Woodward Stakes Returns to its Roots

With the Woodward Stakes oddly competing with the Kentucky Derby this year, let’s not forget the major move by NYRA in changing the distance of this historic race back to a mile and a quarter and bringing back the glory days of the race that used to crown champions. Read about the early days of the Woodward and its amazing path to the Hall of Fame…

Woodward Stakes Returns to its Roots

By Steve Haskin


The New York Racing Association made a change in its stakes schedule this year that either escaped many people or was not considered significant enough to get excited about. But in reality it was one of the most significant and historic moves they have made in years.

That change was moving the distance of the Woodward Stakes from a mile and an eighth, which had been its distance for 30 consecutive years and 37 of the past 39 years, to a mile and a quarter, which was the distance when the race was inaugurated in 1954.

Forget the Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Jockey Club Gold Cup. The mile and a quarter Woodward, which will be run on Kentucky Derby Day, Sept. 5, as weird as that sounds, has crowned more all-time great champions than any of the aforementioned races.

To demonstrate the importance of the mile and a quarter Woodward, from 1959 to 1969, eight of the 10 runnings of the Woodward were won by horses who are in the Hall of Fame. And in one of the two years it wasn’t, Kelso was beaten by the narrowest of noses by Gun Bow. Prior to 1959 (in 1956 and ’57), three horses who competed in the Woodward, but were upset (Nashua, Gallant Man and Bold Ruler), are in the Hall of Fame.

In 1972, the distance was changed to a mile and a half, then to a mile and an eighth in 1976. Two years later it was finally changed back to a mile and a quarter, and the next three winners – Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Spectacular Bid – are all in the Hall of Fame. From 1981 to 1987 it was again changed to a mile and an eighth, and then NYRA went back to a mile and a quarter for only two years in 1988 and 1989 when it was won by Alysheba and Easy Goer, both in the Hall of Fame.

So, in a span of 16 years the mile and a quarter Woodward was won by horses who are in the Hall of Fame 13 times. In one of the years it wasn’t, California invader Cougar II finished first by five lengths and was taken down in one of the most controversial disqualifications ever in New York. Also, in a span of 19 years, 14 horses who competed in the mile and a quarter Woodward would be named Horse of the Year that year. Those that weren’t named Horse of the Year that year include Sword Dancer (1960), Damascus (1968), Spectacular Bid (1979), and Easy Goer (1989), who are all in the Hall of Fame. The horses they lost out to were Kelso, Dr. Fager, Affirmed, and Sunday Silence – all in the Hall of Fame.

Now, after 30 years of being run at a mile and an eighth, during which only seven winners went on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, two in the past 15 years (Rachel Alexandra and Curlin), the Woodward has been restored to its original distance of a mile and a quarter.

Although the Woodward will never return to its glory days when Hall of Famers Sword Dancer, Kelso, Buckpasser, Damascus, and Arts and Letters accounted for eight Woodward victories in 11 years, and Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Spectacular Bid won three straight in the late 1970s, it is good to have back where it belongs at a mile and a quarter.

The incredible run began in 1959 when the 3-year-old Sword Dancer faced older horses Round Table and Hillsdale in a showdown for Horse of the Year that was called the “Race of the Decade.”

Here we were, only 12 days after the reopening of the new modern state of the art Aqueduct Racetrack with one of the great three-horse matchups in years, right up there with Bold Ruler, Gallant, Man, and Round Table in the 1957 Trenton Handicap.
But this time we had an epic showdown between the best horse in the East, the best horse in the Midwest, and the best horse in the West. And here they were, all converging on Aqueduct to meet for Horse of the Year honors at a mile and a quarter and weight-for-age conditions.

Representing the East was the nation’s leading 3-year-old Sword Dancer, who was beaten a nose in the Kentucky Derby in a controversial finish, finished second in the Preakness, and then defeated older horses in the Met Mile, missing the track record by two-fifths of a second. Two weeks later he captured the Belmont Stakes, then defeated older horses again in the Monmouth Handicap before finishing second against older horses in the Brooklyn Handicap, giving 12 actual pounds to winner and breaking poorly at the start, dropping far back and rallying strongly to be beaten three-quarters of a length. He then wheeled right back and won the Travers Stakes.

