Tom Pedulla presents five major takeaways from the Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and the other graded stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, which featured another dominant showing by a leading Horse of the Year candidate:
Gun Runner Rocks
Gun Runner could not have been more impressive as he sat off pacesetting Neolithic before demolishing four opponents by 10 ¼ lengths in the Grade 1 $750,000 Woodward, a successful encore to his commanding Whitney Stakes performance earlier in the meet. The $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar awaits, and the chance to atone for his only defeat this season, a runner-up finish to Arrogate on a wet track in the Dubai World Cup in March. “We can make up for that,” said trainer Steve Asmussen. “He ran well in Dubai on an off track and we all know that may be his Achilles heel.”
Asmussen was given every chance to campaign for Gun Runner as the leading older horse at this stage of the season. He opted not to do so, knowing what happens in the Classic will ultimately decide that. “I think everything culminates with the Breeders’ Cup Classic. That is why he is in training this year and that has been the goal and continues to be the goal,” Asmussen said. “We will do everything we can to get him there in as good a shape as possible. If we are fortunate to have success there, everything will take care of itself.”
In a textbook example of pace making a race, Lady Ivanka benefitted from a torrid speed duel between Separationofpowers and Pure Silver to capture the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes for trainer Rudy Rodriguez and patient jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. “She’s got a very good mind,” said Rodriguez. “Like you see, she’s just sitting there behind horses. She’s been doing that all the time.” Trainer Chad Brown sensed trouble as soon as Separationofpowers drew the rail. “It’s just not a good situation to be drawn inside a real fast horse like Pure Silver (post four),” he said. Lady Ivanka earned a berth in the 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies with the win.
Four for Four
Front-running Voodoo Song joined the company of Native Dancer when he won for the fourth time in as many starts during the Saratoga meet by holding off Yoshida by a neck in the Grade 3 Saranac Stakes. “The reason I’ve run him back so many times is he likes the course, he likes the configuration,” trainer Linda Rice said. “Obviously, it hasn’t rained much and he likes the firm going and that could change very quickly in the next 30 days or six weeks. So I thought let’s take advantage of it, and we can rest him later.”
John Velazquez, long a fan favorite at Saratoga with five riding titles there, is still getting it done. Velazquez, 45, swept the first three races of Saturday’s card before closing his big afternoon with a neck victory astride Harmonize in the Grade 3 Glens Falls Stakes. “I have to say, Johnny Velazquez is tough in a photo. He beat me in a photo last week and then he won a photo for us,” said winning trainer Bill Mott. “When it comes down to the inches, he’s tough.” Always has been.