The Woodward took a serious hit Thursday, when news broke that multiple Grade 1 winner Shaman Ghost would miss the race due to throat surgery. He upset Frosted to win last year’s renewal, and he would have been one of only a few horses in training that figured to make Gun Runner work in his quest for back-to-back Grade 1 victories at Saratoga.
Fun fact: Only one horse has won back-to-back renewals of the Woodward since 1997. That horse was Lido Palace, who did so in 2001 and 2002. After that one, the list of horses to win consecutive Woodwards reads as follows: Cigar, Slew o’ Gold, Forego (four times), Kelso (three times), and Sword Dancer. In an age where top-tier handicap horses are difficult to come by beyond Arrogate and Gun Runner, it’s a shame Shaman Ghost isn’t getting a crack at another Woodward victory.
THURSDAY’S RESULTS: Clipthecouponannie got a strange trip and was well behind runaway winner Picco Uno. We dropped $20.
FRIDAY’S PLAY: I’ll focus on the fifth race, which features my best bet of the day. That’s #5 MISSIMPAZI, who debuts for Chris Englehart following a series of strong workouts. I’ll put $20 on her to win and key her in $5 doubles that end with #4 LUNAIRE and #6 LUCULLAN in the sixth.
TOTAL WAGERED: $30
Best Bet: Missimpazi, Race 5
Longshot: Alex the Terror, Race 8
Jcs American Dream (MTO)
Table for Six
PINCHBECK: Has improved in every start to date and has a pedigree that suggests the added distance she gets today won’t be a problem. She’s got more tactical speed than she showed last time out; TABLE FOR SIX: Has not won in nearly two years, but has also never finished worse than third in eight starts for trainer Ralph Nicks. I can’t endorse her on top, but she can’t be ignored if you’re playing vertical exotics; BAREEQA: Flopped as the favorite last time out, but she’s tough when right and merits a look if she draws in off the AE list. DIRT SELECTIONS: JCS AMERICAN DREAM, KATE IS A TEN, MO PROMISE.
Tug of War
SPECIAL JO: Seems like the main speed in here and goes out for a barn that’s been knocking at the door all meet long. The inside draw seems favorable given his running style; TUG OF WAR: Has not run a bad race since being claimed by Rudy Rodriguez. If there’s any hesitation here, it’s because he may want a bit longer than the six furlongs he gets here; WACO: Is dropped substantially in class for his first start in more than a year. He’s run some exceptional races over this surface, but the drop and the long layoff are both big red flags.
BOSS MAN: Drops in for a tag after running an OK third in his 2017 debut. Servis and Ortiz have done tremendous work together, and this gelding seems like the horse to beat; SPIN CYCLE: Drops down in class after setting the pace in his last start against optional claimers. There isn’t much early speed in here, and improvement could happen second off the brief layoff at a bit of a price; SPORTSCASTER: Has run well here in the past and has been extremely competitive at this level. He beat starter allowance foes two back at Churchill, and his best puts him right there. DIRT SELECTIONS: TAOISEACH, CONQUEST TWISTER, JACOBSON ENTRY.
EL DULCE: Showed plenty of guts in his debut, when he went wire-to-wire at this route and repelled a strong challenge. These connections have won plenty of 2-year-old races here, and they merit respect once again; MENTALITY: Wired the field in her debut and faces the boys here. She’s certainly talented, but the post position is a concern; DIAL ONE: Broke his maiden by daylight on turf and was third in a stakes race on dirt last time out. There’s lots of speed signed on, so he could sit a nice trip.
Tayler’s the Boss
MISSIMPAZI: Has worked very well since shipping here for a barn that has success with 2-year-old runners. The Finger Lakes-based rider coming in for one mount could be a hint that she’s ready to run; MISSBIGTIMES: Was a well-beaten third behind possible division leader Pure Silver in her debut. She didn’t break well that day, and she could certainly improve with experience; TAYLER’S THE BOSS: Fetched $110k at auction last summer and has worked fairly well. This barn has done well of late and can win with debuting runners.
Caviar Czar (MTO)
LUNAIRE: Has been running against some of the best 3-year-old turf horses around, and should appreciate the class relief he gets here. He was beaten just a length by eventual Grade 2 winner Bricks and Mortar two back; LUCULLAN: Rallied well to be third in a swiftly-run race earlier in the meet. The rider switch to Irad Ortiz is noteworthy, and he’d benefit from a faster-than-expected early pace; CONVIVIAL: Rallied from last to first in his debut, which came last month at Monmouth. He didn’t break well that day, so he could be more forwardly-placed out of the gate here. DIRT SELECTIONS: CAVIAR CZAR, LUNAIRE, PAINTER’S RAGS.
TOMMY T: Was a sharp second in his debut behind a next-out winner, and he beat several of today’s foes in that race. This barn isn’t known for having horses fully cranked right away, so this colt could be a good one; GODOLPHIN ENTRY: I prefer FULLY VESTED, who was third earlier this meet in his first start since October. He may have needed the race and should step forward here; COMMANDEERING: Returns off a layoff and comes back to dirt. He ran into some nice horses as a 2-year-old, and if he channels that form, he’s a contender.
Alex the Terror
Luna de Loco
ALEX THE TERROR: Is 2-for-3 with a second at this seven-furlong distance and won at this route earlier in the meet. He does take a slight step up in class, but that day’s rider returns in this spot, and that’s encouraging; LUNA DE LOCO: Was a good second against optional claimers downstate, and the horse he nosed for the place spot came back to win at next asking. This distance should suit him; BLUEGRASS SINGER: Tackled Grade 2 company last time out and ran over a wet surface he did not care for. He topped a very classy field three back going a one-turn mile, and his best race could win this.
Play Unified (MTO)
Miss Katie Mae
EILA: Has top-end early speed and is a stakes-quality turf sprinter when she’s right. She was fifth in a stakes race last time out and should be the controlling pace presence in this spot; MISS KATIE MAE: Has not won in more than a year, but was a strong second at this level and route last month. She’d be the chief beneficiary if another horse went with my top pick early on; TRUE CHARM: Is at her best at this route. She won an allowance race earlier in the meet and merits a look at a big price given her local record. DIRT SELECTIONS: PLAY UNIFIED, SILVERTONI, APPEALING MAGGIE.
Benny Big Boy
SANAVI: Drops way down in class for powerhouse connections and returns to dirt. He won on the main track in his debut and attracts Jose Ortiz in what appears to be a wide-open finale; MISTER HAYES: Graduated last time out at Belmont and was claimed out of that race by Michelle Nevin. She does solid work with new acquisitions; BENNY BIG BOY: Was midpack in a pretty tough race for this level last time out. He’s shown more tactical speed than that in the past and could improve off of that effort.