Representing the Midwest was the already great Round Table, who revolutionized the sport by becoming the first superstar on both dirt and grass. Round Table came into the Woodward having equaled or broken 16 track records on dirt and grass and had won seven of his last eight starts, carrying from 130 to 136 pounds in all of them, and culminating with a victory in the United Nations Handicap under 136 pounds.

Representing California was the powerhouse Hillsdale, who came into the Woodward having won 10 of his 12 starts at 4 and 10 in a row, including the Hollywood Gold Cup in 1:59 1/5, the seven-furlong San Carlos Handicap, defeating Round Table in 1:21 4/5, the Californian Stakes, American Handicap under 130 pounds, Santa Anita Maturity (later changed to the Charles H. Strub Stakes), Los Angeles Handicap, and Argonaut Stakes. He then came to New York with visions of Horse of the Year and defeated the top-class Bald Eagle in the Aqueduct Handicap under 132 pounds. His only two defeats came early in the year when he was second in the Santa Anita Handicap and San Antonio Stakes.

In all, these three exceptional horses came into the Woodward having won 25 of their 35 starts in 1959, while finishing in the money in 33 of their 35 starts.

Their only two out of the money performances were Sword Dancer’s 3-year-old debut in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes when he finished fifth, and Round Table being virtually eased in a handicap stakes at Santa Anita when he tore open his left front heel while carrying 134 pounds, 25 pounds more than the winner.

History will show it was little Sword Dancer, with Eddie Arcaro flailing away with a roundhouse left-handed whip, who squeezed his way inside Hillsdale, barely visible to the crowd, and just got up in the final strides to win by a head, nailing down the Horse of the Year title.

The following year, Sword Dancer won the Woodward again, but lost the Horse of the Year title to Kelso, which began the historic five-year reign of the immortal gelding, who captured the next three Woodwards before suffering a heartbreaking nose defeat to the brilliant Gun Bow in 1964. That race, however did not cost Kelso his fifth straight Horse of the Year title, as he faced Gun Bow in a rematch in the Washington D.C. International, in which Kelso, at age 7, not only easily defeated his arch rival he set a new world record.

By now, the Woodward and Horse of the Year had become synonymous, and it continued following Kelso’s retirement with successive victories by Horses of the Year Roman Brother in 1965, Buckpasser in 1966, and Sword Dancer’s son Damascus in 1967.

Although Sword Dancer had won the “Race of the Decade,” his son outdid him by winning the “Race of the Century,” which attracted arguably the greatest three horses ever to compete in a single race – Damascus, Dr. Fager, and Buckpasser; names that resounded throughout the racing world.

A showdown in the Woodward Stakes is what racing fans clamored for all year, and it was like a jolt of electricity when it became obvious it was going to happen.

As the big day grew near, the race began to take on epic proportions. Gene Ward, racing columnist for the New York Daily News, wrote: “It’s a rare occasion when the two best colts of any given season are hooked up in a glamour gallop. But the true dream race arrives when there are three of them, as close talent-wise as your next breath, all in action together.”
As big a race as the ’67 Woodward was, no one at the time realized the true magnitude of the event. You had three Horses of the Year and three Hall of Famers who, between them, would capture an amazing 12 championships, equal or break 11 track records, set two world records, and win carrying 130 pounds or more 12 times. Six of those records have never been broken. When Dr. Fager set a world record for the mile, he broke Buckpasser’s previous record. When Damascus broke the 1 1/4-mile track record at Aqueduct, he broke Dr. Fager’s previous record. When Damascus broke the 1 1/8-mile track record at Arlington Park, he broke Buckpasser’s previous record. And when Damascus equaled the 1 1/4-mile track record at Saratoga in the Travers, romping by 22 lengths in the slop, he equaled Buckpasser’s previous record.

In 81 combined starts, they won 64 races, 54 of them stakes, and finished out of the money only three times – Dr. Fager on a disqualification after finishing first by 6 1/2 lengths in one of the most controversial stewards decisions of all time, Damascus after being eased in his final start with a bowed tendon, and Buckpasser in his first career start, in which he finished fourth, beaten 1 1/4 lengths going 5 1/2 furlongs. So, for all intents and purposes they never finished out of the money in 81 starts.

