Yoshida Tries Dirt, Rallies to Victory in Woodward Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

September 2nd, 2018

One week after Catholic Boy made a successful turf-to-dirt switch to win the Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, the talented Yoshida parlayed an identical surface shakeup into an authoritative victory in Saratoga’s $750,000 Woodward Stakes (gr. I).

Yoshida’s resounding success was not really expected, but neither was it a major surprise. As a Japanese-bred son of the Arima Kinen Grand Prix (Jpn-I) winner Heart’s Cry, Yoshida seems at first glance to be bred like a turf horse, and indeed, he’s been quite effective on grass, with a victory in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. I) among his biggest triumphs.

But then again, Yoshida’s dam is Hilda’s Passion, winner of the 2011 Ballerina Stakes (gr. I) on dirt at Saratoga, so the colt has had the pedigree all along to suggest that an affinity for dirt could be in his genetics. And wow, did that affinity ever rise to the forefront in the Woodward!

Facing a huge field of thirteen rivals, Yoshida was given a patient ride by jockey Joel Rosario, saving ground near the back of the pack on the first turn while longshots Leofric and Rally Cry battled for the lead through fractions of :24.00, :47.69, and 1:11.56. Approaching the three-eighths pole, Yoshida was still five lengths off the pace, and the field was starting to bunch up tightly with everyone making their moves at once. There would be no opportunity to weave through the pack—Rosario would have to send Yoshida to the outside.

Of course, “outside” is a relative term, and in this case it meant swinging into the homestretch approximately nine-wide—no easy task. Yet Yoshida did benefit from the fact that the deep-closing race favorite Gunnevera was out in the ten path, losing even more ground.

But ultimately, the ground loss didn’t make a major difference to either colt. Yoshida, accelerating strongly once in the straight, flew past the leaders in the final furlong and pulled away to win by two lengths, running the final furlong in about :12 1/5 (a sharp fraction) to record a final time of 1:48.94. Gunnevera, likewise producing a big finish, got up to edge Leofric by a nose for second, with Rally Cry holding fourth.
For Yoshida, the victory was the biggest of his career and opened up new options for the future. The Bill Mott-trained four-year-old now looms as a major contender for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) on dirt in November at Churchill Downs, a race that could be a better fit for Yoshida then the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. I) on turf, which might be a little shorter than Yoshida prefers.

In any case, after witnessing high-level turf-to-dirt successes on back-to-back weekends at Saratoga, it will be interesting to see if the move becomes more common in the future!