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The Saratoga Skinny: Woodward Target

The Saratoga Skinny: Woodward Target

Each week, we will bring you “The Saratoga Skinny” looking at the coming week of racing at Saratoga and looking back at the big action the week before. “The Saratoga Skinny” will be broken into five sections: The Break (looking at the biggest story of the week), The Turn (focusing on Stakes races on Saturdays), The Stretch (focusing on big races in the upcoming week), Going to the Whip (some thoughts on the week before and a few light-hearted jokes, when appropriate), and The Finish Line (discussing important events in Saratoga). Now that you know how “The Saratoga Skinny” works, let’s get into it!

The Break: One More Gun

It seems unlikely, but is there a way that Gun Runner loses the Grade 1 Woodward this Saturday at Saratoga?

The top-ranked horse both on this site and in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s weekly pool, Gun Runner has done little wrong this year, riding a win streak of two straight Grade 1s into the Woodward. Gun Runner’s powerful performance here in early August’s Grade 1 Whitney showed his dominance, and all reports are that the son of Candy Ride has trained well leading up to the Woodward for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

This is horse racing, though, and anything can happen (just ask Arrogate), so let’s dive into the field and try to dream up a scenario in which Gun Runner can get beat in the five-horse Woodward field:

Pletcher’s Duo

The most likely scenario that can take down Gun Runner may come from the ultra-hot Todd Pletcher barn with his double-headed monster of Neolithic and Rally Cry.

Neolithic ran third in the Grade 1, $12 million Pegasus World Cup to start the year at Gulfstream, then also finished third in the Group 1, $10 million Dubai World Cup in March. He was only 5 lengths behind Gun Runner, who was second behind Arrogate.

After the trip to Dubai, Neolithic suffered a respiratory infection and needed rest, though. He returned in a 7-furlong allowance race, sweeping to the lead late to win on Whitney Day while prepping for this Woodward try. Pletcher said way back before the Saratoga meet even started that the Woodward would be the main target for Neolithic. Neolithic can show speed or stalk, so he is very tactical if a speed duel develops early up front.

Rally Cry is another Pletcher runner that can be tactical, but he usually does his best running on the lead or just off the pace. In his first lifetime start at Saratoga the day after the Whitney in the non-graded Alydar Stakes, Rally Cry showed an affinity for the Spa dirt, crushing the field drawing off to win by 8 3/4 lengths. He covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.58, almost a second slower than Gun Runner’s 1:47.71 win in the Whitney the day before over the same distance. Using those numbers as a barometer, Rally Cry still has some ground to make up on Gun Runner, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a factor in the race by pressing Gun Runner early.

Gun Runner before Whitney (Photo: Michael Spector)

Loooch’s Try

Loooch Racing is entering War Story for trainer Jorge Navarro in the Woodward. This time, however, he won’t have a “rabbit” to take some energy out of Gun Runner early in this 1 1/8 mile dirt race like he did in the Whitney. Loooch entered Cautious Giant in the Whitney, and after setting only a moderate pace, he folded like a cheap tent and even threw a horseshoe at Gun Runner that got stuck in his tail!

None of those antics slowed Gun Runner’s march to the Whitney winners’ circle, and with a little help from the New York stewards, Gun Runner won’t have to worry about a rabbit in the Woodward.

The New York stewards did not allow Loooch to enter May B in the Woodward and gave no reason as to why they wouldn’t allow a perfectly fit horse to enter. May B had run in a $35,000 claiming race last out at Del Mar, but that shouldn’t preclude Loooch from having the opportunity to run him in the Woodward if all entry fees were paid. Discussing this here is a moot point, but it is a peculiar situation.

War Story will have to rely on Rally Cry to do some early damage to Gun Runner if he wants to have a chance at making up ground on him. He finished a steady fourth in the Whitney, 13 1/2 lengths behind Gun Runner.

War Story before the Whitney with Javier Castellano up (Photo: Michael Spector)

Discreet Lover, for trainer Uriah St. Lewis, has also entered the Woodward, but after finishing 14 3/4 lengths behind Gun Runner, there’s little hope that he will be able to defeat the top horse in training.

Who Wins Woodward?

If Rally Cry puts pressure on Gun Runner early, then maybe it sets up for Neolithic to make a run late on Gun Runner. The key item to acknowledge here is that Gun Runner has developed from just being a front-running horse and has shown an ability to relax, stalk, and pounce this year. Regular rider Florent Geroux will bide his time on Gun Runner and his top-caliber colt should fire off of this four-week layoff.

Still, betting Gun Runner at possibly 3/5 odds or lower is not the way to make money in the race, and placing a few wagers with Neolithic in the win slot may pay big dividends if he were to upset the Woodward. Playing both Gun Runner and Neolithic in multi-race wagers (weighing your bets accordingly) is a good approach on a stakes-laden card.

Neolithic hanging around his Saratoga stall in the Pletcher barn (Photo: Michael Spector)

The Turn: Woodward Day

Speaking of that stakes-laden card, the Grade 1 Spinaway for juvenile fillies running 7 furlongs on the dirt is the main highlight leading up to the Woodward.

The probable top two betting interests in this rendition of the Spinaway will come from top trainers Pletcher and Chad Brown and may help decide the Saratoga trainers title. Tied with 33 wins apiece coming into the final week of the meet, Pletcher entered Pure Silver, while Brown enrolled Separationofpowers.