The race also had plenty of controversy when the trainers of Damascus and Buckpasser, Frank Whiteley and Eddie Neloy, entered “rabbits,” or pacesetters, to get Dr. Fager’s blood boiling and prevent him from getting an easy lead. It worked out perfectly for Whiteley, as Hedevar, a former world-record holder at a mile, pushed Dr. Fager through suicidal fractions of :45 1/5 and 1:09 1/5. When Damascus unleashed his patented explosive move he left Buckpasser in his wake and roared by Dr. Fager, drawing off to a 10-length victory, turning the Race of the Century into a procession, while securing Horse of the Year honors.

Damascus, shockingly, was beaten a nose by Mr. Right in the following year’s Woodward, and Whiteley was so infuriated with Baeza’s ride, which he felt was deliberate, considering Baeza’s loyalty to Dr. Fager, he shouted his displeasure at the rider upon his return. Whiteley never spoke to Baeza again.

But the Woodward was right back in the spotlight the following year when Rokeby Stable’s brilliant 3-year-old Arts and Letters, who had followed his narrow defeats to Majestic Prince in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness by rattling of impressive scores in the Met Mile, Belmont Stakes, Jim Dandy, and Travers, faced the best older horse, Nodouble, for Horse of the Year honors. Arts and Letters was just too strong for his older rival and outran him in the stretch to win by two lengths. With the new Belmont Park opening that year, the Woodward bid farewell to Aqueduct and was moved to “Big Sandy.”

In 1970, Preakness winner Personality became yet another 3-year-old to win the Woodward, which earned him the Horse of the Year title from the Thoroughbred Racing Associations. And then in 1971 came the controversial disqualification of Cougar II. The following year, the distance of the race was changed to a mile and a half and the opening, historic chapter of the Woodward Stakes was over.

No one knows how this year’s mile and a quarter Woodward will play out, but one thing is for sure. Whoever wins will be following in the footsteps of some of the greatest legends the sport has ever known.

80 Responses to “Woodward Stakes Returns to its Roots”

  1. dance with fate says:

    So fascinating to hear of the many champions/Hall of Famers who starred in The Woodward. Your stories always weave brilliantly hued threads into the colorful tapestry that is racing history. Cougar ll is also special to me as sire of dear Gato del Sol. Many thanks.

  2. Susie Cartwright says:

    I really enjoyed reading about the Woodward. I wish we could go back to the 70’s. Once I went to Las Vegas with my husband. They were having the annual meeting for The Jockey’s Guild. My husband was named Norman, he asked if I would go down to another floor where they were having a buffet. Well, there I was fixing plates for two people. I almost dropped it, but what was worse Bill Shoemaker asked me if I needed any help. I was thrilled to meet him, but it was humiliating. Your picture with “Shoe” reminded me of that night.

  3. Mike Sekulic says:

    I think the Woodward Stakes was critical to a horse’s stature and in COUGAR’s case the fact that this extremely important win does not appear on his resume has slightly diminished his reputation. Here was a horse that was equally good on turf and dirt who won 10 Grade 1-equivalent races, and if the Woodward disqualification not happened he would have had 11 tallies in this category. So it truly is too bad that his great performance in the 1971 Woodward Stakes is not only nearly forgotten, but that it was erased 20 minutes after he accomplished it! His time of 2:00-2/5 made it the second fastest Woodward in history (to that point in time), and that’s saying something, especially when you consider the amazingly talented roster of winners.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      It may not have tarnished his reputation at the time, but it certainly tarnished his record and his true place in history without that big New York victory on his resume.

  4. Cynthia Holt says:

    This is riveting reading, Steve. Now knowing far more than I could have hoped about the history of the Woodward, I am thrilled to see it returned to its glory distance! It is every bit as bright a jewel in racing crown’s as any other. I hope that it will remain at 1-1/4 miles in perpetuity. As a boomer, I cut my teeth on those heady days of the 1960s and 70s, but never pondered the magnitude of what I was witnessing. I think one seldom does, until time (or a master writer) provides perspective. You have done this for countless readers over the years, and I am grateful. One element of the story puzzles me. If Frank Whiteley knew of Baeza’s leanings towards Dr. Fager, why would he choose him to ride Damascus in such a critical race?

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks very much, Cynthia. I appreciate it. Whiteley didnt want Baeza. It was the owner’s decision. They simply wanted the bst rider in the country without thinking of the consequences.

      • Cynthia Holt says:

        Thank you for your response, Steve. Wow. I guess once again, hindsight is the big winner! Like everyone here, I am looking forward to that Derby list tomorrow. Because of your article, I am now eagerly anticipating the Woodward, too.

