If Saturday's Woodward were to be made into a Hollywood blockbuster, there's little doubt that the star of the movie would be Paynter. Indeed, you'd be hard pressed to write a script that's more dramatic than everything this horse has been through in his short life.
The Paynter story is truly remarkable. Just days after running out an impressive winner of last year's Haskell at Monmouth, he was reported to be suffering from an elevated temperature. The horse was found to have an abscess in his colon, and was sent to various equine veterinary centres. Eventually, the abscess was removed and all seemed well.
Not long after, though, Paynter started suffering from colic, and also showed signs of laminitis, one of the symptoms that led to the demise of Barbaro. While being treated for these issues, the horse lost over two hundred pounds in weight, and it seemed a long shot that he'd pull through, let alone be seen on the racecourse again. But, against all the odds, Paynter finally made his comeback in a small race at Hollywood Park in June, posting a Timeform form rating that was only 4 lb shy of his Haskell-winning figure! He disappointed next time out, on the Del Mar polytrack, but should be much more at home returning to a conventional dirt surface.
They don't give Grade 1s away in this part of the World, though. His opposition, as you'd expect, is pretty taxing. Successful Dan and Mucho Macho Man filled the places behind the ultra-talented Cross Traffic in the Whitney earlier this month. Indeed, had Successful Dan not got worked up beforehand, he may have finished even closer to the winner, having to pass the vet before being allowed to take his chance.
Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned was to take his chance in this race too, but has been scratched due to pulling up lame earlier this week, which leaves the pace scenario a little bit hazy. Paynter might go forward, while Flat Out and Mucho Macho Man tend to race prominently, but none are confirmed front-runners, which could mean that the early stages are far from frenetic. This may well work against the deep-closing Ron The Greek.
In most Hollywood movies, the hero usually battles adversity and returns triumphant. On Saturday, we'll find out if that particular script has been written for Paynter.
The Grade 1 Woodward Stakes (off 17.45 local time, 22.45 BST) is run over a mile and a furlong, on the dirt track, and is one of a pair of Grade 1s at Saratoga on Saturday, the other being the Forego Stakes (off 17.12 local time, 22.12 BST), over seven furlongs, also on the dirt.
The lightly-raced Fast Bullet sets a clear standard on Timeform form ratings, following his win over Justin Phillip in the Grade 2 True North Handicap at Belmont in June. The runner-up did that form no harm at all when winning the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt next time out. Fast Bullet is a very exciting recruit to the D. Wayne Lukas stable, having been transferred from Bob Baffert, presumably to take advantage of the better sprint races on the East Coast. He has had a layoff since his most recent victory, but should take all the beating if returning in the same form.
Over in California, an interesting field of two-year-old fillies line up for the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante (off 18.10 local time, 02.10 BST), over seven furlongs on polytrack. Concave and She's A Tiger set the standard, having finished first and second in the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes on this track in early August. Although Concave won that day, She's A Tiger came out as just the better horse at the weights, though once again there should be little between them.
The really interesting runner in the line-up, though, is the once-raced Awesome Baby, trained by Bob Baffert. She really lived up to her name when winning a maiden just under a month ago, setting fast early fractions in a clear cut, front-running win. That performance was backed up by a really good TimeformUS speed figure, and she looks an exciting filly.
On Sunday, the East Coast two-year-old fillies get to show their mettle in the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga (off 17.45 local time, 22.45 BST), run over seven furlongs on the main track. Designer Legs comes into this as the standard-setter, having been promoted to first place in the Grade 2 Adirondack Stakes. That was a messy race, however, and the form doesn't represent a particularly taxing level.
Bahnah and Brazen Persuasion dead-heated in the Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes on this track, back in July, with the latter more likely to improve off that, being a bigger, scopier filly than her old rival. Both may be vulnerable to less exposed types, though.
The Todd Pletcher-trained duo Sweet Whiskey and Stopchargingmaria would appear to be the most likely candidates, the former having already achieved a level of form good enough to have at least dead-heated in the aforementioned Schuylerville, in her only run to date.
Back Fast Bullet in the Forego
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