The Saratoga grandstand was rocking, the crowd was roaring, and the champion filly Rachel Alexandra was all heart in hanging on for the narrowest of victories in the Woodward Stakes.
In one of the most electrifying races in Saratoga history, the filly beat the boys, became the first female to win the prestigious Woodward, and was voted Horse of the Year – that year being 2009.
The 70th Woodward – 14 years later — is Saturday at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet, downgraded to Grade 2 status this year, and held at Aqueduct Racetrack for the second year in a row. The field is not as eye-opening as it once was, but it should make for a good betting race with a diverse field of 10 led by 2-1 favorite Zandon.
When the Woordward was held at Belmont Park, winners included Kelso, Buckpasser and Damascus in the 1960s; Forego and Triple Crown champions Affirmed and Seattle Slew in the 1970s; Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, and Easy Goer in the 1980s; Holy Bull, Cigar, and Skip Away in the 1990s; and Ghostzapper in 2004. Moved to Saratoga in 2006, winners included Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, and Gun Runner – all three trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen.
But we digress. The 1 1/8-mile Woodward is at Aqueduct as construction continues at Belmont Park. Three other graded stakes are on the card, the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1); the $250,000 Vosburgh (G2), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 4; and the $250,000 Gallant Bloom (G2).
Zandon, a 4-year-old trained by Chad Brown, is the most accomplished runner in the field, with earnings of $1.9 million for owner Jeff Drown.
However, he has a second-place habit, with runner-up finishes in six of his 12 career starts, including his last three races, the Westchester (G3), the Metropolitan Mile (G1), and most recently the Whitney (G1) to White Abarrio. His two victories: a maiden special weights at Belmont in 2021, and the Blue Grass (G1) in April 2022 prior to running third in the Kentucky Derby (G1).
Flavien Prat has the mount, leaving fron post 4. Brown, looking for his first Woodward win, also sends out Pipeline, fourth in the Forego (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 26.
Charge It, at 7-2, is among the top challengers. The 4-year-old son of Tapit comes into the race off a distant fourth in the Whitney on Aug. 5. He captured the Suburban (G2) on July 8 with a pace-setting 4 ¾-length victory.
Pletcher is seeking a fifth Woodward win and second straight – Life Is Good won the race last year. John Velazquez, also with four Woodward wins, has the call from post 1.
“He’s excellent. I’m very happy with the way he’s been training,” Pletcher said of Charge It. “Hopefully, he gets back to one of his best races. Johnny (Velazquez) felt like maybe he made a bit of a mistake with him (in the Whitney), but I thought he ran decently, I just didn’t think he ran his ‘A’ race.”
At 6-1 is Algiers, an Ireland bred returning to the races after a six-month break following a second-place finish in the Dubai World Cup. Trained by Simon Crisford, the 6-year-old chestnut has finished in the top 3 in 15 of 21 career starts and is making his first start in the United States.
“He’s come out of his break really well,” Ed Crisford, son and assistant to Simon Crisford, said. “He’s big, strong and moving great and he has a great attitude. He’s training just as good if not better than in Dubai over the winter. This will be his first run since Dubai, so I’m sure he’ll improve for the run. He’s as fit as we can get him at home without running him. There should be some top horses in there, but I think he’ll run a big race nevertheless.”
Tyson, yet another son of Tapit, is also top contender. The 4-year-old trained by Josie Carroll was third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) after two graded stakes wins, in the Dominion Day (G3) and the Seagrams Cup (G2), both at Woodbine.
Post time for the Woodward is 3:11 p.m. ET
The picks: 1 Charge It 2 Zandon 3 Law Professor
The field for the $400,000 Woodward (G2), from the rail out, with jockey, trainer, odds:
1 Charge It (John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher), 7-2
2 Law Professor (Rob Atras, Manny Franco), 12-1
3 Algiers (William Buick, Simon Crisford), 6-1
4 Zandon (Flavien Prat, Chad Brown), 2-1
5 Pipeline (Kendrick Carmouche, Chad Brown), 20-1
6 Costa Terra (Jose Lezcano, Linda Rice), 15-1
7 Un Ojo (Trevor McCarthy, Linda Rice), 30-1
8 Tyson (Javier Castellano, Josie Carroll), 5-1
9 O’Connor (Irad Ortiz, Jr., Saffie Joseph, Jr.) 8-1
10 Film Star (Jose Ortiz, Linda Rice), 12-1
The writing team at US Racing is comprised of both full-time and part-time contributors with expertise in various aspects of the Sport of Kings.