The undefeated (3-for-3) New York-bred Pure Silver looks to move forward off of her dominant 9 1/2-length win in the Grade 2 Adirondack here on August 12. That win was at 6 1/2 furlongs, and the daughter of Mission Impazible will stretch out an extra 1/2-furlong here off only a three week lay-off.

One of the top juvenile performances of the meet so far came when Separationofpowers broke her maiden on debut by 11 3/4 lengths on July 30 going 6 furlongs. Sired by Candy Ride out of an Empire Maker mare, she should have plenty of distance pedigree to stretch out the extra furlong in her second career race.

Others entered in the Spinaway include Lady Ivanka (for Rudy Rodriguez), Maya Malibu (for Graham Motion), and Obvious Two (owned by Loooch and trained by Anthony Quartarolo).

The Woodward card also includes the Grade 3 Saranac, where Brown has Bricks and Mortar trying to pick up his second win of the meet after flying late to win the Grade 2 Hall of Fame over Yoshida, who is entered here by trainer Bill Mott. Pletcher brings Master Plan into the Saranac after he was on the Kentucky Derby trail earlier this year but has recently moved to turf. Pletcher also enters Caviar Czar for celebrity chef and owner Bobby Flay. Others entered include Makarios (Nick Zito), Mo Maverick (George Weaver), Mr. Havercamp (Catherine M. Day Phillips), and Rocketry (Jimmy Jerkens). Linda Rice’s Voodoo Song will be looking for an unprecedented fourth win in this Saratoga meet.

The Grade 3 Glens Falls features the Grade 3 Waya winner Estrechada for trainer Mike Puype, who won that race on the Whitney Day undercard. Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks winner Harmonize looks like a top choice for trainer Bill Mott and brings lots of back class, recently finishing fourth in both the Grade 1 Diana at Saratoga and the Grade 1 Just A Game at Belmont. Others entered include Grateful (Pletcher), Happyness (Motion), Lottie (Motion), Sarandia (Peter Schiergen), Summersault (Mark Hennig), Sweet Sandy (Danielle Hodsdon), and War Flag (Shug McGaughey).

Woodward Day Wagering Strategy

If you’re playing the all-stakes Pick-4 on Saturday at the Spa, you better be betting heavy to make a profit. The minimum $0.50 bet ain’t getting it done and spreading is not helping your cause. You better be prepared to bet $2 Pick-4s at a minimum and maybe dawdle into playing $5 or $10 straight Pick-4s with Gun Runner singled.


The Stretch: Hopeful Future

The Grade 1 Hopeful on Monday, September 4, ends the 2017 Saratoga meet and gives us a glimpse into the future as top juveniles get ready for a possible path to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

Firenze Fire (for trainer Jason Servis) was able to hold off Dale Roman’s Free Drop Billy in the Grade 3 Sanford to start the Saratoga meet and will likely headline the Hopeful field in this rematch.

Pletcher has two bullets likely to enter here: Mojovation and National Flag, both of whom won at Saratoga earlier in the meet. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will look for a remarkable eighth win in the Hopeful when he enters Sporting Chance, who also won over the Saratoga strip earlier in the meet.

Others likely to enter include Givemeaminit (Dallas Stewart), Oskar Blues (Ken McPeek), and Psychoanalyze (Brian Lynch).

Going to the Whip: Travers Day Roundup

Trainer Dallas Stewart had been pointing top mare Forever Unbridled to the Grade 1 Personal Ensign since early June, even saying before her return win in the Grade 2 Fleur De Lis that Saratoga was a major target. Stewart’s advanced planning may have been the difference when Forever Unbridled beat Songbird on Saturday by a neck.

If Practical Joke can go on to win the Grade 2 Kelso, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, he may be the top choice for 3-Year Old Male of the Year. His win in the Grade 1 Jerkens showed that he is by far the best 3-year old in the country around one turn. It will be interesting to see if he can take on elders with as much success.

Even though I didn’t make him my top pick, I wrote in The Saratoga Skinny last week that you had to include West Coast on your tickets based solely on the premise that you can’t get beat by Baffert in the Travers.

There’s nothing more to say about Lady Eli. Words cannot capture her story; maybe a movie will one day.

Photo: Joe Labozzetti/NYRA

The Finish Line: Run For The Horses

This Saturday, September 2, the Orenda Pavilion in the Saratoga State Park will host the eighth annual Run For The Horses 5K run/walk to benefit several area horse rescue organizations that comprise Racehorse Aftercare Charitable Endeavors of Saratoga (RACES).

Pre-registration is currently available for the 5K ($27.50) and Kids’ Fun Run ($7.50) here. Online registration for the Kids’ Fun Run closes on Friday. Onsite registration for just the 5K ($30) starts at 7 a.m. Post time for the Kids’ Fun Run is 8 a.m. and the 5K at 8:30 a.m.

Awards are given to the top three finishers in each age division, plus a canine division.

The Run for the Horses will benefit both the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and RACES that include the following organizations: ACCT Naturally, Heading for Home, Old Friends at Cabin Creek, and Saratoga Warhorse.

I’m planning to get my wife, baby and dog out there on Saturday morning, so maybe I’ll see you there!

I hope you enjoyed reading “The Saratoga Skinny” all meet long! This will be the last Skinny for a while so keep up-to-date all year round on my horse racing views by following me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim. Thanks once again for the kind words that people have sent me over Twitter all meet long!

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