      • Jiffy says:

        I never believed that Baeza lost that race deliberately. I think he rode overconfidently, probably expecting to take the lead right at the wire like he always did with Buckpasser. I don’t think he took Mr. Right seriously as a competitor to Damascus–I believe he thought he could take him anytime, and Mr. Right had a little more left than he realized. He was indeed the greatest rider out there, the best I’ve ever seen, but he just happened to make a serious error at an extremely unfortunate time.

  5. Betsy says:

    Looking forward to it, Steve – I can’t believe we’re almost there !

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I agree, the Derby trail has been interminable

      • Betsy says:

        It really has, between the stops and starts, the endless waiting….After all of this, can we please get a fast (fair) track, sunny skies and a cleanly run (as much as a Derby can be ) race? I want HAP to win, but I would also love to see a great race ..preferably between he and Tiz. I couldn’t be happier with how HAP is coming into the race.

        By the way, I haven’t had a chance to read this entry because my vertigo has been acting up – I’ve pretty much been on-line only regarding the Derby because it makes me excited. Now that I’m feeling better, I plan to read this ASAP!

      • Davids says:

        Steve, let’s just hope the waiting has been worth it. A fair track, blue skies, along with a race to tell your grandchildren about in happier times. Finally, the excitement is building.

  6. Steve Haskin says:

    Just a reminder, everyone, Final Derby Rankings Monday afternoon.

    • Davids says:

      I’m intrigued how you place them, Steve. From what I’ve observed, it’s a Royal Flush of A. P. Indy line colts plus the rest in any order. Post positions will determine the preferred order.

  7. Peg says:

    One can only hope that this weird years installment of the Woodward lives up to it’s past glory. Thank you for giving us the reminder of what had come before. So much history! So much greatness! One can only hope…

  8. Spaldeen says:

    The winning photo of Damascus up top hangs on the wall of the 2nd Floor Clubhouse at Belmont along with all the other Woodward winners. If it ever re-opens, I gotta take a look at the 1961 photo. Would the top half show Cougar II all alone at the wire – while the bottom part shows the trophy presentation to the connections of WSC (owned by Bill’s Ralph Wilson?

  9. Alexandra says:

    Another great history lesson, Steve. Do we know why they kept changing the distance?? Can’t wait to see who is around to run in The Woodward this year

  10. Chetty says:

    Hi! Steve, another great article! You’re outdoing yourself!!!! Talking about my time, even if I was young! LOL! Thanks for mentioning “my” Buckpasser! (You know how I feel about him!!!) The greatest!!! My mother loved Kelso, so naturally, I rooted for Gun Bow! Please sometime do an article about the DC International. A race that’s been lost to time. Maybe, not your followers, but there are many racing fans out there that know nothing of the prestige of that race, let alone that it was held at Laurel! They still have a nice turf course. Can’t wait to read your next article. Finally, Kentucky Derby week!!! Don’t know if I’ll be jumping outta my skin like every other year, but, I know, I’ll be biting my nails when they break! Take care.

  11. Marlaine R Meeker says:

    What glorious times they were for racing fans. Thank you Steve.

  12. Spaldeen says:

    What an absolutely great piece!
    Feels like I’m at the track when I read it.
    Do you have to look up anything or is it all from memory?
    I was not aware of the Whiteley-Baeza feud.
    Must’ve made that 1975 Woodward extra sweet for Mr. Whiteley.
    Thank you, Steve…

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks very much. It’s a combination memory and doing some research. I remember thngs better from 40 years than I do 4 weeks ago. LOL

    • Jiffy says:

      The Whiteley-Baeza feud was widely reported at the time, and I think the press made way too much of it later when the two faced off in the infamous match race in 1975. Leading into the race, the story sold newspapers. When Baeza said, “We don’t look at each other,” the New York Times printed profile pictures of the two facing in opposite directions. My belief that Baeza had been unjustly accused had something to do with my decision to cheer for Foolish Pleasure.

  13. Mike Sekulic says:

    It’s such a shame that COUGAR II was disqualified and that his name does not appear on the storied list of Woodward Stakes winners.

