The question on racing fans’ minds when looking at the field for the 61st running of the $600,000 Woodward Stakes is whether Moreno can repeat his wire-to-wire effort earlier this month when victorious in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at the same distance in this race. The connections of Whitney runner-up Itsmyluckyday certainly hope not, as do eight other entrants including Grade 1 Suburban Handicap winner Zivo, who has now won six races in a row.
The list of others with good recent efforts that might warrant a shot at running down the likely lone frontrunner include Micromanage, who won the Birdstone Stakes at Saratoga three weeks ago and Norumbega, who won the Grade 2 Brooklyn Stakes in July. Among upset candidates, Stephanoatsee finished second at Saratoga last month and his best career effort came at the distance of the Woodward when second in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes in California last year.
Similar to last week’s Travers Stakes, I believe there is an upset brewing, and Stephanoatsee may be the one to do the upsetting. Although winless since October 2012, 11 races ago, Stephanoatsee is rounding back to the kind of form he demonstrated when second in the Strub Stakes in February of 2012 at the distance of the Woodward.
Switching to the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito in June, Stephanoatsee finished fourth in a one-turn mile race with a 91 Equibase Speed Figure then improved markedly to 108 figure when running second going the distance of the Woodward at Saratoga last month. Since that race, Stephanoatsee put in a half-mile drill over the track that was the best of 41 on the day and for the Woodward he gets the services of Joel Rosario for the first time. As such, Stephanoatsee has a decent shot to pull off the upset and win.
In winning the Whitney Stakes last month, Moreno finally lived up to the promise many people have thought he had since his win in the Dwyer Stakes in July 2013. Winless in eight races after that, Moreno established a fairly fast pace on the lead in the Whitney and never looked back, earning a career best 123 Equibase Speed Figure. Since the race, Moreno worked a splendid five-eighths of a mile that was the best of 46 workouts at the distance on the day, showing he is holding his form. With it being unlikely another horse will want to challenge Moreno in the early stages of the Woodward, he could find himself in the same position and win his second Grade 1 stakes race in a row.
Itsmyluckyday could make no headway against Moreno in the Whitney, remaining the same one and one-half lengths behind the leader over the last one-eighth of a mile. Just the same, Itsmyluckyday earned a career best 122 Equibase Speed Figure in that race, and two races prior to that, a then-career best 121 figure winning the Majestic Light Stakes, so it can be said he is in the best form of his career and likely to run competitively once again.
Zivo cuts back in distance from 1¼ miles after winning the Suburban Handicap last month at Belmont Park, earning a 115 Equibase Speed Figure in the process. He has won at Saratoga previously and in the Suburban he beat Moreno, who came back to flatten him in the Whitney. Having now won six races in a row, including races in December and January with 118 and 119 figures, Zivo is yet another proven in top company at the distance and who has run fast enough to win the Woodward with his best effort.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures: Last Gunfighter (123), Long River (121), Micromanage (113), Norumbega (110), Prayer for Relief (119), Romansh (121).