The Grade 1 Woody Stephens, named for that famed conditioner who was known for his winning prowess, this race brings together a nice group of sprinters that are looking to notch a celebrated victory on one of the biggest days of the year for Thoroughbreds. It is interesting … during the past 4 years this race was won by barns that would not qualify as “super” with respect to their sizes. Tim Keefe’s Still Having Fun, Vickie Foley’s Hog Creek Hustle, Tom Amoss’ No Parole, and Saffie Joseph’s Drain the Clock … Who will join this list?
Now, let’s find out about this field…
#1 Jack Christopher (Jky: J. Ortiz/Trn: C. Brown):
After his colt was forced to scratch just before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Del Mar, trainer Chad Brown promised that his son of Munnings would be back the following year … if possible. Throughout the spring, the talented runner made progress on the training track. He made a strong tracking move in the Pat Day Mile (G2) on the Derby undercard. That got everyone’s attention, and Brown now has this dirt miler ready for his next step. He will be a heavy … a heavy favorite on Saturday. If he is ready to roll, then this race is his. Jose Ortiz gets the assignment, and we know what he can do.
#2 Pappacap (Jky: F. Prat/Trn: M. Casse):
If there is a Derby Trail runner with the most experience on the track, then it is probably Mark Casse’s colt by Gun Runner. Even though he fell behind in the Louisiana Series in January and February, he has kept on. The Florida Derby (G1) was not a race he could win, especially considering that he was facing White Abarrio and Simplification. Despite breaking well in the Pat Day Mile (G2), he faded to 2nd behind Brown’s champ. Casse is lucky to be able to secure Flavien Prat to ride once again, and that might be the only plus in this spot.
#3 Wit (Jky: I. Ortiz/Trn: T. Pletcher):
If there is a major check to Brown’s ace, then it might be this Todd Pletcher-trainee. The son of Practical Joke sure did turn some heads at Saratoga last year, when he blew away the field in the Grade 3 Sanford S. While his runback in the Hopeful S. (G1) was a miss against Steve Asmussen’s Gunite. Coming back to the track for his ’22 debut, the 3-yr-old won by a whisker in the Bay Shore (G3) versus Highly Respected. The bottom line … he is going to have to do more in the “Woody.” There is speed and power in this race, but Irad Ortiz is up to the challenge. A player to be sure, at the very least for the exotics …
#4 Morello (Jky: J. Rosario/Trn: S. Asmussen):
One of a pair of Steve Asmussen runners that have drawn-in ... Owned by Blue Lion Thoroughbreds, the colt by Classic Empire won the Jimmy W. $100k, and followed that up with a major score in the Gotham S. (G3). He was considered a favorite coming into the Wood Memorial (G2), but a lack of endurance got the best of him. His HOF trainer sent him to the bench, and some rest was in order. It will be interesting to see how Jose Lezcano chooses to take him out. He needs to be forwardly placed … I will be taking a wait-and-see approach.
#5 Chasing Time (Jky: T. Gaffalione/Trn: S. Asmussen):
The other half of the Asmussen uncoupled entry is this My Racehorse-owned colt by Not This Time. These investors show-up in droves at the windows, and can sometimes drive down the odds on the tote. Nothing like a zeal for an investment … It is hard to gauge this runner’s ability after a number of recent failures that began with the Rebel S. (G2) at Oaklawn. Since that race, it appears that Asmussen is trying to find the proper distance … it's not easy. To cutback or not to cutback … that is the question … Tyler Gaffalione makes the trip from Churchill to ride, and it is going to take a titanic effort to win here. Sorry MyRacehorse folks … not what you wanted to hear.
#6 Provocateur (Jky: L. Saez/Trn: T. Pletcher):
The “other” Pletcher entry is a well-bred colt by Into Mischief that is also a MyRacehorse-owned investment. With Spendthrift as a partner, the legacy of B. Wayne Hughes continues. The challenge for this runner isn’t the distance per se; rather, it is the class divide. Having run primarily against “Non-G” sorts, he is going to have to find more against this lot. Luckily, he has some solid speed at his disposal. With an aggressive rider like Luis Saez, that might prove the deciding factor when it comes to hitting-the-board.
Join us Saturday for all of our Belmont Stakes card selections! Should be a great set of races from NYRA’s home in Elmont, New York! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter … Horseracing_USA !!!