The $150,000 Woodford Stakes at Keeneland Race Course is not part of the “Win and You’re In” program with an automatic berth to next month’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and Bruce Brown is taking his own approach to the race with Spring to the Sky.
Spring to the Sky, the 7/2 co-second choice on the morning line for the Grade 3 Woodford, finished a good third after a wide trip in last year’s Woodford and went on to the Turf Sprint.
The 5-year-old son of Langfuhr comes into this year’s edition with three straight victories and would seemingly be a contender for the Turf Sprint with a good showing Saturday.
Yet there are other factors Brown is considering for Spring to the Sky.
“This year we’re leaning a little more towards, he’s going to have to win it to really justify going,” Brown said. “We’re stuck in between if he runs big and wins it, on one hand you’re thinking logical spot is Breeders’ Cup, but then next year’s Breeders’ Cup is at Keeneland. So do you just sit on him and get him fresh? But if he does win it, that would be four in a row and you never know what’s going to happen a year from now.
“If he runs big and wins the race it will be pretty hard to pass it up. But if he runs second or third, runs good, I think we’ll just put him on the shelf after that and get him cranked up for next year. He’s going to be 6 so that will probably be his last running. We’ll concentrate on that, get our ducks in a row and think about next year.”
Owned by Saratoga Springs native Anthony McCarthy, Spring to the Sky helped highlight a strong Saratoga meet for Brown with victories in the Lucky Coin Stakes going 5 ½ furlongs on the grass and the Troy Stakes going 5 ½ furlongs on the dirt. He’s won three of his six career starts at Saratoga – turf or dirt – and the reasons for the horse’s success is part affinity and part design.
“Anthony McCarthy, the owner, he’s a Saratoga guy so we always concentrate on Saratoga with this horse because he wants him to be running up there,” said Brown, who was tied for ninth on the Saratoga trainer standings in 2014 with nine wins. “He took a little longer to get going this year. We ran him in Florida this year and he never really got into a groove until we got him up here at Belmont and then at Saratoga.”
Spring to the Sky hasn’t run since taking the Aug. 13 Troy, which was originally scheduled for the turf but moved to the main track after rain. He beat Dads Caps by three quarters of a length in the Troy and that foe came back to finish a strong second in the Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes last weekend at Belmont Park.
Always a good work horse in the morning, Spring to the Sky tuned up for the 5 ½-furlong Woodford with a half-mile breeze on the Belmont inner turf course in a bullet :47.53 last Sunday.
“He’s been doing great; he really came out of those races in good shape,” Brown said. “He was getting in a groove of running pretty regular and now he hasn’t (in nearly two months). You get a little worried sometimes when you’re breezing all the time. He’s just a fast horse and likes to do everything fast, so you get worried that just breezing him is going to take more out of him than just running him.
“Thankfully in his older age he’s gotten a little better. He had a streak there where he was the fastest work of the day for like seven works in a row. But he’s gotten to the point now where we can slow him down in the morning, which is going to be good for him in the long run.”
Spring to the Sky drew the extreme outside post in the field of 11 and just to his inside are the race’s two other main contenders – the fellow co-second choice Marchman and the 3-1 favorite No Nay Never.
No Nay Never won the Group 1 Prix Morny in France and Group 2 Norfolk Stakes in England as a 2-year-old. The 3-year-old son of Scat Daddy has raced only once in 2014, finishing second to Spot in the Grade 2 Swale Stakes in March at Gulfstream Park for trainer Wesley Ward.
Marchman is in the midst of a strong season for trainer Bret Calhoun with victories in the Grade 3 Shakertown during the Keeneland spring meet and Grade 3 Churchill Downs Turf Sprint on Kentucky Oaks Day. He was close in his two most recent starts, finishing second in the Grade 3 Jaipur on the Belmont Stakes undercard and third behind turf sprint specialists Ben’s Cat and Tightend Touchdown in the Grade 3 Parx Dash.
The Woodford is the first of five straight stakes on the Saturday card at Keeneland and it goes as the fifth race with a post time of 3:25 p.m. ET. The Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America for fillies and mares sprinting on the main track follows and three Grade 1s – the First Lady, Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and Shadwell Turf Mile featuring Wise Dan – round out the stakes action
Watch Spring to the Sky win the Lucky Coin Stakes.
Read “Simple Execution,” about Spring to the Sky’s Lucky Coin win, in the July 23 digital edition of The Saratoga Special presented by Keeneland.
Read “No Denial,” about Spring to the Sky’s Troy victory, in the Aug. 14 digital edition of The Saratoga Special presented by Keeneland.