  14. Steve Skirvin says:

    Dear Steve,
    Excellent article on The Woodward ! Your readers get a lot of enjoyment from these stories not only because they are in depth but your capacity to tell a story brings the events to life. I was lucky enough to be at Saratoga when Rachel Alexandra won the Woodward; the only time I’ve seen people crying at a race track. I have saved your article from Bloodhorse “The Day Rachel Rocked The Spa”. Thanks and best regards from The Netherlands.

  15. Laura Lanham says:

    Glad you have a new home here Steve. Went back to Bloodhorse when I got off work this morning just for Derby updates and it seems empty without you.

  16. Steve Haskin says:

    It has happened, Paula. Not often, but its happened. Although Angle Light was not really a rabbit for Red you can see how it can happen.

  17. Paula Higgins says:

    Any time you have an article with Dr. Fager, Damascus and Buckpasser in it. I am enthralled. The idea of a rabbit makes me less than thrilled-not fair to the horse they are trying to beat and to the rabbit. Someday I would like to see the rabbit win. I wish the Wood was being run on a different day other than the Derby this year. It deserves its own day in the spotlight. This was wonderful horse racing history, in the hands of a master writer.

    • Deacon says:

      I agree Paula, I do not like rabbits in races. Trainers always were looking at ways to beat a great horse. Tommy Trotter used to assign heavy weights to great horses to even out competition.
      Can you imagine that if other sports did that. Let us put 5 lb ankle weights on Michael Jordan or Usain Bolt.

      Just think about it, Dr. Fager carried 139 lbs in that 7 furlong Vosburgh. That is beyond unimaginable to me.

      Horses rarely these days carry more then 126 lbs in any race.

      Hope all is well with you and family 🙂

      • Laura Lanham says:

        The US does not assign much more then 126 these days in this sport but other countries still do. Can’t off the top of my head recall the name of the Australian horse that back in the day was assigned over 150 and again apologize for not having the exact weight to slow him down in what I think was one of his last races. This was way back like 1930’s or something. A lot of people doubted that Chrome was going to be able to handle the weight when he went to Dubai but he did though the saddle didn’t fare as well as the horse! 🙂 Guess strapping on the extra weights was something they weren’t used to that race.

        • Davids says:

          The great Phar Lap, in the 1931 Melbourne Cup carried 10 st 10 lb – 150 pounds – (68 kg) but finished eighth. Phar Lap fed a nation during the Great Depression.

          Another great Australian racehorse, Bernborough, in 1946 won the prestigious the Doomben Cup carrying 10 st 10 lb (68 kg), 150 pounds. Bernborough stood at Spendthrift Farm, Lexington. Berseem and First Aid were his best progeny.

          • Betsy says:

            Ah, Phar Lap…….. I LOVE that horse. I think the movie of the same name is the best racing movie ever (I’ve only seen a few, admittedly). He was phenomenal.

  18. Karen Estis says:

    Wonderful read, Steve. Unbelievable that it has been that long since it was run at 10f…. Now if NYRA would only restore the JCGC to 12f, the world might be right again.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks Karen. I doubt they will because trainers dont want to run in a mile and a half race and then drop back to a mile a quarter in the BC Classic. But those mile and a half Gold Cups and Woodwards were great races.

  19. Jo Yuhnke says:

    Incredible writing! You’ve brought those races to life again. Thanks so much.

  20. Deacon says:

    Wow Steve, what a read. I literally had goosebumps reading the entire post. Just to see all of those immortals mentioned in one blog had me mesmerized. You pulled out all of the stops with this post.
    I saw that Round Table, Hillsdale & Sword Dancer Woodward live on TV. My dad and I watched it.
    Damascus 22 lengths Travers win is still one of the top 5 races of all time in my book.
    Cougars DQ was what my dad called the beginning of the term “east coast bias”. That was one of the few times I saw him really angry.
    I never thought Round Table got the respect he deserved. He was truly an all time great in my book. Because of the 25 year gap between Triple Crown winners, Citation & Big Red horse racing lost much of its pageantry and luster. Secretariat helped put racing back on the map. Much like Larry Bird & Magic Johnson did for BB.

    I know this, without Steve Haskin writing blogs like this and keeping horse racing alive and prevalent life would be much more boring………

  21. Jenna N Odam says:

    Love reading what you write!

  22. Patrick J Clancy says:

    I became a racing fan in 1967. The Woodward solidified my interest in the sport for life. Strange that my favorite horse
    of all time finished 3rd while Damascus ran the race of his life, winning by 10. I was hooked. I often wonder what his Beyer would have been that day.

