Saturday's 2013 Woodward Stakes is an exciting precursor to the Breeders' Cup Classic, with a purse amounting to $750,000.
As Ron Mitchell of BloodHorse.com reports, 2012 Breeders Cup winner Fort Larned is not fully healthy and thus will not run in the race. Mitchell documented the reasoning articulated by trainer Ian Waite:
He strained something in behind. It doesn't look too serious, but he has to be 100% to run in these races. In watching him this morning I didn't think he was 100%. He went out and jogged and took a long time to warm up and that is not normal for him
Fort Larned was expected to be a prominent contender, and his absence caused Paynter to be installed as the new 2-to-1 favorite for the event at Saratoga Race Course in New York.
It's only a six-horse field, though, so just about anything can happen over the course of one-and-one-eighths of a mile. Below is an overview of the post positions and contenders, along with predictions for win, place and show.
Note: Race history and statistics are courtesy of Equibase.com.
When: Saturday, Aug. 31 (post time is 5:45 p.m. ET)
Where: Saratoga Springs Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
TV: NBC Sports Network
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra
*Fort Larned scratched, leaving post No. 3 open.
Predictions for Win, Place and Show
Win: Successful Dan
Coming off of a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap, there is definitely some momentum for Successful Dan to take into this race.
As the video below outlines, trainer Charlie LoPresti was eager to get his horse pumped up before the run, and it actually resulted in a shocking development that led Successful Dan to take a tumble:
It appears any lack of energy before races is no longer a problem for Successful Dan, and that should translate to a burst to the winner's circle.
The fact that Fort Larned is out takes away a premium contender in his direct proximity, which will allow jockey Julien Leparoux to have some flexibility coming out of the starting gates.
Ron the Greek is closest to the rail and shouldn't be too big of a threat, which means a thrilling battle between Paynter and Flat Out is likely in store from the beginning.
The margin of victory shouldn't be much more than a neck, but Paynter will unfortunately come out on the losing end.
Paynter's background is inspiring, though. Ed McNamara of Newsday.com highlights how only a year ago, the horse was fighting to survive with colitis and laminitis. The eight-month recovery period was courageously endured, and Paynter was eventually fit enough to return to competition
After winning his first race back by a dominant 4.5 lengths in an allowance showcase at Betfair Hollywood Park, Paynter finished second in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap.
The most recent effort against a lesser field drops Paynter's stock ever so slightly, because this is his first Grade 1 race since returning from the medical issues. In that case, finishing in the money is still a respectable result.
Show: Mucho Macho Man
Earlier this month, Mucho Macho Man finished third at the Whitney Handicap, just behind Successful Dan.
It helps that the race was held at Saratoga, but Mucho Macho Man is sort of in a predicament. He is at a higher level than the true long shots in the Woodward Stakes, but isn't quite on the level of Successful Dan or Paynter.
The last win Mucho Macho Man had was at the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap in Belmont Park, which was over a year ago.
Mucho Macho Man will benefit from having a Hall of Famer Edgar Prado in the saddle.
Prado has won the Belmont Stakes twice and rode Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro to victory at Churchill Downs in 2006, but his expertise on dirt tracks won't be quite enough to triumph in this one.