Woodward “Post” Script

Because we have begun a new series trying to find early Kentucky Derby sleepers, why not try to find Breeders’ Cup sleepers who will be huge odds at Del Mar on November 5th and 6th. We’ll start with a horse I’m not even sure will run. But let’s make a case for him anyway. ~ Steve Haskin

Woodward “Post” Script

By Steve Haskin

Once upon a time, not very long ago, two months to be exact, the Breeders’ Cup Classic looked as if it was going to be another unchallenged scamper to the lead for Knicks Go and a field of helpless opponents futilely chasing him. After all, who would want to try to match strides with this front-running powerhouse and sacrifice their own chances? When a horse runs fast and does it as effortlessly as Knicks Go does, you are fighting a losing battle trying to look him in the eye early.

Knicks Go’s illustrious stablemate, the do-it-all Essential Quality possesses excellent tactical speed and can be placed anywhere on the track, but trainer Brad Cox has no desire to see the two of them hook up early. So what could prevent the Classic from being another uneventful front-running victory by this year’s Whitney and Pegasus World Cup winner who has won his last seven two-turn races?

Well, things are not what they seemed two weeks ago, despite Knicks Go’s effortless victory in Saturday’s Lukas Classic against a field of overmatched opponents. The whole complexion of the Breeders’ Cup Classic began to change when the fast, game, and classy Hot Rod Charlie won the Pennsylvania Derby wire-to-wire in impressive fashion. Then this past weekend the rejuvenated Art Collector wired the Woodward Stakes field for his third consecutive stakes victory and Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit deviated from his gutsy, dramatic victories by crushing older horses on the front end in the Awesome Again Stakes, winning by five lengths. Just like that, the Classic was transformed from a solo act into a hotly contested affair, with four top-class horses whose best races have been on the lead. Two of those horses – Knicks Go and Art Collector – have never been a mile and a quarter.

Now we see the Classic with a contentious pace, with proven distance horses Essential Quality and the vastly improved Max Player tracking the leaders, along with the hard-hitting Maxfield, who needs to find the closing punch he had earlier in his career against less talented opponents.

So if that is the way the Classic is going to be run, what about a deep closer to take advantage of the prospective battle that will be waged up front?

Well, there is one, who will be a huge price and that is Dr Post, who finished a non-threatening third in the Woodward Stakes. But there is a catch. Not even his connections are convinced he belongs in the Classic, and trainer Todd Pletcher said on Sunday, “We’re not committed yet. We’ll probably wait a few weeks to decide.”

If they decide not to run then this column was for naught. But I’ll take a shot and try to make a case for him not only belonging in the field, but running a big race.

Let’s start with the Woodward and work backwards. On the surface this seems to be a decent, but uninspiring performance, even though he was beaten only 2 ½ lengths, and I stress the word “only.”

Having watched races at Belmont Park for over 50 years, I have seen so many come-from-behind horses go into that long sweeping turn four- or five-wide, and appear to make a threatening move only to fall apart in the stretch. You simply cannot go that wide into what I call the turn of no return and sustain your run all the way to the wire, unless you’re the immortal Forego, a giant of a horse with a gargantuan stride.

Dr Post not only went into the turn four-wide, made a threatening move, and was five-wide turning for home, he never changed leads, which can happen when you take that turn wide. Even Forego didn’t change leads at Belmont. And on top of that, Dr Post was herded in the final furlong by Maxfield. There was no way Dr Post was going to win, especially going a mile and an eighth, going that wide on that turn and staying on his left lead.

But he still was running strong in the final furlong following a swift :23 4/5 quarter and earned a 104 Beyer speed figure while running 27 feet farther than the winner, which pretty much makes up the 2 ½ lengths he was beaten.

Now let’s go two races back to the Pacific Classic. Another thing I have noticed over the years is the Eastern shippers have not had success running at Del Mar. Even Cigar’s 16-race winning streak ended in the Pacific Classic. Yes, Eastern shippers did win Breeders’ Cup races at Del Mar, but that was because they were beating mostly other shippers.

Dr Post is a rare Eastern shipper who has already run at Del Mar, finishing third in the Pacific Classic, in which he got all the kinks out and made the necessary adjustments during the race. Now he is familiar with the track and any quirks it may present to first-time invaders.

In the Pacific Classic, he was was racing well off the pace and when Joel Rosario asked him for his run he went backwards so abruptly it even caught race caller Trevor Denman by surprise. “Dr Post is being ridden and Dr Post is not responding. Dr Post dropping back to last!”

But in a flash he suddenly took off way out in the middle of the track and began picking up horses. At the top of the stretch he was fanned 8-to-9 wide. Denman bellowed, “Dr Post is starting to wind up, but he’s given himself a tall order.” Still far back in seventh at the eighth pole he flew by four horses in a matter of seconds and was able to finish third, as Denman called, “Dr Post got going far far too late.” Despite being beaten 5 ¾ length he still ran a solid “1/2” on Thoro-Graph. With this race under his belt, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be more effective and more polished over the Del Mar track.

Finally we go back three races to the mile and an eighth Monmouth Cup, in which he rallied six-wide turning for home and drew off to a 1 ¼-length victory in 1:47 2/5, which was three-fifths of a second off Spend A Buck’s 36-year-old track record. Yes, Hot Rod Charlie ran the same time finishing first in the Haskell Invitational (actually 15 one-hundredths of a second faster), but Dr Post lost so much ground he was given a faster Thoro-Graph figure. In fact, Dr Post has run two negative Thoro-Graph figures (both negative-1 ½) in his last four starts prior to the Woodward, as well as the “1/2” in the Pacific Classic. It is expected he will get another negative number in the Woodward.

I am not implying that Dr Post is as talented as Knicks Go, Essential Quality, Hot Rod Charlie, Art Collector and Medina Spirit, or even Maxfield and Max Player. He may not even be better than this own stablemate Happy Saver. But that doesn’t mean he is not capable of taking advantage of a contentious pace and closing strong, having already run a good race at Del Mar going a mile and a quarter, something the other shippers cannot claim. And most important, he likely will be no better than eighth or ninth choice.

So there you have a Breeders’ Cup Classic sleeper. Now, if they decide not to send him then I refer you to the closing line of the old Allan Sherman song from the ‘60s, “Muddah, Faddah kindly disregard this letter.”

Photos courtesy of Associated Press/Seth Wenig, Ryan Thompson/Coglianese Photos, and Equi-photo


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