  23. Eric Rickard says:

    Hillsdale was an Indiana bred I believe. He had an outstanding career and should join the others in the Hall Of Fame. I thought he already was. Great race!
    Not so sure this years rendition will have the Star power but it should be a competitive affair.

  24. Lisa Richmond says:

    Love reading your stories about racing greats of the 60’s and 70’s. Though the names are familiar, I lived in Texas during that time, where there was no pari-mutual betting and so very little coverage of racing except for the Triple Crown. So these stories as are all new to me.

  25. Nelson Maan says:

    Thanks Steve for reminding us about the great historical significance of the Woodward and the classic distance of 1 ¼ mile.
    The Woodward is so prestigious and prominent that 2,000 words are not enough to cover the myriad of stars who have participated in it since 1954. The article points out how the Classic distance was the stage of two unforgettable editions of the Woodward.

    So rich and fecund is the Woodward that Steve has written innumerable times about how Secretariat lost the Woodward to Prove Out who had to impose a stakes record time for 1 1⁄2 miles to do that in 1973. Also, the incomparable feats of Forego winning four times the Woodward were covered many times by Steve during Bloodhorse eras (i.e. The Mighty Forego).
    The epics of the 1959 and 1967 Woodwards are very good examples of the titanic character of the race during its 1 ¼ -mile period.

    Since the column is named Askin’ Haskin I would like to ask Steve about some details around the disqualification of Cougar II in the 1971 Woodward. Seems to me that the declared winner West Coast Scout is one of the few winners in the glorious past without stardom stature…

    It is also curious that the inaugural Woodward (1954) was run at a mile …

  26. Matthew W says:

    Steve, is it still going to be run at Saratoga? Or is it back at Belmont? Ever since they changed it to 9 fur at Saratoga I have been calling it “Whitney Lite”, because it never seems to have as good of a field as the other big 9 fur Saratoga race. The Woodward was the most important race in America for decades–because it was the deciding race for HOY—great to see it coming back to 10 fur, having become a mere shell of it’s former glory, the Woodward and the Santa Anita Handicap were my favorite races, now they are just another stakes race!

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Whitnety Lite is a perfect way of describing it. While it wont be a champion deciding race like the old Woodwards, at least being run at a mile and a quarter separates it from Whitney.

    • Davids says:

      Sadly, you can add the Jockey Club Gold Cup to the list. As much as you enjoy the Breeders’ Cup races, along with other monolithic carnivals, I doubt the intention was to diminish the stature of previously reverend races. Which has happened.

  27. Steve Jordan says:

    That Sword Dancer=Hillsdale photo…Ouch! Think Arcaro would have let Tommy Barrow in there?

  28. Tetrarch says:

    Thank you for this great look back. I am so glad to keep reading your work each week!

  29. Randy Barretto says:

    How could you possibly have a long interesting article on The Woodward and not mention The Mighty Forego? Did I miss something. He won the race in 1974 and 1975 at a mile and a half and then he won it in 1976 (1:45:4) and 1977 (muddy track) at a mile and an eighth. Incredible racehorse and incredible he was not mentioned once in this article.

    • Eddie F says:

      Yes. You missed something.

      • Steve Haskin says:

        What can you do, right, Eddie? Lol. I dont think I could have explained this column any more than I did. And he even brought up the distances Forego won at.

        • perimeister says:

          Incredible, Steve, that in writing about the Woodward during its first glory as a 10f race that you didn’t discuss all the horses who won it after the race became subject to distance adulteration. By scheduling it for the same day as the Kentucky Derby this year, it is assured that the best three year olds won’t run in it, as in the past.

          Do you have any knowledge or insight into why NYRA made the change this year?

          I had noticed the switch to 10f when the Saratoga schedule was announced and we were all hoping the Travers would not suffer the same fate as this year’s renewal of the Belmont Stakes, but I didn’t then have anything more than the knowledge that it was a historic race, traditionally run by the best horses. I am so glad that you can tell such stories, and tell them so well. Please, continue.

          • Steve Haskin says:

            I would assume it’s because it wasnt drawing the top horses coming so close to the Whitney and being the same distance. As someone said it became the Whitney lite. Now horses can go either in the Woodward or Gold Cup at the same distance.

