New Surface, No Problem: Yoshida Rallies Late to Win Woodward

Yoshida, with Joel Rosario aboard, drew clear with a powerful stretch rally to win the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 1. (Chelsea Durand/NYRA photo)

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott always intended to test Grade 1 turf winner Yoshida on dirt. It was a question of finding the right race at the right time.

The right race and right time turned out to be the Grade 1 $750,000 Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course. The Japanese-bred Yoshida, despite being forced to make an extremely wide move for Joel Rosario, stormed home to capture the mile-and-an-eighth contest by two lengths over late-running Gunnevera. Leofric finished third.

According to Mott, Elliott Walden, racing manager for WinStar Farm, had been pushing for the trial on dirt for some time. WinStar owns Yoshida, a 4-year-old son of Heart’s Cry, in partnership with China Horse Club International Ltd., Head of Plains Partners and SF Racing.

“We’d been talking about it,” Mott said. “He’s been running so well on turf and he’s a Grade 1 winner on turf, so you can’t say we made a mistake by not running him on dirt.”

Heading into the Woodward, Yoshida had won four of his 10 career starts on the grass with three runner-up finishes for earnings of $889,770. His Grade 1 breakthrough on turf came in the May 5 Old Forester Turf Classic on a yielding surface at Churchill Downs.

But that was followed by fifth-place finishes in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 19 and by another fifth in the Grade 1 Fourstardave Handicap on Aug. 11 at Saratoga. The Woodward, which lacked a heavy favorite, became inviting despite a 14-horse field. Mott, who tends to be conservative in his approach, took the plunge.

“I had a wait-and-see attitude. The horse had worked well on the dirt,” Mott said. “As I said before, he’s got a lot of pedigree for the dirt.”

A happy Bill Mott after the race. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Heart’s Cry, Yoshida's sire, is a son of renowned Japanese sire Sunday Silence, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1989. Yoshida's dam (mother), Hilda’s Passion, won the Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga during her racing career.

But as Mott said, “I don’t think you ever really know how they’ll run on a surface until you try them.”

Rosario had the same question in mind as he entered the starting gate. He could tell fairly quickly that the answer would be what he wanted.

“He was taking very nice to the dirt, and he liked it early on,” he said. “Turning for home, he was there for me, and he kept going. Like I said, I was just a passenger.”

Yoshida, who wound up incredibly wide despite breaking from the rail, covered the mile and an eighth in 1:48.94. He returned $14.40 for a $2 win wager.

Antonio Sano, who trains Gunnevera, lodged an objection with the stewards that was almost immediately disallowed. Sano argued that Yoshida bumped Gunnevera on the final turn and forced him to race 10-wide. According to Rosario, the stewards never discussed the objection with him, apparently believing no conversation was necessary.

Edgard Zayas, Gunnevera’s rider, had no issue with the outcome. “Yoshida ran a huge race,” he said. “Yoshida, he beat us fair and square.”

Mott said he will confer with several parties before deciding on his next move with Yoshida. The $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, to be run at a mile and a quarter on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs, is now very much in play.

“We haven’t won going a mile and a quarter,” Mott noted. “But after today, you’d have to start thinking of his options.”     

In graded stakes races on the Woodward undercard:

Grade 1, $350,000 Spinaway Stakes:

Who knew? Longshot Sippican Harbor, making her third career start with all of them coming at this Saratoga meet, pulled a 16-1 upset for trainer Gary Contessa and red-hot jockey Joel Rosario.

Sippican Harbor (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

Sippican Harbor, last of 11 after a half-mile, rallied wide under Rosario to win going away by two lengths over Kentucky-based Debutante Stakes winner Restless Rider. She finished seven furlongs in 1:23.72.

The daughter of Orb had finished an unimpressive fifth in her July 22 debut before rebounding for a smashing 17-length triumph in a race that came off the turf on Aug. 12 and was run the same seven-furlong distance as the Spinaway.

The filly earned an automatic berth in the Nov. 2 Juvenile Fillies with her Spinaway victory as part of the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.

“She’s legit, so we’re looking forward to the Breeders’ Cup,” said Contessa.

Grade 2, $250,000 Glens Falls Stakes:

Lady Montdore went wire to wire to win for trainer Tom Albertrani and owner-breeder Godolphin Stable to win for the second time in as many starts in North America. The final margin against Santa Monica was 2 ¼ lengths.

Grade 3, $300,000 Saranac Stakes:

Raging Bull won for the fourth time in five career starts, launching a five-wide bid at the top of the stretch for Rosario to defeat Up the Ante by 1 ¼ lengths. “This horse has a remarkable turn of foot. He knows where the wire is,” said winning trainer Chad Brown. “He’s an immense talent.”

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