The Woodward (Grade 1)- $750.000 Purse
SAR- For Three Year Olds and Upward
One Mile and One Eighth on the Dirt
September 2, 2017
Hello again, everyone! It’s been an adventurous four weeks for me since I last covered a race, but am back now in full swing. Went on a road trip, as well as moving to a new state, so I am no longer just a short drive away from Saratoga Race Course. Still close, but now it’ll be about a two hour drive. Perhaps then it is fitting that I return to this coverage by looking at the final weekend of big racing at our virtual Saratoga. Saturday will feature the 12th running of the Grade 1 Woodward at the Spa, and as expected, it features a field that is a who’s who of the current state of HRP. The main story with this field will center around A One, who looks to win the race for the second consecutive year. If he were to do so, he would join the great Whats Up as the only horses to have won this race two years in a row. There is no reason to think that he cannot do this, as he comes off of two straight wins, but he has some tough company to go up against. Of course, we always have to mention here in the SRF the advantage that three year olds have in the game. Stu wrote a fantastic piece covering the issue with this survey, and this race should provide a good example as to how big that advantage is. Let’s get ready for a fantastic race. It’s a field of ten, here they are!
#1- A One (Eastern Equine, ridden by J R Velazquez)- We don’t have to wait to get right to the top story of the race, which is A One’s effort to repeat as Woodward champion. Interestingly, he gets Velazquez back in the saddle for this race, and we’ll see if they recapture their magic together. The jockey has only ridden A One twice, with R J Albarado and R Bejarano being his most common riders, but the Woodward was one of them. In 2017, A One has remained on top of the game with two wins in four starts, upping his career total to nine. Those wins, coming in the Gold Cup at SA in May and the Suburban Handicap at BEL in July, are also in his last two starts, and he has never won three straight in his career so far. His consistency throughout his career has been impressive, and we should look forward to seeing him run and attempting to do something only Whats Up has done.
#2- Port On The Horizon (D J C Racing Stables, ridden by R J Albarado)- The veteran gelding will make the 30th start of his career in the Woodward, and the trainer is hoping that it will lead to his first victory in what has now been over a year and a half. Despite the 14-race winless streak, Port On The Horizon has still put forth some competitive efforts at this level, and has hit the board in three of seven this year. It is only a matter of time that he breaks through in the win column again, but against the company that he faces today, I do not think this will be that race. If he were to win, it would be a huge confidence boost going forward.
#3- Rajivs Roadblock (Night Rider Stables, ridden by R Maragh)- This five year old has had a very successful 2017, starting with a thrilling come from behind win in the SSM Classic at GP in January. That was the first of three races that he would win this year, as he has also seen victories in the Grade 3 Ali and Grade 2 Eclipse. It would be incorrect for me to say that he hasn’t taken on a field on this caliber before, but he just hasn’t been able to show the same ability in those races, such as the Grade 1 SA Handicap, or his most recent race, the Grade 1 Foster. He’s a great horse at the level just underneath the one he competes at here, but hasn’t really been beaten the purely elite horses that he sees here. That said, he deserves the chance.
#4- Crop Duster (Mb Stables, ridden by J L Ortiz)- Joined the Mb Stables army on the 13th of this month, immediately following his last race, where the three year old finished second in the Grade 2 Longacres Mile at EMD. The price to acquire him was a hefty one, $600.000! Given the strength of his stable, that shows a tremendous vote of confidence in Crop Duster by Mb Stables. He’s won three of eleven so far in his career, and was very impressive two race ago in the Grade 3 IA Derby, where he jumped out to a five length lead early, and only gave up a length of that cushion, winning by four. Some will say the appeal is in his tactical style, but Crop Duster proved he can win at this level in that race. He’ll likely be on the lead early, but not because he’s playing rabbit, but because that’s where he’s most likely to win from.
