• Paynter gallops at Spa
• Brown, Ramsey come full circle
• The Grey Express takes Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords Stakes
"He worked great Monday morning and jogged and walked fine Tuesday and Wednesday," the trainer said of Fort Larned, most recently fifth in the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap. "This morning, he was not 100 percent in his training. He was a little off behind. It's not serious, possibly a pulled muscle, but when you are competing against horses on this level, you have to be 100 percent."
Wilkes said the next likely start for Fort Larned, winner of the 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic, would be the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 28 at Belmont Park.
"We'll wait for that and go from there," said Wilkes.
With the defection of Fort Larned, who had been expected to be on or close to the pace, Eric Donovan, oddsmaker for The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA), made Paynter the 2-1 favorite for the 1 1/8-mile race.
Successful Dan is 5-2, followed by Flat Out (3-1), Mucho Macho Man (9-2), Ron the Greek (8-1) and Alpha (12-1).
Along with the Grade 1 Forego and the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch, the Woodward it will be shown live on the NBC Sports Network.
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Woodward morning-line favorite Paynter got a look at Saratoga on Thursday morning with an easy gallop over the main track in preparation for Saturday's race.
Owned by Ahmed Zayat and trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, the 4-year-old Awesome Again colt arrived in Saratoga at 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday, following a nearly 17-hour trip from California via Newark International Airport.
"Flying is a very easy deal for the horses," said Baffert's assistant, Jim Barnes. 'He flies easier than he vans, actually."
The 1 1/8-mile Woodward will be the first Grade 1 race for Paynter since he won the Haskell Invitational last July at Monmouth Park. He developed a fever out of that race which evolved into colitis and, ultimately, laminitis in three of his four hooves.
"To tell you the truth, a year ago I didn't know where we were going to be in a year's time. I'm happy to be where we're at, that's for sure," Barnes said. "He's come a long way. The recovery was a lot quicker than I ever expected it to be. When he came back and ran his first race, he was very full of himself."
Paynter showed plenty of energy upon his arrival, turning his head from side to side and neighing loudly and often as Barnes walked him from the van to his residence at trainer John Terranova's barn.
"That's him. That's how he rolls," Barnes said. "He rolls with a lot of energy. It isn't uncommon for him to act like that. He's normal, just how he should be."
Paynter won a seven-furlong allowance on the Cushion Track at Betfair Hollywood Park on June 14 in his comeback race, and followed up by running second, beaten a half-length, in the Grade 2 San Diego over Del Mar's Polytrack surface on July 27.
"He trains at Del Mar and he deals with the racetrack; he just doesn't move over it as well as he does on dirt," Barnes said. "We're glad it all worked out and we're here. When we ran him at Del Mar, so many people showed up; even at Hollywood when he ran.
"I expect it will be the same, maybe even more of a following up here. It's exciting. Racing needs something like this, to have people interested in it and be excited about it."
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Having worked for Hall of Fame trainers Bobby Frankel and Shug McGaughey, Chad Brown had a solid foundation when he opened his own stable not quite six years ago. One of his first clients was the outgoing, outspoken Ken Ramsey.
"When he hired me, he said, 'I'll give you a few horses to get started and, man, I want to be the first winner for you, because you're going to have a good career,'" Brown recalled Thursday morning. "He was very positive about me going on my own and was confident I'd do well as a trainer."
Brown's relationship with Ramsey came full circle on Wednesday, when he sent out Granny Mc's Kitten, a Kitten's Joy homebred, to win the P.G. Johnson stakes for Ramsey's Saratoga Race Course record 19th victory as an owner. Brown has won three stakes for Ramsey at the meet, including the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational with Big Blue Kitten, and the John's Call with Hyper.
"It's really great to be a part of that for the Ramseys," said Brown, a native of nearby Mechanicville, N.Y. "Ken and Sarah have been with me since I went out on my own. I'm at my home track. The horse is by their flagship stallion. It all came together, and I'm so happy to be a part of it for them. The guy trusts me with a lot of his better horses, and it feels good when you come through for him."
It was Ramsey who gave Brown his first career victory, with a gelded son of Jules named Dual Jewels. Making his 41st career start, Dual Jewels came 10 wide down the stretch and won by 4 ½ lengths as the favorite in an 11-horse field at Churchill Downs on November 27, 2007.
Ridden by Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux, Dual Jewels took the $8,680 winner's share of the $14,000 purse, and was promptly claimed for $5,000 by owner-trainer Mike Johnson.
"We were dropping the horse a couple levels because he really wanted to own the first winner I trained," Brown said. "He said, 'Here's one right here. I want you to drop that thing as far as you can,' and we did. We dropped it in and the horse won, and there was a bunch of claims for it, at least a dozen. He didn't care. He was fine with it. They've been with me ever since. From having just a couple horses with me to now having about a dozen horses, they're not only great clients of mine, but great owners for the game in general."
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The Grey Express took command heading into the far turn on Thursday afternoon and pulled clear after the final hurdle to take the $75,000 Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords Stakes, the final steeplechase race of Saratoga's 150th anniversary meet.
It was the first stateside victory in four starts for the 8-year-old gray mare, who began her career in Ireland and now is trained by Hall of Famer Janet Elliot for Gregory Hawkins.
"We bought her last year, actually, specifically to run in Saratoga," said Elliot of The Grey Express, who was second in the Mrs. Ogden Phipps steeplechase earlier in the meet. "[When she was turned out] the other mare kicked this mare in the shoulder and gave her two chips, so that was her out for the rest of the year. So, this has really been her first year. In a way it's helped, because she's had a year to acclimatize."
Sent off at 5-1, The Grey Express returned $13 for a $2 win bet. With Ross Geraghty aboard, she completed the 2 1/16 miles over fences in 4:52.44.
Cat Feathers finished second, with Take Her To the Top third.