SARATOGA SPRINGS — Like an uncontrollable schoolyard bully, Preservationist wanted to fight everybody last time — his jockey, the lead pony in the post parade … and himself.
On Saturday, the only thing he fought was the small hole between Bal Harbour to his inside and Tom’s d’Etat to his outside at the sixteenth pole.
Preservationist won that battle, and with it came the Grade I $750,000 Woodward at Saratoga Race Course.
Accelerating through a small gap late, he and jockey Junior Alvarado built a half-length gap over Bal Harbour in the final six strides to win for trainer Jimmy Jerkens and owner Centennial Farms.
While the wall of three horses duked it out on the inside, the 2018 Woodward winner, Yoshida, made a big move on the outside to gather them in, but was only able to catch Tom’s d’Etat, finishing in third a half-length behind 16-1 long shot Bal Harbour.
Jerkens and Centennial felt good about their horse heading into the Aug. 3 Whitney, but Preservationist acted like a knucklehead before the race and finished a well-beaten fourth behind McKinzie, Yoshida and Vino Rosso.
He was on his best behavior Saturday, and the result was a gritty, professional performance to win the second of Saratoga’s two biggest dirt route stakes.
“I try not to bother him [Jerkens] too much with what he does, but he told me ‘We’re going to get a different horse today,'” Alvarado said. “And that’s what he did. Preservationist is back. He’s back the same way as when he won the big race at Belmont.”
Prior to the Whitney, the 6-year-old Preservationist had a career breakthrough, winning the Grade II Suburban at Belmont in just the first stakes start of his rocky, lightly raced career.
At Saratoga earlier this month, though, he misbehaved in the paddock and was a sweaty mess during the Whitney post parade. Then he uncharacteristically blasted to the lead and was wide down the backstretch before fading to fourth 7 3/4 lengths behind McKinzie.
In the four weeks since then, Jerkens gave Preservationist the sort of timeout a teacher might employ to calm an unruly student.
“Well, we tried to isolate him from all the fillies in the barn, because, where we are, it’s kind of a congested stable area,” he said with a chuckle. “We kind of did some re-arranging and put the fillies over in the far end so he wouldn’t get really, really distracted. It seemed to settle him down a little bit.”
“He definitely was more quiet today,” Alvarado said. “He got very studdish last time with the pony. I couldn’t even keep him with the pony. I had to gallop him on my own. It was his first time being in Saratoga, and with the crowd, he was a little hesitating, looking, losing focus for what he was supposed to do. I think that probably took a little bit away from the race last time.
“Today, he was good with the pony, he walked fine. At least, I was pretty happy with him at that point going to the gate. He was at least going to give me his ‘A’ race today.”
From the No. 5 post, Alvarado saved ground going into the first turn and maintained that position on the rail down the backstretch while stalking Mr. Buff and Bal Harbour two lengths back.
Preservationist came off the rail a bit as Alvarado began to work out a way through the wall of horses in front of them, as Mongolian Groom and Tom’s d’Etat moved up to join Mr. Buff and Bal Harbour.
With Mr. Buff beginning to fade on the rail, Bal Harbour and jockey Javier Castellano got a nose in front at the three-sixteenths pole, as Preservationist continued to look for running room inside of Tom’s d’Etat, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr.
In tight quarters, with Tom’s d’Etat applying pressure, Preservationist gamely worked his way through and got to the wire first.
“It was late, but Junior was able to swap him over to his outside lead, and then he really took off after that,” Jerkens said. “At least, he accelerated a little better.
“It was a nice, even race from him. Perfect for the kind of horse he is — even-paced. He’s got a good cruising speed, but it looked like he was just galloping. When he gets into a nice rhythm like that, he’s going to run his race.”
“Javier had some horse turning for home, and I wanted to follow him, but I know he didn’t want to move because then I would be in the clear,” Alvarado said. “So he tried to hold me there as long as he could. Turning for home, I had some run in between horses. They made it a little tight for me there, but at that point, I thought I had it.”
Yoshida, meanwhile, made a strong bid down the middle of the track, but jockey Joel Rosario said they were left with just a little bit too much to do, after having raced mid-pack behind an honest but not particularly fast pace in the early stages.
Grade I Santa Anita Gold Cup winner Vino Rosso, the 7-2 co-second choice with Preservationist on the morning line, was scratched Saturday morning. Trainer Todd Pletcher told David Grening of the Daily Racing Form that the mile-and-a-quarter Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont held more appeal than the nine-furlong Woodward, because the Belmont race is the same distance as the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
For Jerkens, it was his second Woodward victory, after Shaman Ghost in 2016.
His late father, Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, won the Woodward in 1973 with Prove Out, defeating Secretariat at Belmont Park 3 1/2 months after Secretariat had clinched the Triple Crown at Belmont.
“It’s a big thrill to win, with everybody involved,” Jimmy Jerkens said. “It’s always great to win these big stakes races here in New York.”
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