The Grade 1, $1 million Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes is always a highly anticipated fixture as the Northern Hemisphere transitions from summer to fall and this year’s edition is no exception. A “Win & You’re In” prep for the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile Presented by PDJF, this year’s edition at Woodbine drew a strong field of eight, led by a pair of standouts from the barn of Mark Casse in War of Will and March to the Arch.
War of Will is perhaps best remembered for winning the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes in 2019. However, this talented colt, who leads the field in career earnings of nearly $1.8 million, ran on turf in the first four races of his career and enters the race off a win on grass in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile in July. March to the Arch proved he belonged in top company on grass when winning the Grade 2 Wise Dan Stakes in June 2019 and renewed that form last month when victorious in the Grade 2 King Edward Stakes at Woodbine. Admiralty Pier finished second in the King Edward and certainly fits in this field as a contender, as does recent Grade 3 Vigil Stakes runner-up Olympic Runner. Armistice Day won the Toronto Cup Stakes in 2019, the same race March to the Arch won the previous year, and makes his third start off a layoff so he may have a say in the outcome as well. Value Proposition has just five races under his belt but his third-place effort in the Grade 3 Poker Stakes this summer suggests he has enough talent to be a factor. Even more lightly raced is Shirl’s Speight, who has run two races to date. However, this 3-year-old who was considered for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve earlier this month is a perfect two-for-two in his career and has potential to surprise a few people with another top effort. Last, but certainly not least, is the mare Starship Jubilee, who is second to War of Will in career earnings among this field at over $1.6 million. Starship Jubilee has won 18 races in her career, including six on the Woodbine turf. She enters the race off a fourth-place effort in the Grade 1 Diana Stakes at Saratoga and won the Grade 2 Ballston Spa Stakes prior to that and a repeat of that latter effort, or her effort when winning the Grade 1 E. P. Taylor Stakes last October at Woodbine, gives her a more than decent shot at being in the thick of the action at the finish in this year’s Ricoh Woodbine Mile.
When considering War of Will's chances to win this year’s Ricoh Woodbine Mile on turf, one needs to look back at his races before getting on the Road to the Derby last year, and also assess his most recent starts. By a tremendous turf sire in War Front, War of Will began his career on turf in the fall of 2018, finishing third before entering the Summer Stakes still as a maiden in only the second start of his career. He nearly pulled off the upset at 10.30-1 odds in that race when leading late before settling for second, and War of Will then nearly won the Dixiana Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland, settling for fourth in a blanket finish. After a fifth-place finish in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, he switched to dirt and broke his maiden, and then set his sights on the Kentucky Derby, winning the Lecomte Stakes and Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford before a poor effort in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby and then a rough-trip eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. After rebounding to win the Preakness, War of Will finished third or worse in five races on dirt before returning to the turf. The first of these recent turf efforts came in the Shoemaker Mile in May in which he raced close up early before tiring to fifth in a 10-horse field. A little more than six weeks later, War of Will arguably ran his best race ever, gamely rallying in the stretch to win the Maker’s Mark Mile by a nose and earning a 115 Equibase Speed Figure, the best winning figure of his career. One reason for his improvement appears to be the removal of blinkers for that race – so there is every reason to believe the effort, and its winning result, are repeatable, making War of Will the one to beat in this year’s Ricoh Woodbine Mile.
March to the Arch is also a strong contender to win the Ricoh Woodbine Mile. On six occasions in 21 career turf races, March to the Arch has come out on top. The best of those came last year came when he won the Wise Dan Stakes with a strong 104 figure. However, as a 5-year-old March to the Arch has run even better. In his second start of 2020, March to the Arch fought gamely and finished third by a head in the Tampa Bay Stakes with a 115 figure. Following a poor 10th place effort in this year’s Shoemaker Mile, March to the Arch was only beaten 2 ¼ lengths when sixth trying for a repeat win in the Wise Dan Stakes before returning to Woodbine. Prepping for the Ricoh Woodbine Mile last month in the King Edward Stakes, March to the Arch was quite impressive in rallying from last in the field of eight to assert himself late and win by 2 ¼ lengths. His 112 figure was the second-best last race figure in Saturday’s field, bettered only by that of War of Will. Getting the ground saving-rail post position for this race, March to the Arch appears to be the biggest challenge to War of Will and has every right to win his second straight graded stakes in a row at the distance of one mile on turf.
Admiralty Pier led from the start in the King Edward, and although beaten by March to the Arch he ran one of the best races of his career, earning a 109 figure. Admiralty Pier is likely to be the controlling speed in the Ricoh Woodbine Mile. He won the Tampa Bay Stakes with a career-best 115 figure in February, defeating March to the Arch in the process, and he’s on a pattern to get back to that type of effort as he earned a 103 figure when second in the Connaught Cup in July before posting a 109 figure in the King Edward. As such, we should not rule out the possibility Admiralty Pier could post the upset in this race.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Armistice Day (103), Olympic Runner (100 on dirt), Shirl’s Speight (97), Starship Jubilee (119 in 2018) and Value Proposition (99).
Win Contenders (in probability/preference order):
War of Will
March to the Arch