Itsmyluckyday galloped past Moreno down the closing stretch to win the 2014 Woodward Stakes on Saturday in Saratoga Springs, New York.
In contrast to the Triple Crown events, this annual Grade I race features many colts aged four and older. During the 61st running of the Breeders' Cup Challenge showdown, the four-year-old ridden by Paco Lopez crossed the 1 1/8-mile track's finish line first on a sunny summer day.
After earning $600,000 purse, Itsmyluckyday's owners will direct their Breeders' Cup Classic later this year. If he closes out this well at Santa Anita Park, he could collect a much bigger earning in two months.
Here's a complete look at the final order and prize payouts.
|Woodward Stakes Payouts|
|3. Prayer for Relief||$6.00|
|Equibase, via ESPN|
Woodward Stakes Recap
The Woodward Stakes quickly became a two-horse race between the two early favorites. Moreno jumped out to an early lead, but Itsmyluckyday fought back before stealing a late victory.
Around three quarters through the opening mile, the two stars separated from the pack. They strode shoulder-to-shoulder down the closing stretch before Itsmyluckyday erased Moreno's early edge.
Some controversy ensued, as the two sprinted so closely to one another that they made some incidental contact. Nevertheless, the final ruling upheld, and the horse with the grammatically-horrifying moniker would remain the winner.
Fresh off an impressive Whitney Handicap victory, Moreno entered Saturday as the favorite. Trainer Eric Guillot could not contain his excitement when discussing the upcoming race with the Saratogian's Chris Maley.
“I’m very excited, I love this horse,” Guillot said. “When it’s a Grade I and you’ve got a shot you just want to get up in the morning and take care of your race horse.”
Although Moreno's recent Grade I victory put him on the map, Itsmyluckyday had won three consecutive races before finishing second in the Whitney Handicap. Overall, Edward Plesa's colt had won eight times before increasing it to nine on Saturday.
On June 16, 2013, the horse pulled up during the Pegasus Stakes at New Jersey's Monmouth Park. He has since recovered strong, and Plesa told The Courier-Journal's Jennie Rees that he entered Woodward looking as good as ever.
He’s coming into this race, on a rating of 1 to 10, an 11. He couldn’t be doing any better. He’s not fatigued. It’s very gratifying for me to see that everything that we’ve done, it’s been part of a plan—knock on wood. Usually something happens and kind of knocks the plan askew. That hasn’t happened with him.
Plesa proved correct, as his colt ran stronger as the race unfolded.
A year after riding underdog Alpha to victory, jockey John Velazquez came short of pulling the same feat with Prayer for Relief, who entered as a long shot. Yet he did earn an albeit distant third-place finish.
Saratoga enjoyed a strong field, but the race lost a serious contender in Micromanage, whom The Daily Racing Form's Marcus Hersh declared a late scratch.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Micromanage emerged victorious three weeks ago at the Birdstone Stakes, showing a strong feel for the Saratoga course in the process. Keeping up with the top-two finishers would have proved difficult, but now we'll never know how he would have fared.
The next step for a few of these horses is the Breeders' Cup Classic set for Saturday, Nov. 1. Itsmyluckyday and Moreno are both currently listed as contenders. The projected loaded field includes Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome, who nearly made history by claiming the Triple Crown.
Four Woodward Stakes winners went on to finish first in the Classic. Last year, Alpha instead partook in the Breeders' Cup Mile, where he placed eighth.
Saturday's victory hardly guarantees future success for Itsmyluckyday in Santa Anita, but he'll now enter the deep-pocketed event as a serious contender with a big victory on his resume.