SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Over a year after dead-heating for the win in the Travers, Alpha took the lead out of the gate and was never passed to win the Grade I $750,000 Woodward at Saratoga Race Course today.
It was the first victory for Godolphin Racing's Alpha since the Travers, in which he tied Golden Ticket; four of his six career wins have come here.
"I wish Saratoga was open a little longer for him, because he loves it here," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "Can they get the Breeders' Cup here? It's a big race. I don't know exactly what will happen now, but at least he's proven that he wasn't just a one-race wonder. We beat some very nice horses today."
Despite that, the Woodward field, already missing Whitney winner Cross Traffic, was reduced to five by the scratch of 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man.
Paynter, the incredible comeback story of racing who nearly was put down three times since last summer, got out of the gate awkwardly under Rafael Bejarano and finished last, leaving it to Flat Out and Junior Alvarado to make a run at Alpha and jockey John Velazquez in the stretch.
Alpha wouldn't let him by and won by a head on a sloppy track.
"We did talk about it in the paddock," Velazquez said. "My Plan A was sit right off of him. I asked Kiaran, if I'm doing well enough, can I let him go? He said go ahead. If you want to squeeze him, squeeze him out of there. It just happened that when the doors opened, he was right on it."
"The stretch was more nerve-racking than the Travers, because we were there, trying to hold him [Flat Out] off," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "I told Johnny if he breaks well and can throw mud on the rest of them, please do."
In a stark contrast of the various fortunes of racing, long shot Strapping Groom won the Grade I Forego under Junior Alvarado by a half-length over Jackson Bend, one day after his connections suffered a painful loss with the death of stablemate Saginaw.
It was the first Grade I win in 22 starts for Strapping Groom, trained and co-owned by David Jacobson with Drawing Away Stable.
Saginaw, the popular New York-bred who won 10 of 14 races last year and 15 of his last 18, including the John Morrissey four weeks ago at Saratoga, broke down in a race at Saratoga on Friday while ridden by Alvarado for Drawing Away and had to be euthanized.
Also on the card, Silver Max wired the field to win the Grade II Bernard Baruch, the only race left on the turf.
“We needed that,” winning trainer Dale Romans said. “Last year, I might have overdone it with him. I ran him a lot of times in those 3-year-old races. He was a little tired at the end of the year. He's coming into the summer and fall a lot more fresh, and I think [by] the end of the year he could be one of the best turf horses around.”