SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Splotches of orange atop the ancient oaks on Saratoga's backstretch are clues that the summer place to be soon will be vacated.
Labor Day weekend means time to say goodbye to the Spa, but there's plenty of stakes action the next three days. Last Saturday's Travers crowd of 50,000 created a temblor in the wooden grandstand for the upset of American Pharoah, an impossible act to follow. Still, if you're a fan of top-class horseflesh and trying desperately to get even for the meet, Saturday's Woodward card will motivate you.
Todd Pletcher, battling Chad Brown for his unprecedented sixth consecutive Saratoga training title and 12th overall, will send out half of the eight-horse field in the Grade I, $600,000 Woodward Stakes. Best of the four Pletchers is the 6-5 morning-line favorite, Liam's Map, who almost went wire to wire in the $1.25-million Whitney Stakes here Aug. 8. Fast-finishing Honor Code, the country's best older horse, nailed Liam's Map in the final stride by a neck.
Except for the result, Pletcher was thrilled by the 4-year-old gray colt's graded-stakes debut. "I thought he ran a huge race," thoroughbred racing's all-time leading money-winner said. "It was very disappointing not to win, to run as well as he did. He got beat by a very good horse and I think he earned as much respect as you can earn without winning a race. We're proud of his effort just the same."
Don't expect Javier Castellano to change tactics on the rangy son of Unbridled's Song.
"I wouldn't go so far as to say he's one-dimensional," Pletcher said, "but I think his strength is his high cruising speed and his ability to carry it over a distance of ground. We're not going to alter that. We'll let him run his race."
Pletcher also entered Protonico (12-1), Mylute (15-1) and Coach Inge (6-1), owned by Nassau County resident Mike Repole. "All four of them are coming up to the race pretty well," Pletcher said. "I think they're all proven horses that on a given day are capable of running big races."
Jimmy Jerkens will saddle Wicked Strong (5-1), last year's Wood Memorial and Jim Dandy winner, and Suburban winner Effinex (4-1). Completing the field are front-running Bay of Plenty (10-1) and closer Commanding Curve (30-1), second to California Chrome in last year's Kentucky Derby.
Notes & quotes: Two Grade III turf stakes on Saturday's undercard, the $200,000, 1 3/8-mile Glens Falls for fillies and mares and the $300,000, 1 1/8-mile Saranac for 3-year-olds, could help Brown in the trainers' race. He'll run two in the Glens Falls -- Regardez and Goldy Espony -- and three in the Saranac -- Takeover Target, Money Multiplier and Winter Springs.