How to Bet the Woodward Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

August 29th, 2018

When I examine the entries for Saturday’s $750,000 Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, I am surprised—or maybe astonished is a better word—by the lack of front-runners and genuine speed horses in the field.

Although the nine-furlong race has attracted a full field of fourteen horses, hardly any of them have shown even the slightest inclination to set the pace in any of their races. In fact, of the 137 North American running lines listed in the Brisnet past performances for the race, I can find only four instances in which any of these horses were the early leader in a race—that means they’ve been off the lead in 133 of their last 137 races. Yikes!

Therefore, handicapping the Woodward might prove to be as simple as identifying which of the main contenders is most likely to establish a good position racing on or near the lead. Though when I say “simple,” it’s really not, because how easy can it be to identify such a horse in a field where no one really wants to race on the front end?

But I’ll give it my best shot, and ultimately, my best shot is #12 Sunny Ridge. This five-year-old gelding has been an admirable graded stakes competitor since 2015, most notably finishing second in the Brooklyn Stakes (gr. II) last summer, but you can make a case that he’s better than ever this season. After opening the year with a couple of solid efforts in defeat, including a third-place finish in the Salvator Mile Stakes (gr. III), Sunny Ridge put everything together with a decisive victory in the 8.5-furlong State Dinner Stakes at Belmont Park, rallying from behind a slow pace to win going away by 3 ¼ lengths.

On every level, that was an excellent performance. Sunny Ridge defeated a quality field that include the next-out allowance winner You’re to Blame, and his final time produced strong speed figures (101 BRIS and 102 Beyer). In addition, Sunny Ridge ran the final five-sixteenths of a mile in about :29 flat, an exceptional time that produced a massive 118 BRIS Late Pace rating.

Best of all, Sunny Ridge has shown plenty of tactical speed in his recent races, which should allow him to establish an ideal position near the lead during the early stages of the Woodward. As long as he can avoid getting caught wide on the first turn, I think Sunny Ridge will have every opportunity to take advantage of a soft pace and secure the first Grade 1 win of his career.

#9 Gunnevera, runner-up in the 2017 Travers Stakes (gr. I), is another that I’ll strongly consider based off his easy win in an allowance race at Gulfstream on August 10th, a perfect prep for the Woodward.

Here’s how I would play the race:

$8 to win on #12 Sunny Ridge $3 exacta: 9,12 with 9,12 ($6) $1 trifecta: 9,12 with 9,12 with 8,10,11,13 ($8) $1 trifecta: 9,12 with 8,10,11,13 with 9,12 ($8)

Good luck!