Daily Racing Form: Gunnevera Primed But Facing Jumbo Field In Woodward

In the older male dirt division, there’s Accelerate, there’s Diversify, and there’s everybody else. Neither Accelerate nor Diversify is running in Saturday’s $750,000 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, leaving the Grade 1 race with a full field of everybody else.

A super-sized field of 14 older horses – who have combined to win three graded stakes this year, including one on turf – is entered to run 1 1/8 miles in the Woodward, some hoping to fuel dreams of a bid in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.

Gunnevera heads the field, hoping to one better his finish in last year’s Travers, where he finished second to West Coast, another member of the older male dirt division who only recently returned to the work tab after a long time away.

Gunnevera is following a similar pattern to the Woodward that paid off so well for him in the Travers. A year ago, Gunnevera bled when he finished fifth in the Preakness. After getting some time off, he won a minor stakes race at Gulfstream Park before shipping to Saratoga, where he was able to run second from post 11.

This year, Gunnevera finished eighth in the Dubai World Cup in March. He had a bout of colic the week before the race and then came out of the race with an injured right-front foot. Trainer Antonio Sano believes Gunnevera was stepped on early in the Dubai World Cup. After two months on a farm in Ocala, Fla., Gunnevera returned to Sano’s barn at Gulfstream Park West, where he trained up to an allowance race on Aug. 10 at Gulfstream Park that he won by 6 1/2 lengths.

“He won that race very easy,” Sano said. “The last work before we come to Saratoga, he went six furlongs in [1:13.20]; never in his life did he work like that. The horse right now is in good condition. He likes Saratoga.”

As a 2-year-old, Gunnevera won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special.

Seeking the Soul, who won the Grade 1 Clark last fall, has run only twice this year. He finished fifth in the Pegasus World Cup and came out of the race with an injury, according to trainer Dallas Stewart. Coming off a six-month layoff, he was beaten a head when finishing second to Pioneer Spirit in the Michael G. Schaefer Memorial at Indiana Grand.

“He got outrun, what can you say?” Stewart said. “That can happen off a layoff.”

Last summer, Seeking the Soul won a second-level allowance race and then finished third in a third-level allowance, both run at 1 1/8 miles over this track. He fired a bullet five-furlong work here over the Oklahoma training track on Aug. 24.

Tapwrit, the 2017 Belmont Stakes winner, is winless in three starts this year. He ran a decent third to Timeline in an allowance race at Belmont in June, had a wide trip when fifth to runaway winner Diversify in the Suburban in July, and was again vanquished by Diversify in the Grade 1 Whitney, run over a sloppy, sealed track made so by heavy rain that delayed the start of the race by 40 minutes.

“Johnny [Velazquez] said he didn’t feel like he handled the sealed track once he had to turn his head loose,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “It leaves you with a little bit of an unknown. Feel like he came back, trained well, breezed well, give it another try.”

Pletcher also will send out Patch, third in the Alydar Stakes on Aug. 5, and Rally Cry, who last summer was quite impressive in winning the Alydar Stakes over this track before finishing second, 10 1/4 lengths behind Gun Runner, in last year’s Woodward.

On Saturday, Rally Cry will try to negotiate a trip from post 14 going 1 1/8 miles.

“He trains like a superstar. He always has,” Pletcher said. “When he gets into a rhythm like he did in the Alydar last year, he’s proven he’s capable of running a big one. That’s kind of the idea of taking a shot in a big race, but I am a little concerned about the 14 post.”

Sunny Ridge won the State Dinner Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths on July 6 at Belmont.

“Always felt one day they were going to come back to him in one of these big races,” trainer Jason Servis said. “Whether this is going to be the one, I don’t know, but he’s doing good, he’s a trier, and always runs his best.”

Discreet Lover, last of five in the 2017 Woodward, has had a productive 5-year-old campaign with a win in the Grade 3 Excelsior and is coming off thirds in the Suburban and, most recently, the Grade 1 Whitney.

Yoshida, a Grade 1 winner on turf, will make his dirt debut in the Woodward. Hence, 11th in the 2017 Kentucky Derby, won the Downs at Albuquerque Handicap last out.

Leofric, Term of Art, Kurilov, and Zanotti complete the field.

The Woodward goes as race 11 on a 12-race card that begins at 1 p.m. Eastern and includes three other stakes. The Woodward and the Spinaway, the latter a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, will be shown live on NBCSN during a 90-minute broadcast that begins at 5:30 p.m.

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch

This story originally appeared on DRF.com

Visit DRF.com for additional news, notes, wagering information, and more.

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