Horak: How to play Woodbine's stakes-heavy card

Horak: How to play Woodbine's stakes-heavy card
Photo: Michael Burns/Woodbine

Woodbine is offering five stakes races Saturday. Three of the stakes are graded, and the other two are prep races for the Queen’s Plate. Let’s dive in and see if we can uncover a few value win contenders. 

Race 3 - Grade 2 Dance Smartly - Post Time 2:03 p.m. EDT 

The two favorites are No. 1 Etoile (7-5) and No. 4 Elizabeth Way (2-1). The former showed ability in France and tries to bounce back after a disappointing effort as the favorite at Santa Anita. The latter is in decent form and should make her presence felt throughout. I seriously considered No. 2 Theorora B. (6-1) at a price for Michael Dickinson, but ultimately landed on No. 3 Romantic Pursuit (4-1). She fired from off the pace in both starts since moving to the Brendan Walsh barn. She was second in the Very One (G3) at Gulfstream Park over the winter, and she graduated at this mile and a quarter distance on turf at Belmont last summer.

Race 7 - Grade 3 Bold Venture - Post Time 4:14 p.m. 

No. 4 Pink Lloyd is the 4-5 favorite, and he has been the boss of this division for quite some time. The 8-year-old gelding is a remarkable 24-for-30 at Woodbine and has only stubbed his toe once in his last nine starts. He projects a stalking trip and could easily make it four straight wins. I don’t know if any of these can beat him, but No. 3 Olympic Runner might be worth a small play at 5-1. He is back on all-weather ground in his third start after a long layoff. He is 2-for-3 with a show finish in a trio of local synthetic sprints, and the 4-year-old gelding is probably capable of running faster and challenging the chalk. 

Race 8 - Plate Trial Stakes - Post Time 4:47 p.m. 

This is the first of two Queen’s Plate prep races, and I don’t have anything bad to say about 4-5 favorite No. 3 Clayton. He fired in all three starts and I like the distance progression from five furlongs to seven panels to a mile and a sixteenth, and now to a mile and an eighth. He easily handled a route of ground last time, and there is probably more to offer in his third start after a layoff. Second betting choice No. 4 Halo Again (9-5) was briefly on the Kentucky Derby trail, but that did not pan out. He won the Coronation Futurity at this course and distance as a juvenile, and he returned to Woodbine and captured the Queenston at seven panels July 4. He stretches back out and should be forwardly placed. No. 6 Elusive Knight might be the right one to back at 5-1. The latter fired exacta shots in all five local outings, but has not won since his sprint debut last fall. The added distance of this race probably helps him the most, and he might move forward in his third start after a layoff.   

Race 9 - Grade 2 King Edward - Post Time 5:22 p.m. 

This might be the most wide open of all the stakes races on Saturday. No. 5 Silent Poet (8-5) is the in-form favorite, and he should be mixing it up throughout in his third start after a layoff. He loves this turf course but seems a bit shaky at this level in races at a mile and up. No. 8 Delaware (5-2) figures to attract plenty of support for Chad Brown. He added blinkers and ran a much better race in his second stateside start in an optional claiming turf sprint July 5. He easily won twice at this one-mile trip in France last summer, and one of those victories was a group three affair. Mark Casse has a pair of runners, and I could not quite pull the trigger on No. 1 Dream Maker at 20-1. He tries turf in his second start after a long layoff and has always been held in high regard but never could break through in the stakes ranks on dirt. Dam has produced four turf winners and he is an interesting longshot on the surface switch. I went with Casse’s other runner No. 2 March to the Arch at 4-1, and he might get a good setup in this race. His recent form is not great, but he fits with these on his best day, and he won his lone local turf attempt. This is not his best distance, but his class might prevail.  

Race 10 - Woodbine Oaks - Post Time 5:57 p.m. 

The final stakes race on the Saturday program is the second prep at nine furlongs for the Queen’s Plate. No. 8 Lasting Union (5-2) is the favorite trying all-weather ground for the first time. She jumped up and graduated in a dirt route at Laurel on June 19 and ran off the screen in her first start vs. winners at Delaware on July 22. She showed sharp early speed and kept on going in her last pair, and the runner-up from her last was a next-out winner. Her numbers rose smartly July 22 and she is a pace factor if she handles the new surface. No. 1 Curlin’s Voyage (3-1) should get pace to chase and looks like a strong threat in her third start after a layoff. She proved she could route multiple times in 2019. She returned with a six-panel runner-up finish in the Star Shoot on June 13 and was last seen rallying for the win in the Fury at seven panels July 5. She should save ground behind the speed, and I would not be surprised if she was the actual favorite when the gates opened. I respect both fillies, but my top choice No. 7 Merveilleux should offer more value at 4-1 on the line. She adds blinkers and figures to stalk the pace in her third start after a layoff. She was competitive in all five synthetic routes and fired a bullet for this Aug. 8. Last time, she chased wide from the outside post and ended up an even fourth in the Selene (G3).  

Top Stories

Dirt may be king here, but thankfully, turf racing...
In this biweekly series, racing analyst Keeler Joh...
Santa Anita has a heavy stakes schedule coming up...
Grupo 7C Stable’s Jesus’ Team , third in the Jim D...
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday that he is still...