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Saratoga: Woodward likely to draw top horses from Whitney
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Ian Wilkes, the trainer of beaten Whitney Invitational favorite Fort Larned, believes that if you ran the same horses back a month from now, there would be a different winner.
His theory may very well be put to the test in the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward on Aug. 31.
Led by the victorious Cross Traffic, four of the top five finishers from Saturday’s Whitney are under strong consideration for the Woodward, according to their connections. Both the Whitney and Woodward are run at 1 1/8 miles.
Cross Traffic earned a fees-paid berth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita by winning the Whitney by three-quarters of a length over Successful Dan. Trainer Todd Pletcher on Sunday said he would choose between the Woodward and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 28 for Cross Traffic’s next start, but he seemed to be leaning toward the Woodward.
“Considering how well he ran yesterday, having not run since the Met Mile [on May 27], you could argue that maybe your best shot at the Breeders’ Cup is to go in with a little more time, as opposed to running in the Jockey Club,” Pletcher said. “The key to that is how he bounces out of this race.”
Pletcher said Cross Traffic seemed fine Sunday morning following his front-running score in the Whitney, in which he covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.89 and earned a 108 Beyer Speed Figure.
The Whitney was Cross Traffic’s first start around two turns. He ran two exceptional one-turn, one-mile races, including a heart-breaking nose defeat in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap. It remains to be seen if he’s better at two turns or one.
“He ran well yesterday,” Pletcher said. “I don’t think it’s a situation that that’s the only time he’ll run well going two turns. He’s a horse that’s versatile enough where he can probably run numerous distances.”
Despite falling down and unseating jockey Julien Leparoux while coming onto the track from the paddock, Successful Dan ran a terrific race to finish second in the Whitney. He made a wide bid, and his momentum was stunted briefly when Cross Traffic came out a few paths in deep stretch, forcing Mucho Macho Man and Successful Dan to also go out a path or two.
“I’m not disappointed; I’m very proud of him,” trainer Charlie LoPresti said of Successful Dan.
LoPresti said a win in the Whitney would have meant more to him than winning the Breeders’ Cup with Wise Dan last year “just because of everything we’ve been through with him. Last year, we had brought him up to run in this race, and we had to take him home a week before.”
Successful Dan had suffered a ligament strain prior to last year’s Whitney. Looking ahead, LoPresti said he would like to run back in the Woodward.
“I’m going to let the horse tell me, but there’s a good possibility he’ll run back there,” LoPresti said.
Mucho Macho Man, making just his third start of the year, made a menacing move approaching the quarter pole, then ran on evenly to finish third, his momentum also impeded late. His connections typically have spaced Mucho Macho Man’s races seven to 10 weeks apart, but trainer Kathy Ritvo said Sunday that the Woodward would be considered.
“We’ll see what we think works best for him, watch him for the next couple of days, see how he’s doing, how his energy level is,” Ritvo said. “I was happy with the way he was going into the race, and I’m happy with the way he is coming out of the race.”
Fort Larned, last year’s Whitney winner who finished fifth Saturday, simply ran a flat race, according to Wilkes. Fort Larned broke a half-step slowly, and that cost him the front-running position he wanted, according to Wilkes.
“If you had the same horses and ran them back again in four weeks, you’ll have a different winner,” Wilkes said. “If you run them in four weeks after that, you’ll have another different winner. You can’t make mistakes against these horses and beat them. It’s a tough division.”
Wilkes said that if Fort Larned “trains like I expect him to coming off this race, we’ll run in the Woodward.”
Ron the Greek, who finished fourth in the Whitney, is not expected back for the Woodward, but his stablemate, Flat Out, is being pointed to the race. In 2011, Flat Out finished second behind Havre de Grace in the Woodward.
The connections of Paynter, the winner of last year’s Haskell Invitational and the runner-up in this year’s San Diego Handicap, have expressed an interest to run in the Woodward as well.
Todd Pletcher batting at 34% for the meet with over 50% ITM. He is 26% winners circle on the season. A lot of people would argue that no trainer could possibly have that much success and be on the level. Not just sour grapes folks either. I've spoken to more than one terrific horseplayer who has been raising their eyebrows. Before I get called a sore loser, I'd like to point out that I play Pletcher horses all the time and I play against them all the time. The numbers just seem to good to be true. 34% in the most competitive meet in the country.
This is horse racing. What if Paynter wins the Woodward? He might be the longest winded horse in that prospective field? Hit me with some logic. What if? What then? Chump or champ?
This is an interesting Division this year. I think Cross Traffic is a nice horse, but despite his nice win in the Whitney, I like others more including a couple that he beat in that race: Successful Dan (I thought he was a horse on the come quite a while back and then injuries seem to slow him down); Fort Larned (if he gets the lead, then he's proven time and again that he can go a LONG way with it) and Mucho Macho Man (He seems to need conditions to break just right for him, but I think they're on the right track to have him geeked to go in the BCC). I do hope that Paynter comes East to give us fans another nice Stakes race for a change. However, I don't think that I would ship him if I was his trainer. Keep him out West and well rested for the biggest race of the season in your own back yard. Still, as a fan, one can only hope.
Baffert was definitely hoping all the big guns wouldn't commit to the Woodward.
Remember when Rachel won the Woodward in 2009? Where would she finish against this group?
I think Baffert might decide that Paynter likes the Del Mar surface more than he thought.