Have you been in a summer slump? Ready for a fresh plate of action? Then get ready for a feast of five Grade 1 Stakes and plenty of other horse racing action this Labor Day Weekend! It’s redemption Saturday at the Spa with the second, third, fourth and sixth place finishers from the Grade 1 Whitney (Equibase Free PP) taking another shot at a $750,000 Grade 1 prize in the Woodward Handicap Saturday. The Whitney winner Cross Traffic has opted to sit this one out and so has defending Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned.
We will see two new challengers in Paynter for trainer Bob Baffert shipping from the West Coast, after a near career-ending injury suffered last summer, will try to return to Grade 1 glory. Also bidding for a Woodward win is Flat Out, fresh off a victory in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap at Belmont in July will try and give Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott his second consecutive victory in the Woodward.
Also from the Mott barn is Ron the Greek, who will be ridden by Javier Castellano. Ron the Greek took the Sunshine Millions Classic for Florida breds back in January at Gulfstream, but has not finished better than third since, running fourth in the Santa Anita Handicap, third in the Charles Town Classic, third in the Stephen Foster before a fourth-place finish in the Whitney.
Successful Dan will be ridden by Julien Leparoux, and to me, was the most impressive of this group in the Whitney. After flipping over when leaving the paddock on his way to the main track, Successful Dan was able to put forth a gutsy second-place finish just ¾ of a length from winner Cross Traffic.
Mucho Macho Man is seeking his first Grade 1 victory on Saturday and will be ridden by Edgar Prado for trainer Kathy Ritvo. Mucho Macho Man finished second in last year’s Woodward and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. In the Whitney he was third, and has yet to get a win in 2013. In an article earlier this week by Steve Haskin of the BloodHorse, Haskin points out that Mucho Macho Man only wins when he’s ahead at the eighth pole.
While Paynter is receiving a ton of hype going into this race, the question remains, is he really ready for this level of competition? He put forth a game effort in the San Diego Handicap last out at Del Mar, but it was a Grade 2 event with some lesser competition on the West Coast. Did I mention he didn’t win? He was second to Kettle Corn, who in turn finished a good 8 ½ lengths second to Game On Dude in the Pacific Classic last weekend.
Godolphin Racing’s Alpha trained by Kiaran McLaughlin will be ridden by John Velasquez for the first time Saturday. Velasquez certainly helps this horse’s chances, but Alpha had Joel Rosario up in the Whitney and that didn’t seem to help him much, as he finished sixth. I don’t see him being a factor in the Woodward either.
There are certainly some other good stakes today that I would like to preview, but I am getting ready to head to Nashville as we speak for the Kentucky Wildcats/Western Kentucky Hilltoppers opening game at LP Field. Hopefully whatever bar I am in before the game will have NBC Sports so I can catch the Woodward coverage which begins at 4pm Eastern I am told.
I am rooting for Successful Dan in this one, and think he has what it takes to get it done. I am not sure the weather conditions today in Saratoga but it is raining terribly in Lexington as I type. That said I am still going to put Dan on top, with Flat Out and Paynter finishing in the mix for second and third. Hope you get a chance to catch the race too! Go Cats and Giddy Up!