The Grade 1, US$750,000 Woodward Stakes drew a field of nine in which all but two -- Yoshida and Vino Rosso -- could become top-level winners for the first time on Saturday at Saratoga.
Yoshida won last year's Woodward and Vino Rosso shipped west earlier this season to take the Gold Cup at Santa Anita.
The 1 1/8-mile Woodward will be run as Race 11 out of 12 with post time scheduled for 6 p.m. ET. Here's an early analysis of the Woodward field with projected morning line odds by Horse Racing Nation.
1) Mr. Buff [ML 20-1 – Friend or Foe – J. Kimmel/J. Lezcano – 30: 10-6-4 - US$678,786] This New York-bred is hard to beat when running in restricted company. He comes into the Woodward off two straight wins by a combined margin of almost 10 lengths. He also registered a victory in open company last January at Aqueduct in front-running style. Mr. Buff may influence the early Woodward pace, but he is unlikely to be around at the end. Toss.
2) Bal Harbour [ML 15-1 – First Samurai – T. Pletcher/J. Castellano – 16: 5-4-2 - US$388,755] The connections of Bal Harbour considered going to the Pacific Classic (G1) after he ran a narrow second in the Monmouth Cup (G3) behind the veteran War Story. However, they opted to give the gelding more time between races and go the shorter trip to Saratoga. He does have stakes victories to his credit at Aqueduct in 2018 and also twice as a 2-year-old. Seeming to like added distance this season, he'll still need to prove he belongs with this bunch. Live longshot.
3) Vino Rosso [ML 7-2 – Curlin – T. Pletcher/J. Velazquez – 15: 5-0-3 - US$1,353,125] After that score at Santa Anita, he returned to New York for the Whitney (G1), in which a third had to be considered a disappointment, as he faded down the stretch when giving up more than four lengths to the winner, McKinzie. On his best day, he is always a threat to win. But he's without a victory in three starts at Saratoga. Note that Vino Rosso posted a five-furlong workout on Wednesday in :58 and change, which is a fast breeze from the Pletcher barn, and blinkers come off. Win contender.
4) Mongolian Groom [ML 12-1 – Hightail – E. Ganbat/L. Saez – 14: 2-2-3 - US$369,141] This year, the former $12,000 2-year-old purchase has hit the board in the three west coast graded stakes races. Most recently he ran third in the Pacific Classic (G1), which means he beat the four favorites in there at odds of 18-1 and all the east coast shippers. With the Older Male division lacking any semblance of consistency, the connections of Mongolian Groom decided to pay a supplemental fee and ship to Saratoga. It's tough to know what to expect from this gelding, who is in the best form of his career. Use underneath.
5) Preservationist [ML 4-1 – Arch – J. Jerkens/J. Alvarado – 9: 5-1-2 - US$637,300] Coming off his first stakes victory in the Suburban (G2), he was bet down to odds of 2.15-1 in the Whitney. On that day, he appeared washed out, and his tired fourth-place performance after setting the pace for six furlongs can be blamed on what happened before the gates opened. The Suburban was run at 10 furlongs, while the Woodward keeps him a bit shorter. Could the Jimmy Jerkens runner bring a top effort again? If you think so, you sure want much better odds than the 2-1 from last race. Toss.
6) Forewarned [ML 30-1 – Flat Out – U. St. Lewis/A. Salgado – 18: 6-4-0 - US$245,613] This Parx Racing-based 4-year-old shipped up to Saratoga to run in the Whitney and went off at 89-1. He was carried seven-wide in the final turn finished fifth. The Ohio-bred won a stake race at Thistledown in 2018. Toss.
7) Yoshida (JPN) [ML 2-1 – Heart’s Cry (JPN) – W. Mott/J. Rosario – 16: 5-4-0 - US$2,370,770] When it comes to Yoshida, you can throw out all of his past performances except those five races at Saratoga, because he seems to be at his best at the Spa. Of course, at the top of the list is his win in last year’s Woodward at odds of 6.20-1 over Gunnevera. The Bill Mott trainee also shows place finishes in the Whitney this year behind McKinzie at the beginning of the month and in the Saranac (G3) and the Hall of Fame (G2), both on the turf, in 2017. He did run a good fourth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic when beaten by only 1 ¾ lengths. Since moving to Saratoga in 2006, no horse has won the Woodward twice. Win contender.
8) Wooderson [ML 10-1 – Awesome Again – T. Pletcher/J. Ortiz – 9: 3-3-0 - US$171,830] The half-brother of Rachel Alexandra had the best race of his career when he ran second just a length behind Tom’s d’Etat in the recent Alydar Stakes. Prior to that, the Todd Pletcher trainee was a non-factor in two graded stakes and had three allowance victories to his credit. Use underneath.
9) Tom’s d’Etat [ML 7-2 – Smart Strike – A. Stall Jr./I. Ortiz Jr. – 13: 7-2-1 - US$716,892] Here's another who loves Saratoga. Tom’s d Etat has a perfect 3-for-3 record at the Spa. The lightly raced 6-year-old broke his maiden there as a 3-year-old, the following year he won an allowance, and in his most recent start he won the Alydar as an even money favorite. Before the Alydar, the son of Smart Strike hit the board in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster and Alysheba at Churchill Downs. He does his best running when he sits just behind the early pace. Top choice.
Summary: Tom’s d’Etat is a horse that I have liked since those races at Churchill Downs earlier in the year, and it was good to see him put the pieces together in the Alydar. I look forward to betting him at better odds than he had on that day. With Yoshida the likely favorite based on his win in this race last year, his second in the Whitney, and the popularity of trainer Bill Mott, I’d love to get 3-1 odds on Tom’s d’Etat.