Of all the great renewals of this event, there have been so many memorable moments. Until I looked it up, I had forgotten that Forego won this race from 1974 through 1977; twice at 10 furlongs and twice at nine.
Slew was a powerhouse winner a year later, Easy Goer won it as a three-year-old in ’89, and Cigar went back-to-back in 1995-96.
Stablemates Curlin and “Rachel Alexandra The Great” won consecutive runnings in 2008-09. Her race was the most thrilling renewal of all.
But the Woodward that leaps to mind instantly was in 1980: Spectacular Bid vs. Spectacular Bid, the Teletimer his only rival.
And I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here was this big spectacular gray specimen galloping around Belmont Park, an easy, loping gallop. I glanced up at the timer when he and Shoemaker reached the wire: 2:02 2/5.
For me, it was a Vin “I cant believe what I just saw” Scully moment. Who knew a one-horse race could be so satisfyingly unexpected.
Saturday’s renewal is anything but a walkover. Only three of the nine entrants would be considered a huge surprise and it is as tough to pick a post time favorite, never mind winner.
Here’s a look at all nine, in post order, with early line odds:
1-MR. BUFF (8-1) From the great New York nursery of Chester and Mary Broman, a fast, talented and classy New Yorker trained to the minute by John Kimmel. Junior Alvarado committed to Preservationist earlier but Jose Lezcano, having a terrific meet, will take advantage of his mount’s speed and pole position. Likes Saratoga and loves this trip.
2-BAL HARBOUR (15-1) Doesn’t measure up class line for class line but is disrespected a bit at early line odds. He has tactical speed, stays on, an inside draw and reunites with winning partner Castellano. Just missed in the G3 Monmouth Cup behind hard-hitter War Story and it was 12 lengths back to the third finisher. Puncher’s chance to trip-out here; need big price.
3-VINO ROSSO (7-2) Major player for Todd seeking his 4th Woodward. Winner of the G1 Hollywood Gold Cup two back he raced wide throughout McKinzie’s rapidly run Whitney. Pletcher is no Baffert, which might speak volumes for this guy’s recent 5-furlong breeze in 58 3/5, We think he’s better making one run and blinkers off might tip off those tactics. No one riding stakes better than Johnny right now.
4-MONGOLIAN GROOM (15-1) Second to Catalina Cruiser then a good, chasing-throughout third in Pacific Classic. Trainer Enebish Ganbat wants to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic badly but this horse is not nominated to anything. He needs a win-and-inner but won’t get one here turning back with tougher set.
5-PRESERVATIONIST (7-2) Eligible to rebound off the recent bounce following his fast, enervating score in the rapidly run Suburban. But he freak that day going 10 furlongs around one Belmont turn. Alvarado sticks and recent six furlong breeze was reminiscent of The Chief, which makes sense, right?But we’d rather lay it than play it, especially if the early odds are in that range at post time.
6-FOREWARNED (30-1) Could be three times that quote at post time. Seriously overmatched.
7-YOSHIDA (5-2) Worthy favorite and defending his 2018 Woodward title. Nine furlongs on Saratoga dirt has proven to be his whole card and those conditions obviously prevail here. Was an excellent second to the fast, classy McKenzie in the Whitney. Joel fits this guy snugly, winning this race last year and aboard for his Whitney. Consistent and will be making ground late.
8-WOODERSON (12-1) Late developing Todd four year-old has improved this summer and was a game., albeit non-threatening second to Tom’s d-Etat over the track last out. Also worked sharply for this but at the moment we see him more as a Grade 2 type, not this level yet. Certainly, leading rider Jose Ortiz doesn’t hurt here. Thinking more filler than winner.
9-TOM’S D’ETAT (4-1) The most interesting of all the entrants as he has improved and appears to still be marching forward. Won visually impressive prep for this with deceptive ease and his next loss on this surface would be his first in four starts. If I were to land here, I would need somewhere near his early line odds because the draw did him no favors. It will be up to Irad to figure it out–but he’s good at that.
TOMORROW: Finding the winner and some exotics to go with…