career best 106 Beyer Speed Figure and defeated stakes winners Far From Over and Bodhisattva. In his most recent start, he won the Alydar on August 2 at Saratoga.
“We've hit everything we've wanted to hit. He's been training over the Oklahoma training track with two nice breezes and seems pretty comfortable over there,” Stall Jr. said. “We've always felt he has Grade 1 talent, we just hope he has the chance to prove it. The New York-bred [Mr. Buff] is in there with some speed, so we definitely want a stalking trip. We don't have any interest in being on the lead. He did that in a couple of races and we feel like he's a better finisher coming from off the pace with a target.”
A two-time stakes winner, Tom's d'Etat won his stakes debut in December in the Tenacious at Fair Grounds. Prior to the Alydar, he was twice graded stakes placed at Churchill Downs when finishing second in the Grade 2 Alysheba and third in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster.
Bred in Kentucky by SF Bloodstock, Tom's d'Etat is out of the stakes winning Giant's Causeway broodmare Julia Tuttle, whose dam Candy Cane is a full-sister to multiple champion producing stallion Candy Ride.
Tom's d'Etat will leave from post 9 under two-time Saratoga leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr., who seeks his first Woodward victory.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has saddled three Woodward winners in Lawyer Ron (2007), Quality Road (2010) and Liam's Map (2015) and will send out a trio of contenders for this year's Woodward.
Already a Grade 1 winner, Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable's Vino Rosso won the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita in May and was a recent third behind McKinzie in the Grade 1 Whitney. The chestnut son of 2008 Woodward winner Curlin has recorded two works since the Whitney, the most recent being a five-furlong bullet in 58.60 over the main track on Friday morning – the fastest of 22 recorded works at the distance.
“He breezed super on Friday,” Pletcher said. “It was a real strong breeze. He came out of it with some good energy and has been galloping well this week. It seems like he's in good form. I think he's become a more consistent workhorse, although I thought his last breeze was arguably the best breeze he ever had. He galloped out real strongly and looks great. His appetite has been good and his energy has been good.”
Pletcher said he looks forward to giving Vino Rosso another chance to become a multiple Grade 1-winner.
“It would be another Grade 1 and it's a prestigious race with a horse that's a big-time stallion prospect,” Pletcher said. “It would be another feather in his cap and he looks great.”
Vino Rosso will emerge from post 3 under Hall of Famer John Velazquez, a four-time winner of the Woodward.
Pletcher also will saddle Let's Go Stable's Wooderson, who was a recent second behind Tom's d'Etat in the Alydar.
The son of Awesome Again and half-brother to 2009 Horse of the Year and Woodward winner Rachel Alexandra has won three times, one of which was a third out graduation at Saratoga last July.
“It was a good race. He was closing a bit at the end but just got there too late,” Pletcher said of the Alydar effort. “He's a horse that we figured would get better with age all along and it seems like he's starting to find his rhythm.”
Two-time Saratoga leading jockey Jose Ortiz will guide Wooderson from post 8.
Rounding out the Pletcher trio is Bal Harbour, who recorded a career-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure when finishing second by a head to War Story in the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup in July.
Owned by Red Oak Stable, the chestnut son of First Samurai seeks his first graded stakes win, but has been a stakes winner three times having notched wins in the 2017 Sapling at Monmouth, the 2017 Smooth Air at Gulfstream and the 2018 Gio Ponti at Aqueduct.
“He lost a tough one to a warrior in War Story,” Pletcher said. “He's training great, so we'll see what he does.”
Bal Harbour will break from post 2 under two-time Saratoga leading rider and Hall of Famer Javier Castellano who seeks his third Woodward triumph.
Hall of Famer Bill Mott will send out Yoshida in search of a record fifth Woodward victory for the conditioner.
Owned by China Horse Club, WinStar Farm and Head of Plains Partners, Yoshida won last year's Woodward and will attempt to be the first horse to score back-to-back triumphs since Lido Palace [2001-02]. The 5-year-old Japanese-bred son of Heart's Cry, out of graded stakes winner Hilda's Passion, was second in the Grade 1 Whitney last out and boasts the highest lifetime earnings in the field with $2,370,770. The well-rounded Yoshida owns Grade 1 triumphs on both dirt and turf. Three starts prior to winning last year's Woodward, he won his 4-year-old debut in the Grade 1 Old Forester Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.
Jockey Joel Rosario will pilot Yoshida from post 7.
Chester and Mary Broman's Mr. Buff has found plenty of success against his New York-bred counterparts but will seek his first graded stakes victory when breaking from the rail. The gelded chestnut son of Friend Or Foe is a four-time stakes winner, last out taking the Evan Shipman over the Spa main track in runaway fashion. He captured the Jazil against open company on January 26 at Aqueduct, where he recorded a 102 Beyer.
Mr. Buff is trained by John Kimmel, who saddled Premium Tap to a Woodward victory in 2006. He will be piloted by Jose Lezcano.
Completing the field for the Woodward are Mongolian Groom [post 4, Luis Saez], Preservationist [post 5, Junior Alvarado] and Forewarned [post 6, Anthony Salgado].
The Woodward is slated as Race 11 on Saturday's 12-race Woodward Racing Festival card, which 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.
The Woodward will be the centerpiece of Saturday's Saratoga Live broadcast airing on FS2 from 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern, and regionally on MSG+ from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern.
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