Looking for a Longshot in the Woodward Stakes

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Many graded stakes come up with small fields and decisive favorites, but Saturday's $400,000 Woodward S. (G2) at "Belmont at the Big A" (Aqueduct) is an exception.

Ten horses have turned out to contest the historic 1 1/8-mile race, and while there are plenty of talented names in the entries, the favorites look a bit difficult to trust. Could the Woodward be ripe for an upset?

Take #4 Zandon as an example. He enters the Woodward off runner-up finishes in fast editions of the Metropolitan H. (G1) and Whitney (G1), the latter racing 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga. He's a logical contender in the Woodward, but Zandon hasn't visited the winner's circle since nabbing the 2022 Blue Grass S. (G1). He's since lost eight consecutive races by a minimum of 1 1/2 lengths, and his 12-2-6-3 career tally hints Zandon is often content to settle for a minor award than battle for top honors.

#1 Charge It is another runner who figures to draw betting support. He wins more often than Zandon and occasionally shows flashes of brilliance; he obliterated the 2022 Dwyer S. (G3) by 23 lengths and took the Suburban S. (G2) earlier this summer by 4 3/4 lengths. But consistency is a weak spot for Charge It; he runs his best when he catches easy fields and has faltered when stepping up against tough competition this season, finishing fourth in the Metropolitan and Whitney. In both those races, Charge It finished behind Zandon.

#3 Algiers is an interesting newcomer from abroad, but the six-year-old gelding hasn't run since finishing second in the Dubai World Cup (G1) back in March, and the Woodward marks his North American debut. #8 Tyson exits a third-place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Saratoga, but that race didn't feature the toughest field and Tyson has done his best work on Tapeta at Woodbine, winning multiple graded stakes.

So who should we support in the Woodward? I'm going to think outside the box and recommend a longshot in #2 Law Professor, who figures to offer enticing odds in his first start since finishing sixth with a stumbling start in the May 19 Pimlico Special S. (G3).

Law Professor has covered a lot of ground during three seasons of racing. As a three-year-old in 2021, he won an off-the-turf renewal of the Santa Anita Mathis Mile S. (G2). As a four-year-old in 2022, he tackled the tricky Kentucky Downs turf course to win the one-mile and 70-yard Tapit S. He's competed in five different states from coast to coast, but for all his traveling and versatility, Law Professor seems like a different horse whenever he races over a wet track at Aqueduct.

If that sounds oddly specific, that's because it's impossible to separate whether Law Professor loves wet tracks, Aqueduct, or the combination of the two. He's only run on wet dirt three times in his life, and those three starts happened to coincide with his three starts at Aqueduct, all of which produced excellent performances.

Law Professor's first Aqueduct try came in the 2022 Woodward, when he knocked heads against Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) and Pegasus World Cup (G1) winner Life Is Good. In a surprisingly competitive performance, Law Professor pushed Life Is Good hard around the far turn and down the homestretch, ultimately finishing second by 1 1/4 lengths while pulling 10 1/4 lengths clear of the third-place finisher.

Law Professor has returned to Aqueduct twice since then. On Jan. 7, he smashed the 1 1/8-mile Queens County S. by 7 1/2 lengths over a good track. Then in the April 1 Excelsior S., Law Professor romped by 4 1/4 lengths over muddy going.

There's rain in the forecast for Aqueduct on Friday and Saturday, so Law Professor figures to encounter his preferred footing. Maybe he's not as fast or accomplished on paper as some of the other Woodward entrants, but consider this: if the Life Is Good of 2022 were entered in this Woodward, he would be an overwhelming favorite to win. Isn't there some appeal in backing a horse-for-the-course who gave Life Is Good a serious tussle in this race last year?

Again, the Woodward seems ripe for an upset, especially when you consider how Zandon misfired over a sloppy Aqueduct main track when fourth in the 2022 Cigar Mile H. (G1). It's not hard to envision a scenario in which Law Professor tracks the pace over a sloppy track and splashes to victory down the homestretch, so he's my top choice on Saturday.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Woodward?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.

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