SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Hopeful Stakes won’t be run until Monday.
The adjective applies to Saturday’s Woodward, too, though.
At least it does for trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who has a nice prospect pointing toward the Hopeful, but also used that word in reference to Preservationist. He was fourth in the Grade I Whitney on Aug. 3 and will take another swing at nine furlongs on the main track in a Grade I as the 7-2 co-second choice on the morning line for the Woodward.
Jerkens was high on Preservationist going into the Whitney, after the 6-year-old ran the race of his life in winning the Grade II Suburban. But Junior Alvarado hustled him out of the gate from the outside post in the seven-horse field, and Preservationist faded back to fourth behind McKinzie.
There’s reason for optimism in the Woodward four weeks later.
“He blew out a little this morning, and his work last week was good, so we’re taking another shot,” Jerkens said Thursday morning. “A lot of people wait until the next one, but a lot can happen in seven weeks training, so as long as you think you’re doing good, you might as well take a shot.”
Preservationist went three furlongs on the Oklahoma Training Track in 36.66 this week. Jerkens has been breezing him on Thursdays since a similar three-furlong blowout two days before the Whitney.
He’ll break from the No. 5 post in a nine-horse field that includes last year’s Woodward winner, Yoshida, who was second in the Whitney.
Preservationist will have his regular jockey, Alvarado, in the saddle, and Jerkens believes that, from the No. 5 post, there will be less temptation to gun him out of the gate like last time.
“He rode to beat one horse [McKinzie],” Jerkens said. “You can’t do that in races. It might’ve been fine if you break super-sharp from the rail — and he breaks kind of slow, that’s one thing — but to break a step behind from outside and lose all possible ground to get the lead, I didn’t really understand.
“The key to those races is to have an even rhythm to the race. It’s not always going to work out, but he’s got a nice post. You can tuck in a little if you want and save some ground and then make a gradual run from there on. And, hopefully, he’s good enough.
“A mile and an eighth around two turns is different than a mile and a quarter around a turn and a half [in the Suburban]. I didn’t agree with Junior’s tactics, especially breaking from the outside like that. He kind of scrambled out of there, and he wasn’t able to settle.”
Even though McKinzie isn’t in the Woodward, Jerkens is wary of Mr. Buff breaking from the rail.
He’s been beating up on New York-bred competition, most recently by 3 1/2 lengths in the Evan Shipman at Saratoga, despite getting tangled up in the gate, forcing Alvarado to dismount and get back on. With Alvarado on Preservationist for the Woodward, Jose Lezcano will ride Mr. Buff.
“It’s [field] tough enough. That might be a blessing, if there’s someone to run with Mr. Buff,” Jerkens said. “But he surely, from the post he has, he’s certainly the speed of the race and he’s dangerous if he can dictate, that’s for sure. He’s improved a lot, dramatically from last year. Even in the debacle last time, even though he was against New York-breds, he got hung up in the gate and then broke in a tangle and still won. He shows he’s got something more to him than you thought.”
Like he is with Preservationist, Jerkens is keeping Green Light Go on a busy race schedule, since he’s doing well and Monday’s Hopeful offers a Grade I opportunity while stretching out in distance, to seven furlongs.
Green Light Go won the Grade II Saratoga Special on Aug. 10 off some bullet workouts.
“He likes it up here, it looks like he’s thrived up here,” Jerkens said. “And it’s not a big jump up in distance. You’re going up in distance in little increments, and I think that’s good. I like that for 2-year-olds, instead of going from one extreme to another.
“He ran good the first time [at Belmont Park on July 4], but he just had the lead all the way and didn’t have a whole lot of experience. But he broke real sharp [in the Saratoga Special], and it was good to see that the horse who was second came back and ran big. I felt real good after seeing that. Those key races really are key, they mean something.”