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Saratoga: Woodward, drained of some speed, may see Paynter up front early
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Once upon a time, Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga was going to be a spectacular race with eight horses, plenty of speed, and some quality closers.
What remains - after the defections of Cross Traffic on Wednesday and Fort Larned on Thursday - is a good race with six starters, and a whole new pace dynamic, one that could compromise the closers.
Cross Traffic, the Whitney Invitational winner, was not entered, his connections opting to wait for the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 28.
On Thursday, trainer Ian Wilkes said he was going to scratch Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned from the Woodward, owing to a strain in the 5-year-old's gluteal area.
"That's a huge scratch," said Bob Baffert, the trainer of potential Woodward favorite Paynter. "On his day, he's one of the best horses in the country. I cringed when I heard that, because I don't want it to happen to me."
The defection of Fort Larned could leave Paynter as the primary speed horse in the Woodward, which tops a 12-race card that also includes the Grade 1 Forego and the Grade 2 Ballston Spa. The Forego and Woodward are the first two legs of a pick four wager with a guaranteed pool of $500,000. All three stakes will be shown live on the NBC Sports Network from 4-6 p.m. Eastern.
At 3, Paynter led for every step of the Belmont Stakes except the last when he got caught by Union Rags. Paynter pressed the pace in the Haskell Invitational, drawing off to win by 3 3/4 lengths.
After battling a life-threatening illness, Paynter came back to win a seven-furlong allowance race at Betfair Hollywood Park in June on the front end before finishing second in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, run at 1 1/16 miles over Polytrack.
The Woodward makes Paynter's return to dirt and 1 1/8 miles. Baffert said he believes both will favor Paynter. As for how the horse will be ridden, Baffert said he will leave it up to jockey Rafael Bejarano.
"The whole key is the break. He can do whatever you want," Baffert said. "He can be on the lead or if he misses the break he can sit and he can track horses."
Mucho Macho Man, runner-up in last year's Woodward, is the other potential pace player. He pressed the pace winning the Sunshine Millions Classic and Grade 2 Suburban last year. He also pressed Fort Larned when finishing second to that rival in last November's Breeders' Cup Classic
Mucho Macho Man breaks from post 6, one slot to the outside of Paynter. Trainer Kathy Ritvo said she wouldn't mind seeing Mucho Macho Man on the lead, but would leave the riding tactics up to Edgar Prado.
"If he breaks good and Edgar puts him in the right position we wouldn't have a problem with that," she said.
Successful Dan rallied from 12 lengths back to finish second, three-quarters of a length behind Cross Traffic in the Whitney. Trainer Charles LoPresti doesn't feel his 7-year-old gelding has to be that far back, something he will impart to jockey Julien Leparoux prior to the race.
"I'd like to see him third or fourth, maybe four or five lengths off of it," LoPresti said.
Successful Dan is doing so well that LoPresti brought him back to the track Thursday morning for a gallop, one day after he breezed three furlongs over the main track.
"He drug him around there," LoPresti said. "That little breeze he did yesterday didn't take anything out of him. It put a little bit of wind in him."
Trainer Bill Mott won the Woodward last year with To Honor and Serve. Saturday, he sends out Ron the Greek and Flat Out.
As a confirmed stretch runner, Ron the Greek may be the most adversely affected by the absences of Cross Traffic and Fort Larned. Flat Out lay close to the pace when he won the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont on July 6 and will be fresh having not raced in nearly two months.
"Ron is generally pretty one dimensional, lays back and makes a run," Mott said. "Any time you have a lack of pace it's going to make a difference."
Mott said he doesn't believe the potential lack of pace will affect Flat Out, who did lay second when winning the Grade 2 Suburban on July 6.
"He's been real sharp here recently," he said.
Alpha seeks his first win since last year's Travers. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is adding blinkers to Alpha's equipment, noting that he ran well with him in the Godolphin Mile in Dubai in March.
"We're not thinking about going to the lead," McLaughlin said. "Because that spot will be occupied."
The question now is, by whom?
Right is right, wrong is wrong. I thought paynter was best horse, don't want to hear anything about wet track last is last. I chose paynter I was dead wrong like I said in earlier post curlin cigar standard I don't buy into that wet track stuff. Does anybody think the breeders got more interesting.
Only I gave out Alpha wire to wire with the best jock Paynter left on Nelson Ave. Big Coin!!
Paynter= he is not what u think he is .
M3 out now! The whole pace scenario has been blown out of the water yet again. I don't care who the frontrunner is - if left alone on the lead, then most will go a long, long ways. Short of Paynter hating the off track (which could happen, but I don't have NBC Sports Network, so I can't watch the parade to watch for an indication), then it's hard to imagine him losing now. I loved Successful Dan when someone was going to press Paynter, but now who's there: possibly Alpha, but I'm not sure enough to waste money at low odds. Good luck to everyone and enjoy the race if you get the right channel.
Now MMM scratches out of this. Leaves a 5 horse field with Bill Mott saddling 2 of them. That's all I gotta hear, Paynter loose on the lead splashing all alone until he hears the hammering of Ron the Greek rumbling behind him somewhere near the 1/4 pole. At the 1/8th pole , Paynter gets collared and Ron runs right by.... Or is it Flat Out......
Down to five. This race just keeps getting worse and worse. Have to question Paynter in the mud and we know nothing about Successful Dan on it, but we do know how Ron the Greek and Flat Out can handle it. Enough of this race. I'll watch, of course, but betting is out for me.
I love paynter. But no excuses. Wet track, fast track don't care most overrated and over use excuse in raciing. You guys canny rip me all you want. Don't care that is how I feel. MY standard is the CIGAR, CURLIN STANDARD. those two dudes ran fast everywhere. They could run in the bayou with alligators on there trail or in the Antarctic snow.I think paynter is the best horse and I am not moving off that. Don't care what the track is like
Now we might get down to five horse. My definition of a grade 1. 8 or more horses in field. at least three last out winners. Three past grade 2 or 1 winners year to the date of the race. All the horses should have victory in last three races. They don't make grade ones like they use to.
MMM to scratch if not fast track . Mott two some for me if so . Ron Loves wet . Ran well in wv .
Michael Castelano - I'm sure there are no apologies needed. Maybe this field is head and shoulders above Paynter which means that if everything goes off right, the most talented horse will win. It would be safe to say that when right, Paynter doesn't shy away from running a race of a lifetime which means that if MMM brings his A game and finally runs a race of his life time the rest are running for show...