Weekend Stakes Preview
Happy Woodward Day!
This is an excellent card with four graded stakes including two very competitive Grade Is – the Woodward and the Champagne.
Race 8 – The Champagne – Grade I
One Mile on the Dirt for Two Year Olds
October 2nd, 2021
The Saratoga two year old dirt stakes races left us with no clear leader in this division. This race should help sort it out as we have the Sanford Stakes winner (Wit) and the Hopeful Stakes winner (Gunite) back here in a rematch. In addition, we have two talented maiden winners (Jack Christopher and My Prankster) trying stakes company for the first time.
Todd Pletcher trains three of the six entrants … guess who is loaded with two year olds. It’s interesting that Pletcher/Repole enter Commandperformance here given that they have Sanford Stakes winner Wit going as well.
Wit: This one has barely done a thing wrong for Pletcher in his three starts. He won at first asking by six lengths, then he won the Sanford by eight lengths in his second start earning a 90 Beyer. Off of those two victories he was odds on favorite in the Hopeful but stumbled at the break and still ran a decent second behind Gunite. I wouldn’t be too harsh on the performance in the Hopeful even with the Beyer regression to 72. The Saratoga track was a very odd surface that afternoon after it was opened up and horses were not getting over it well. In addition, no one else was making up ground. Look for a rebound today with a fair track. The Pick.
My Prankster: In his first start he earned a 92 Beyer and was impressive running away from the field in the stretch as he won by ten lengths. Looked like a mile would be no issue at all. This is an exciting later developing two year old for Pletcher. This is the “Other Pletcher”…. or is he? Trainer Stat: Pletcher is 3/34 (9%) in two year old dirt sprint graded stakes on the NYRA circuit over the past four years. Using, legit win candidate.
Jack Christopher: Won first time out sitting outside the early pacesetter and drawing off under strong urging to win by eight lengths with a 92 Beyer. That was a very visually impressive race. A bullet work last week after a couple of maintenance works since the win. Looks to be the speed of the speed. Trainer stat: Chad Brown is 1/14 (7%) with two year olds in dirt graded stakes. I wonder if he wants the flat mile against this group, breeding suggests shorter is better. Minor award.
Kavod: He was on the fast track early in his two year old season, breaking his maiden and then finished a decent second in the Tremont. However, he has gone sideways since the Belmont Spring meet. He was no match in the Sanford, finishing a distant fifth. They then tried going two turns on the turf in the With Anticipation Stakes where he ran OK for three quarters of a mile and then gave in. The connections now revert to the original plan and go on the dirt. He’ll be a big price and there will be reasons for that price. Trainer Stat: James Chapman is 0/17 in graded stakes on the dirt. Passing.
Gunite: Ran a nice second in the Saratoga Special and then won the Hopeful by five lengths. That Hopeful win was enhanced by a speed favoring track that was the consistency of oatmeal and no horses were making up ground later in the card that day. He has shown improvement in speed figs with each start and won the Hopeful with a 83 Beyer. But that fig is well below what he needs here. This one will be too short a price off that last win that was aided by a strong track bias. I don’t see upside with this one – I’ll look elsewhere.
Commandperformance: Interesting that there is a second Pletcher/Repole entered here. This is the “Other, Other Pletcher”. He ran well in his first effort over a muddy sealed track on closing day at the Spa. Broke poorly and trailed the field on the backstretch but steadily improved his position and really got into gear in the final sixteenth and was moving late on to get second. As mentioned elsewhere no one was making up ground that day so his late move was noteworthy. Definitely eligible for improvement second time out for these connections. Outside draw should allow Gaffalione to pick his spot. Dangerous at a price.
Race 10 – The Woodward – Grade I
One Mile and One Furlong On the Dirt, For Three Year Olds and Upward
October 2nd, 2021
The Woodward Stakes has been relocated back to Belmont Park after a fifteen year stay upstate. The Rachel Alexandra win in 2009 was certainly the most memorable rendition held at the Spa. This is a deep, competitive field, and you can make a decent case for five of the six entrants. Bill Mott has two entered as he goes for his record fifth career win in this historic race.
Dr. Post: This Pletcher trained colt comes back east after running third in the Pacific Classic against a so-so field. Two wins this year are in the Grade III Westchester and Grade III Monmouth Cup at today’s nine furlongs with Beyers of 104 and 101 respectively. He performs best when he sits closer to the pace. Those two wins this year were against significantly weaker fields than he faces today. To date he has shown he can be somewhat competitive in Grade I company but has not been close to winning. Irad Ortiz takes the mount as Joel Rosario is at Churchill to ride Knicks Go. Appears overmatched.
Maxfield: This colt is seven for nine in his career, but frankly his form is dressed up. His average final odds in his last five wins were 3/5. So he wins when he lays over the field. But when he faces competitive fields, well … last out in the Whitney he (and everyone else) chased Knicks Go, but to no avail. He did pass tired horses to get up for second but never got close to Knicks Go. Blinkers go ON. This one is a bit dressed up to me. He should hit the board running late.
Art Collector: Once Bill Mott took over training responsibilities for this one he got going in right direction by beating lesser in the last two outings in the Restricted Alydar Stakes and the Grade II Charlestown Classic pairing up 103 Beyers. Loves nine furlongs and is four for four at today’s distance – but none of those four wins were at one turn. This one had been going sideways but once Mott took over he changed the running style to be more forwardly placed and put Luis Saez in the saddle. This resulted in a major improvement in form. Faces a number of serious Grade I horses today. Should be able to get a rail trip sitting just off of the early speed and getting the first move. The Pick.
Mo Gotcha: This is his third start in a month with a second place finish in a $40k Claimer at the Spa and a good third in the Grand Prix of American Jockey Club Invitational Stakes (88 Beyer). He has generally run in the claiming ranks before the last out stakes effort for the new connections. Seems out of his depth here but will probably be the early leader. Needs a huge Beyer jump in his twenty-second career start to be competitive. Trainer Stat: Naipaul Chatterpaul is 1/24 (4%) in stakes races over the past five years. Not likely, but he might give you a thrill at a price.
Code of Honor: Showed a return to form last out in the Grade III Iselin Stakes at Monmouth by sitting chilly just off the pace and kicking on in the stretch – earning a 105 Beyer. That was against a lesser group and was his first win since the 2020 Westchester fourteen months earlier. He’s a stalk and pounce type who has good tactical speed. He certainly likes Belmont winning three of six starts and never finishing off the board. Was that Iselin Stakes win a sign that he is back to his three year old form when he won the Dwyer, the Travers, and was second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (against elders) in consecutive starts? Hmmm….maybe, but there are still doubts.
Forza Di Oro: Last out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup he broke well and got to the front setting decent fractions but couldn’t hold off Max Player and Happy Saver finishing a decent third. Forza had an easy win two back in an allowance race with a 101 Beyer and that effort was first off an eight month layoff. He’ll be close to the pace today and gets the turnback to nine furlongs where he is 2/3. Minor award candidate.