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.