08/31/2013 6:10PM

Saratoga: Alpha all the way in Woodward

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John Bambury
Alpha, on the rail with rider John Velazquez, holds on to his lead to defeat Flat Out in the Woodward.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - In a race that became void of speed with each passing day, Alpha picked up the mantle of pacesetter under John Velazquez and used those front-running tactics to record a head victory over Flat Out in Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward Stakes at sloppy Saratoga.

It was 6 3/4 lengths back to Successful Dan in third, who was followed in the order of finish by Ron the Greek and the 3-2 favorite and expected pacesetter, Paynter.

Mucho Macho Man, who figured to be part of the pace, scratched because of the sloppy track. He will be sent to the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 28.

Mucho Macho Man was the third speed horse to skip the Woodward. On Wednesday, front-running Whitney Invitational winner Cross Traffic did not enter. On Thursday, a day after entries were made, Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned was scratched because of a pulled muscle in his hind end.

The defections appeared to leave California shipper Paynter as the main speed, though Alpha was adding blinkers and had won the Jim Dandy Stakes here last summer over a sloppy track, albeit through slow fractions. Alpha also won last year’s Travers, in a dead-heat with Golden Ticket, and was 3 for 4 over Saratoga’s main track.

[SARATOGA 2013: Complete meet coverage, exclusive DRF videos]

Velazquez, who only picked up the mount on Alpha when Cross Traffic didn’t enter, came to the paddock with running on his mind and consulted with trainer Kiaran McLaughlin about putting Alpha in front.

“I told him if he breaks well and you can throw mud on the rest of them please do, and he agreed with me,” said McLaughlin, who trains Alpha for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing.

Alpha, kept a couple of paths off the rail by Velazquez, opened up a two-length lead through a quarter run in 24.46 seconds, a half-mile in 48.20 and six furlongs in 1:11.57 while being chased by Paynter with Flat Out in third.

Paynter faded entering the far turn - “I was out of horse by the half-mile pole,” jockey Rafael Bejarano said - but Flat Out, under Junior Alvarado, picked up the chase.

Alvarado said when Flat Out first got to Alpha, that horse fought him off, so Alvarado tried to take him a little to the outside in hopes that Alpha wouldn’t see him. But Flat Out may have drifted out too far, because when Alvarado got him back on course, he couldn’t catch the front-runner.

“I said let me take a shot, maybe if I go a little bit wide maybe he’ll hang a little bit, but it didn’t work,” Alvarado said.

Alpha, who had lost six straight races since winning last year’s Travers, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.28 and returned $17.40 as the longest shot on the board.

“Once that horse didn’t pass me at the three-sixteenths pole I knew my horse was going to put up a good fight, and obviously he did and kept a head in front,” Velazquez said.

Alpha completed his 3-year-old season by finishing last in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. McLaughlin said it was unclear what the future holds for Alpha, who has now won 6 of 16 starts and banked $1,772,500.
“I don’t know exactly what will happen now, at least he’s proven it wasn’t just a one-race wonder,” McLaughlin said. “We beat some nice horses today.”