final Saturday of the 2016 Saratoga meet is a good one, with four graded stakes
races on the schedule. By far the biggest in terms of prestige is the $600,000
Woodward Stakes (gr. I), a nine-furlong race that has drawn a competitive field
of talented horses with Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) aspirations.
the charge is Frosted, the 1-2
favorite on the morning line based off consecutive wins in the Metropolitan
Handicap (gr. I) and Whitney Stakes (gr. I). It's impossible to exaggerate his
dominance in the Metropolitan, which he won by 14 ¼ lengths in stakes-record
time while earning massive speed figures. As if to prove it wasn't a fluke,
Frosted followed up with an easy win in the Whitney, seizing the lead in the
opening quarter-mile and carving out fast fractions of :46.42 and 1:09.65 on
his way to a two-length victory. Over the last ten years, the majority of
Woodward winners prepped for the race in the Whitney, and Frosted's versatility
in running style should help him work out a great trip regardless of what pace
scenario unfolds. If he runs anywhere near as well in the Woodward as he did in
the Whitney and Metropolitan, Frosted should win this race with ease.
colt that could add some value to the exotics is Shaman Ghost, a son of Ghostzapper trained by Jimmy Jerkens. He was
among the best three-year-olds in Canada last year, winning the Marine Stakes
(gr. III) and the Queen's Plate Stakes with impressive late runs before ending
the season with a runner-up effort in the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie. He's
already scored one major win this year, dominating the Brooklyn Stakes (gr. II)
by 4 ¼ lengths, and while he could only finish fifth in the Suburban Handicap
(gr. II) last time out, I think his performance that day was much better than
it looked. A case can be made that the rail wasn't the place to be on Suburban
day at Belmont, and Shaman Ghost was trapped inside of horses throughout the
race and ran directly on the rail throughout the long run on the final turn,
which could explain why he tired in the homestretch.
also interesting to note that he will race on Lasix for the first time in the
Woodward Stakes, which suggests that he might have bled in the Suburban. In the
two months since then, Shaman Ghost has turned in three workouts, including a half-mile
breeze in :48 4/5 over the Saratoga training track that was the fastest of 61 half-mile
workouts that morning. All signs suggest that Shaman Ghost is ready for an
improved performance on Saturday, and if he gets a quick pace to help set up
his late run, expect to see him closing ground in the homestretch. I'm not sure
that he's up to beating Frosted, but at 12-1 on the morning line, he could be a
great horse to include in the exacta.
Bradester, a consistent
veteran who is unbeaten in three starts this year, figures to set the pace and
try to take this field as far as he can on the lead. Two starts back, he won
the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs over the same nine-furlong
distance as the Woodward, although he was able to set a slow pace that day and
still had to dig deep to hold off the closers, suggesting that this distance
might be just a bit beyond his best range. I respect his chances, but think he
could be a little vulnerable. Mubtaahij is
another to consider, as he finished a solid third in the Suburban Handicap
despite shifting to the inside in the homestretch and losing his momentum over
the deeper part of the track. He was also at a disadvantage trying to catch the
leaders in that slow-paced race, and could show improvement in the Woodward if
he gets a more favorable setup.
would also like to mention Breaking
Lucky as a candidate to hit the board. He has achieved most of his success
on the synthetic track at Woodbine, but he did defeat Shaman Ghost on dirt last
summer and is racing better than ever this year, having won the Seagram Cup
(gr. III) last time out over a competitive field that included the graded
stakes winners Are You Kidding Me and Melmich. If one of the better-known
runners should falter, Breaking Lucky has the talent to finish in the
superfecta at the appealing odds of 20-1.
it's your turn! Who do you like in the Woodward Stakes?
To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.