#5- Clash Study (Smokey Stover, ridden by R Bejarano)- It’s been very interesting over the last few months to watch Clash Study rise through the ranks, increase his distance, and continue to win. The three year old Gsin gelding comes into this race on a six race winning streak, which is impressive enough, but what I really like about the streak, is that the trainer has not settled into one specific distance or style for him, with steady increases in class. The run started modestly at 5 ½ furlongs, and has now advances all the way up to his taking the Grade 3 WV Derby in his last start. As he has also won a Grade 2, there is only step up to go for him, and that would be winning a Grade 1. It’s a challenge, given the likes of A One, Atomic Twister, Carneyman, and more are in this field, but every time that Smokey Stover has asked Clash Study to give him a little more, the horse has responded. He shows a ton of heart in winning those races, as well, so he will do the same against this crowd. Of course, his three year old weight advantage comes into play and must be mentioned, but it goes far beyond that with Clash Study. I am excited to see what he does here. I’m looking elsewhere for my winner, but that’s not a slight on him.
#6- Edwin Drood (Sanny Village, ridden by J Talamo)- He’s been lightly raced this year, with just two starts in 2017, and both of them have been great. Earlier this month, he took part in the Grade 1 Whitney here at the Spa, and finished second on the muddy surface that in a day in a come from behind effort. His only other start was a win, coming in late April in the CT Classic. There is no denying that Edwin Drood fresh, and there be some sort of advantage in that for this race. I also like his consistency a lot, as he has scored triple digit SRF’s in seven of his last eight races. Talamo is becoming his regular rider as well, so that should also be a plus.
#7- Carneyman (John Henry, ridden by J Lezcano)- Since he has remained successful with good finishes along the way, it is hard to believe that it has been over a year now since Carneyman has gone to the winners circle. He’s done everything but that for trainer John Henry, who purchased him in September for $600.000. This will be the first time that Carneyman has raced at SAR, and maybe that will be the piece that gets him a win for John Henry. He’s been second three times this year, and has been within a length in five of his last eight starts. It’s a clear case of him doing everything but win, and just needs the racing gods to look over him a bit more here.
#8- Atomic Twister (Blushing Meadows, ridden by I Ortiz Jr)- Up next is one of the best horses in the game who continues to get it done. Atomic Twister won the first race of his career, albeit with his middle name also known to the racing world, right here at the Spa, so this track will always hold a special place in his heart. I Ortiz Jr was aboard that day as well. Since then, Atomic Twister has gone on to win many bigger races, including the Wood Memorial and the SA Handicap last year, both Grade 1’s. That was the lead up to the biggest race of them all, the BC Classic, which also saw him win. Interestingly, the Woodward has been very favorable to BC Classic winners over the years. Both Whats Up and Maruzenky ended up winning the Woodward in the year that followed their BC Classic triumph. For Whats Up, that’s referencing his 2009 Classic win, and 2010 Woodward win. He would also win the 2011 Classic after winning the 2011 Woodward. So, if Atomic Twister were to win, that’s another title of Whats Up that he could end up winning down the road. There’s no reason to doubt Atomic Twister, either. His last race was spectacular, in winning the Whitney here earlier in the meet. I do not think he will be beaten in his race.
#9- Grounded In Reality (Mb Stables, ridden by A A Gallardo)- The three year old Commanding gelding looks to make a name for himself here as he takes on the toughest competition of his young career. In seven starts, he has two wins, but has been in the money in five of them. His best race to this point was a very promising second place finish in the BG Stakes, but he was never able to follow up on that Grade 2 win. He went up north after that to run in the ON-bred Steady Growth, but did not beat any of his competitors in that race with an overall disappointing effort. That derailed him from further advancement of his career. Grounded In Reality comes off an optional claiming win, but this is a real tough assignment. Though you never count out anything from this stable, especially a three year old.
#10- Rush Henrietta (Mb Stables, ridden by F Pennington)- What the heck has happened to this one? Well, I’m glad to see it, and it shows that there were plenty of bargains out there when I sold out everything. That said, he still only has $17.180 in career earnings so I can’t proclaim him as a stud that I sold cheaply yet. It does look like he developed after the sale, so I can’t feel bad about it. If he thrives, he’s in the right stable to do so. For this race, he is a longshot, but the fact that he was gelded leading up to the race is interesting. We’ll see how it goes. And if anyone is wondering, the name is derived from one of the best school districts in the Rochester, NY area, named while I was in Rochester on a business trip.