09/02/2010 1:03PM

Quality Road looks too good for Woodward rivals

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Tom Keyser
Quality Road, breezing last Sunday with John Velazquez, looks far superior to his opponents in Saturday's Woodward.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Todd Pletcher says the success or failure of Quality Road in Saturday’s Grade 1 Woodward Stakes won’t impact how he views the sensational summer he has enjoyed at Saratoga. Still, anything less than a victory by Quality Road in the $750,000 Woodward would have to be viewed not only as a tremendous upset but a major disappointment.

Beaten a head by Blame in the Whitney here four weeks ago, Quality Road will be heavily favored to get back to his winning ways in the Woodward when he meets six opponents, none the caliber of Blame, to whom Quality Road was spotting five pounds in the Whitney. Saturday, all horses carry 126 pounds as the Woodward, run at 1 1/8 miles, is a weight-for-age race.

Quality Road, winner of the Donn Handicap and Metropolitan Handicap earlier this year, looks so strong in the Woodward that New York Racing Association linemaker Eric Donovan made him the 1-4 morning-line favorite. Convocation, all out to win a second-level allowance race here on July 31, was installed as the 6-1 second choice.

The rest of the field includes 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, Arcodoro, Indian Dance, Tranquil Manner, and Mythical Power.

“Sometimes the ones you’re supposed to win are the hardest ones to win,” said Pletcher, who entered the final five days of the meet with 30 winners and will win his first Saratoga trainer title since 2006, and his seventh overall.

Quality Road was the 1-2 favorite in the Whitney. While Quality Road was able to get away with soft fractions on the lead, he could not hold off Blame late. Quality Road may be better with a target and Pletcher is hoping that Arcodoro, a front-running winner of a first-level allowance race here on July 31, fills the bill.

“That’s the way we’d like to see the race unfold, for someone to show enough initiative that we can put him in a situation where he can follow someone,” Pletcher said. “I think that’s his best running style. He’s fast enough that someone’s going to have to run a little bit to make sure they’re ahead of him. That would be our Plan A, to follow someone.”

The feeling among many of the other trainers in the Woodward field is that second-place – which is worth $150,000 – wouldn’t be too shabby.

Eric Guillot, the trainer of Arcodoro, believes his horse is a legitimate player in the Woodward. Arcodoro, a son of Medaglia d’Oro, who won three graded stakes at Saratoga, is 2 for 2 on dirt, with his best race coming on a dry fast surface here on July 31.

“I came for the dance, not just the music,” Guillot said. “This horse is for real. I don’t know if he can beat Quality Road. He’s a Medaglia d’Oro who is Grade 3-placed; if he could hang on for second or third he’s a stallion prospect.”

Convocation, who won an allowance race here by a neck on Aug. 4 and finished fourth to Quality Road in the Met Mile, may have the best chance for an upset. He did need every inch of the stretch defeat Glenwood Canyon in a second-level allowance here on Aug. 4, but his final time of 1:48.78 was solid.

“It’s a big pot, Grade 1, you got a horse in shape you might as well take a shot then,” said Jimmy Jerkens, who trained Quality Road until midway through his 3-year-old season. “Quality Road, as great as he is, is coming off for him a dismal effort. Knowing him I’m sure he’ll bounce back, but if not maybe we’ll be there to pick up the pieces.”

Mine That Bird, last year’s Kentucky Derby winner who finished fifth in the Whitney, gets a makeover of sorts for the Woodward. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas is adding blinkers to the gelding’s equipment while also making a rider change from Calvin Borel to Rajiv Maragh.

Lukas would like to see Mine That Bird closer to the pace in the Woodward than he was in the Whitney, where he was 9 1/2 lengths back at the quarter pole.

“We feel he’s not going to be way up there, but we got to give him a chance at the top of the stretch to close,” Lukas said. “We could be five or six lengths [back] but we can’t be 16 or 17 lengths back and run down the top handicap horses.”

Bob Baffert shipped Mythical Power to Saratoga to get him off the synthetic surfaces of Southern California. Mythical Power has won two graded stakes, both at Lone Star Park.

Indian Dance and Tranquil Manner complete the field.

The Woodward will go as race 10 on an 11-race card that also includes the Grade 1, $250,000 Forego for sprinters. The Woodward is the third leg of a pick four wager with a guaranteed pool of $500,000.