Woodward kicks off championship meet
by James Scully
Belmont Park’s fall season begins Friday and the opening
weekend features four Grade 1 stakes. Among the highlights is
Saturday’s 51st running of the Woodward S. (G1), which was
captured by Horse of the Year Mineshaft in 2003. Named for New
York racing giant William Woodward, the nine-furlong event has
been won by some of the biggest names in the sport and has also
been the scene of some notable upsets.
The first running in 1954 was held at a mile, and the distance
was switched to 1 1/4 miles in 1956. In 1959, Belmont S. winner
SWORD DANCER squared off against 1958 Horse of the Year ROUND
TABLE and closed gamely to win by a neck under Eddie Arcaro.
Sword Dancer became the first back-to-back Woodward winner with a
victory over champion BALD EAGLE in the 1960 edition.
KELSO earned the first of five straight Horse of the Year
titles when reeling off six straight stakes wins in 1960, but he
didn’t make his first Woodward appearance until his four-year-old
season in 1961. The Bohemia Stable gelding drew off to an easy
eight-length score that year, with Kentucky Derby and Preakness
champ CARRY BACK among the rivals in his wake. He returned to
defeat JAIPUR by 4 1/2 lengths in 1962 and notched his third
straight Woodward with a 3 1/2-length triumph over NEVER BEND in
1963. However, his streak came to an end when the heavy favorite
fell a nose short to GUN BOW in 1964.
BUCKPASSER captured the Woodward during his Horse of the Year
campaign in 1966, and the 1967 edition brought together three of
the best horses of the era in Buckpasser, DAMASCUS and DR FAGER.
However, it turned out to be no contest as Damascus dominated
with a 10-length win under Bill Shoemaker en route to Horse of
the Year honors that season. Damascus returned the following year
as the 1-9 favorite, but the New York-bred MR. RIGHT upset his
rival by a nose at equal weights.
Horse of the Year ARTS AND LETTERS easily defeated champion
NODOUBLE in the 1969 Woodward, and the Charlie Whittingham-trained
COUGAR II finished first in 1971 before being disqualified to
third. In 1972, the distance was switched to 1 1/2 miles. Travers
winner KEY TO THE MINT cemented champion three-year-old honors
that year with an authoritative victory over Kentucky Derby and
Belmont winner RIVA RIDGE.
SECRETARIAT was expected to make short work of his rivals in
the 1973 running and when he rolled past the pacesetting PROVE
OUT on the far turn, many felt it would be a matter of how far he
won by. But trainer Allen “Giant Killer” Jerkens had
Prove Out ready for a career-best performance and the four-year-old
re-rallied over the off track to catch Secretariat and beat him
by 4 1/2 lengths. Jerkens also beat Secretariat the month before
The FOREGO years began in 1974. The venerable gelding won four
straight Woodwards, carrying 135 pounds in 1976 and 133 in 1977.
The distance was cut back to 1 1/8 miles in 1976, and Forego
spotted the runner-up 20 pounds while running nine furlongs in a
blistering 1:45 4/5. Amazing.
The next three years were special as the Woodward was once
again held at 1 1/4 miles. SEATTLE SLEW turned in a scintillating
wire-to-wire performance to win by four lengths over EXCELLER.
AFFIRMED cruised to a 2 1/2-length score the next year and
SPECTACULAR BID scared away all rivals to win one of America’s
biggest races in a walkover in 1980.
Angel Cordero Jr. won the first of five straight Woodwards
with Pleasant Colony in 1981, and ALYSHEBA (1988) and EASY GOER (1989)
were a couple of impressive winners later in the decade. The 1990s
featured Horse of the Year HOLY BULL, who scorched his rivals
with a five-length victory in 1994, back-to-back wins from CIGAR
(1995-96) and a strong performance from SKIP AWAY during his
Horse of the Year season in 1998.
Saturday’s Woodward has attracted a field of eight, including
GHOSTZAPPER (Awesome Again). Winner of last fall’s 6 1/2-furlong
Vosburgh S. (G1) and a close third in the seven-furlong King’s
Bishop S. (G1), the four-year-old colt stretched out in distance
last time for trainer Bobby Frankel with spectacular results,
winning the Philip H. Iselin Breeders’ Cup H. (G3) by 10 3/4
Bred to easily handle 10 furlongs, Ghostzapper looks like the
best dirt horse in training and should have little difficulty
proving so on Saturday. The Woodward should serve as the perfect
springboard toward victory in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).