        • Eddie F says:

          Well Steve, to be fair, English is a difficult language. 🙂

          • perimeister says:

            I miss the easy, simple, elegant means of showing appreciation by up-voting your posts that disqus supplies elsewhere.

  30. Teri Shelton says:

    Thanks once again Steve, I truly enjoy reading your articles. I’m very late to the party, only following horse racing for 2 years. I have however read about 40+ Books of horse racing and specific horses, I own and have read all of The Thoroughbred Legends series. Yet I learn something new from everything you write. Thanks!

    • Steve Haskin says:

      That means a lot to me, Teri. Thank you very much. I love seeing newcomers to the sport who show the passion you do. I was thesame way a long time ago when I discovered racing.

  31. Lizzie Bennett says:

    Your ability in bringing racing history and moments when stars aligned in these incredible racing moments is bar none. But when you write about Dr. Fager – you don’t just capture him. You inhabit him. You bring him to fully formed life like none who’ve ever written about him have before. Thank you for letting us ride with you on these great story journeys!

    • Steve Haskin says:

      That is very kind of you, Lizzie. Thank you so much. I love the reference to inhabiting him :). I hope you read my 5 part series on his 1968 campaign on Blooodhorse a few years ago, and also my book.

  32. Dewey Hebert says:

    Just when my memory of races past dim somewhat, Steve Haskin puts pen to paper and rekindles the glory days of races that I’ve lived through like the Woodward featuring stars like Sword Dancer, Kelso, Damascus et al. You are not only a great writer, Steve, but an exceptional historian as well. The Woodward was certainly one of the premier races that showcased champions year end and year out. It remains to be seen who will line up for this year’s edition? There are but 13 nominees.
    You know, as much as I enjoy the Breeders’ Cup, I do feel that these year end championship races have somewhat tarnished or overshadowed some of the great stakes races like the Woodward, Jockey Gold Cup, etc. that were important in determining the yearly awards. I’m sure the Woodward is still considered when voting for Horse of the Year awards, but doesn’t carry the weight it used to. Glad to see the race returned to its classic distance of 1 1/4 mile.
    You mentioned Kelso and Gun Bow meeting up in the Washington D.C. International. That is a race that I always looked forward to, wondering what countries would send a horse to represent them in this international get together. The Breeders’ Cup Turf seems to have filled that gap somewhat. I do miss those Russian horses that used to ship to Laurel, as they always seemed to have interesting stories behind them. Speaking of Russia, don’t know about today, but racing used to be a popular sport there as I discovered when reading Jimmy Winkfield’s life story. Now, there’s a story that would make a great movie. Jimmy lived a very interesting life with many highs and lows. Forgive me, for I digress (haven’t had my morning coffee yet).
    You know, when you think about it, racing has such a rich history with colorful characters and great horses. It’s a sport where one could engage in conversation for hours on end and still come back for more. Keep those fires burning Steve.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks so much, Dewey. The DC International was one of my favorite races, probably the most fun race of the year. Russia’s super horse Aniline did very well in International and ran in it several times/

      • Dewey Hebert says:

        There you go. I thought there was at least one good one out of the Russian bunch who came back for more but couldn’t recall the name. Aniline. Thanks Steve, you sure have a knack of bringing these races back to life.

    • Mary Lou says:

      Dewey Herbert, I echo your thoughts and comments. I looked forward to the fall classics to see how the 3 year olds would compete with the older horses. The Woodward was The Race to enter and, as Mr. Haskin has pointed out, winning was a year and career defining achievement as evident in the names of the greats who have won. More recently, even though it was at the shorter distance, Rachel Alexandra’s victory put the exclamation mark on her season. She didn’t need the Breeders Cup to define her career. Spectacular Bid’s 1980 campaign ended with a walkover in the Woodward. He too did not need a Breeders Cup to define his career.

  33. Davids says:

    Steve, I could read your historic retrospectives day in, day out. Reliving so many famous races is pure pleasure. Even in more modern times the Woodward Stakes has been won by some great racehorses, if not legends of the turf.
    Hopefully, the Woodward Stakes stays at 10f; 9f always sounds like a prep distance to me.

  34. judy berube says:

    Dear Mr. H:
    Thank you once again for an outstanding commentary on the history of the Woodward Stakes and the magnificent horses who are part of it. I always learn something from your wealth of knowledge of horses and racing. Thank you. JB

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