By Ellis Starr – National Racing Analyst for Equibase
The 59th running of the $750,000 Woodward Stakes (G1) is led by Mucho Macho Man, winner of the Suburban Handicap (G2) in his most recent race and at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Woodward. Having also won the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) in March, Mucho Macho Man should be very tough as he is the only two-time graded stakes winner this year in the field. Rule appears to fit at this level as he won the Monmouth Cup Stakes (G2) in July but his last-place finish in a field of nine in the Whitney Invitational Handicap (G1) at Saratoga Race Course creates a large question mark regarding his ability to rebound to top form. Last year’s Travers Stakes (G1) winner Stay Thirsty has lost four races since then, and like Rule he enters the Woodward off a poor effort when fifth and well beaten behind Mucho Macho Man in the Suburban. Last year’s Pennsylvania Derby (G2) and Cigar Mile Handicap (G1) winner To Honor and Serve began his 2012 campaign in fine order with victory in the Westchester Stakes (G3) in April but has only managed a third- and a fourth-place effort since then. Trickmeister will be the one in front from the start as his style is to go to the front and lead for as long as he can, which has aided him in winning four non-graded stakes in his career. However, he has failed in all three attempts in graded stakes company although he did manage to hold on to third behind Mucho Macho Man in the Suburban. Gourmet Dinner won the non-graded Majestic Light Stakes in July, his first victory after eight losses following the biggest win of his career in the fall of 2010 in the Delta Jackpot Stakes (G3). Last but not least, Cease enters the Woodward off a win at this 1 1/8-mile distance at Saratoga, having earned his only other win of 2012 at the same distance in the Maxim Gold Cup Handicap in March.
Mucho Macho Man started his 2012 campaign in fine style with a victory in the Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes at the distance of the Woodward, earning a career-best 117 Equibase Speed Figure in the process. Mucho Macho Man then won the Gulfstream Park Handicap. Following a third-place effort in the Alysheba Stakes (G2) in May, Mucho Macho Man returned to stakes-winning form in the Suburban, earning a new career-best 121 speed figure in the process. Rested nearly two months since his Suburban victory, Mucho Macho Man has been working in excellent fashion at Saratoga in preparation for the Woodward, with all signs suggesting he is set for his best effort and to pick up where he left off in July, with a win.
Cease could run well in the Woodward based on the fact he has shown he really likes running on the surface, with a perfect three-for-three record at Saratoga in his career. Cease won pretty easily at the Woodward distance on this track on July 25, tying his previous career-best 116 speed figure in the process. Before that, Cease tried 1 ½ miles on turf and a tried running on a synthetic track, failing badly both times. However, before those two efforts, back at the same 1 1/8-mile distance and on a conventional dirt track in March in the Maxim Gold Cup Stakes, Cease was once again victorious. With a good chance to improve off that career-best effort in his second start following two months off, Cease could be poised to post the upset win in the Woodward.
To Honor and Serve disappointed as the betting favorite in the Suburban in July, finishing fourth behind Mucho Macho Man and with no visible excuse. However, having won the Pennsylvania Derby last year at the distance of the Woodward and returning as a 4-year-old to win the Westchester Handicap in his first start of 2012, To Honor and Serve has proven capable of rebounding from disappointing efforts. With a career-best 120 Equibase Speed Figure earned last year when winning the Cigar Mile Handicap proving he can compete at the top level, To Honor and Serve is not a horse to completely discount when considering who can win this race.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figure: is Gourmet Dinner (109), Rule (110), Stay Thirsty (119) and Trickmeister (122).
Mucho Macho Man
To Honor and Serve
$750,000 Woodward Stakes (G1)
Saturday, Saratoga Race Course, Race 10, 5:45 p.m. EDT
3-year-olds & Older1 1/8 Miles
PP., Horse, Jockey, Trainer, Odds
All carry 126 pounds.