Race Previews

Woodward Stakes Preview: A Handicapper’s Nightmare

Gunnevera Winning an Allowance Race at Gulfstream Park (Credit: Coglianese Photos/Lauren King)

A full field of 14 battle-tested horses are set to contest this Saturday’s 65th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga. The race will be one of four graded stakes on the last Saturday card of the 2018 Saratoga meet and will go off as the 11th of 12 on the day with an approximate post time of 6:47 PM ET. It shares the card with the Grade 1 Spinaway, the Grade 3 Saranac, and the Grade 3 Glens Falls. NBCSN will have live coverage of the day from Saratoga starting at 5:30 PM ET and ending at 7 PM ET.

The 2017 Travers Stakes runner-up Gunnevera enters off of a 6 1/2-length win against optional claimers on August 10 at Gulfstream Park. That was his first start since running eighth in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup on March 31 at Meydan. The Antonio Sano trainee will be running for the fourth time in 2018 after starting off his 4-year-old campaign by running third to Gun Runner in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational on January 27 at Gulfstream. This will be Gunnevera’s third trip to The Spa, having shipped here as a juvenile to win the Grade 2 Saratoga Special.

Trainer Todd Pletcher enters three horses, led by the 2017 Belmont Stakes champion Tapwrit. He will look to build off of a fourth-place effort last time out in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes in his fifth start since his Belmont victory. He will break from post 4 with John Velazquez aboard while still looking for his first win since the Belmont.

“I thought his two works since the Whitney were good, we’re hoping to catch a fast track and we think part of the reason he tired out in the Whitney was the sealed nature of the track,” Pletcher said. “He’s training where we wanted him to be, now we need him to step up and run the race he’s capable of. In training, he seems like he’s in as good of form as ever. Hopefully, the surface will make a difference this time.”

Seeking the Soul won an optional claimer on the Saratoga main track last summer, which soon led to a third in September’s Grade 3 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs before winning the Grade 1 Clark Handicap on the same track in November. Two races back, he was fifth in the Pegasus World Cup, then returned off of a six-month layoff to run second in the Michael G. Schaefer Memorial on July 14 at Indiana Grand.

The full field from the rail out: Yoshida, Imperative, Patch, Tapwrit, Hence, Term of Art, Kurilov, Discreet Lover, Gunnevera, Seeking the Soul, Leofric, Sunny Ridge, Zanotti, and Rally Cry.

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Top Choice

#9 Gunnevera – Sano is following a similar path to what he did last year when he brought Gunnevera to the Travers. He eased the colt into the race by running him in a small stakes at Gulfstream Park (which he won easily) before shipping to New York to run second. This year is more of the same, and there is no doubt that he can have a similar result in this spot. This race has not come up all that strong, and Gunnevera should be ready to fire a big one.

Horses to Use in Multi-Race Wagers

#10 Seaking the Soul – You can always count on trainer Dallas Stewart to show up with a nice horse in a race like this at Saratoga. In the second half of last year, this horse got hot, finishing third here before taking two in a row, including the Clark Handicap. He was a well-beaten fifth in the Pegasus World Cup, then was second in a small stakes at Indiana, which was clearly just a prep for this event. He should be ready to roll here.

#12 Sunny Ridge – You can count on this horse to always show up with a solid effort. He has hit the board in several big races against top-class company throughout his career. Last time out, he dominated rivals to win the $100,000 State Dinner Stakes at Belmont Park by 3 1/4 lengths, a race that should set him up well for the spot that he has been targeting ever since.

Exotic Plays

#8 Discreet Lover – This horse just continues to consistently out-run his odds, finishing third in back-to back races at odds of 41/1 and 38/1. As a bettor, that is all that you can ask for, as he can always be counted on to make you money. It is possible that he could do it again here, but you can bet that his odds will be lower. The competition is a little softer in this race, though, so perhaps he can actually compete for the win this time if everything goes right.

#4 Tapwrit – The Belmont winner is back to give it another go in a spot that is much softer than his last two races. After winning the Belmont, he hasn’t been close to winning, though, so he has to show us that form again. Pletcher continues to say that he is training well, which is why they keep trying him in big races. Last time out, he was a well-beaten fourth in the Whitney.

#7 Kurliov – Trainer Chad Brown moved Kurilov back to the dirt last time out after several races on the turf to start the year. The move seemed to work because he horse was a close second to Realm in the $100,000 Alydar Stakes. The decision to leave him on dirt is a smart one, and we might see improvement as he gets comforatable with the surface.

#13 Zanotti – It has been a year full of second-place finishes for this horse. He has been a runner-up in 5 of 6 starts while running in all types of spots and distances. This will be his toughest test, but this horse rarely throws in a dull effort. He looks like a player underneath once again, even though the race is very tough compared to what he has faced in the past.

Party Crashers

#1 Yoshida – This is the race’s major question mark. He is a world-class horse on the turf but tries the dirt for the first time. We could talk about his prior form on the turf, but really, none of that matters. The horse should be fit coming into the race, and if he can move his form over to the dirt, then he is the best horse in the race. It doesn’t happen like that often, but we saw Catholic Boy do it last week, as well as Good Samaritan last year. Based on that, you can’t throw Yoshida out.

Throw Outs

#11 Leofric – He comes into the race off of two straight wins and has won 3 of 4 overall this year. He always seems to come with a run in the end, but this is going to be a major ask for him, as this is a steep jump up in class. He has a solid turn of foot, but horses like Gunnevera and Seeking the Soul have a little bit more.

#2 Imperative – He is an ultra-consistent horse, no matter where you take him. His two starts in 2018 have just been so-so, but this is his third start off of the layoff, which is usually when an older horse is ready to show his best effort. At age 8, he definitely qualifies for that logic, and let’s not forget that just three races ago, he won the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic over decent horses. We know that he’s classy enough to make an impact here.

#14 Rally Cry – At one time, this horse would have been worth picking in this spot, but he has fallen off of his form in a big way. Last year, he won the $100,000 Alydar Stakes in impressive fashion, but he has not been within single-digit lengths of a win since then.

#6 Term of Art – He ran over his head for most of 2017 while failing to make much of an impact. He returned to run much better this year with an allowance win at Ellis Park, and a second last time out in the Grade 3 West Virginia Governor’s Cup. He will need to continue to progress if he wants to have a shot here.

#5 Hence – He got back to his winning ways last time out in the $200,000 Downs at Albuquerque Handicap, which was his first win since capturing last year’s Grade 3 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows. It was nice to see him back in the winner’s circle at Albuquerque, but Saratoga is a major class jump compared to that track. This spot is very ambitious.

#3 Patch – America’s favorite one-eyed horse gives it another try after finishing third in the Alydar last time out. He was only beaten a length in that spot, but he didn’t seem to be flying down the stretch. He is pace-dependent and will drop back and make one run in the end. If the pace is hot, perhaps he can jump up and hit the board.

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