Is Liam's Map vulnerable to bounce in the Woodward?
When last seen four weeks ago in the Whitney (G1), Liam's Map turned in a tremendous performance in his first attempt going 1 1/8 miles. After shaking off early challengers with insanely fast splits of :46 and 1:09 3/5, Liam's Map opened up a seemingly insurmountable 4 1/2-length lead with a furlong to go.
Insurmountable for all except Honor Code, the Metropolitan H. (G1) scorer who made a ferocious late bid and caught Liam's Map in the final yards to win by a neck, with Tonalist 1 1/2 lengths back in third.
Everything appears in place for Liam's Map to attempt to win the Woodward in similar style. The venue and distance are the same, and he's drawn inside the other speed in post 2. The question is whether the Whitney took enough starch out to make him vulnerable to serious regression.
On paper, Liam's Map might have to work early again. Bay of Plenty posted solid splits winning the $100,000 Alydar over this track and trip August 9. Fellow Todd Pletcher trainee Coach Inge, the Brooklyn (G2) winner, perhaps won't show the kind of speed he displayed in the Suburban H. (G2), but should still be prominent.
Sitting in the catbird seat will be Protonico, first or second in four of his past five starts including back-to-back wins in the Ben Ali (G3) and Alysheba (G2) in the spring. He's not run since the May 1 Alysheba, when he edged subsequent Stephen Foster H. (G1) winner Noble Bird by a head.
Pletcher's fourth Woodward entry is the classic-placed Mylute, who captured a one-mile allowance at Belmont in his first start for Pletcher prior to a fifth in the Suburban and second in the Alydar.
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens' two-pronged Woodward challenge includes Suburban and Excelsior (G3) victor Effinex and Grade 1 veteran Wicked Strong, most recently fourth in the Whitney. Both colts would appreciate a strong, contentious pace.
The field is rounded out by 2014 Kentucky Derby (G1) runner-up Commanding Curve, unplaced in three previous attempts over the Saratoga strip.
Another horse looking to steal a graded stakes on Saturday is Goldy Espony, who will attempt to follow-up on recent wire-to-wire wins in the Waya (G3) and $100,000 River Memories in the $200,000 Glens Falls (G3) for fillies and mares over 1 3/8 miles on Saratoga's inner turf.
Goldy Espony's attempt might be complicated by Ceisteach, who captured the Robert G. Dick Memorial (G3) at Delaware Park and the $57,000 Keertana at Churchill Downs employing similar tactics.
Other contenders include New York (G2) and Waya runner-up Eastern Belle, and the multiple Group 3-placed Regardez, a recent five-length allowance winner for Chad Brown.
Brown also has a strong presence in the $300,000 Saranac (G3), a nine-furlong grass test for three-year-olds. The conditioner will start three, including National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2) scorer Takeover Target, Kent (G3) runner-up Money Multiplier, and Winter Springs, who was sixth in the Hall of Fame in his U.S. debut.
Trainer Mark Casse saddles American Derby (G3) winner World Approval, fourth in the Hall of Fame last out, and Sky Hero, a close second in an August 15 allowance following a layoff of more than eight months.
The field is rounded out by multiple stakes winner Vision Perfect, Lamplighter victor Nonna's Boy, and last-out allowance winner Go Around from the Bill Mott barn.
(Liam's Map photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)