The Woodward suffered another blow on Thursday when Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned was declared out of the race with a hind muscle strain.
That leaves six to run in the $750,000 Grade I race at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
Whitney winner Cross Traffic had been considered for the Woodward, but trainer Todd Pletcher said on Wednesday that they will skip it and use just the Sept. 28 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Then Fort Larned suffered a minor physical issue that was discovered as he was warming up for a routine gallop with regular exercise rider Kate Merritt on Thursday morning.
“He just wasn’t himself today,” trainer Ian Wilkes said. “He didn’t quite warm up the way he usually does. He was a little off. If you watched him, you wouldn’t know, if you don’t know the horse.
“It’s minor. When he’s just not quite 100 percent, we could still run him, but why? Why risk further injury or something, instead of getting him right? Because the horse is the most important thing. He’s taken care of me; I need to take care of him.”
Fort Larned was the 4-1 fourth choice on the morning line, after Successful Dan, Paynter and Flat Out.
He won the Whitney last year, skipped the Woodward and was third behind Flat Out and Stay Thirsty in the Jockey Club Gold Cup to prep for the BC Classic.
Owned and bred by Janis Whitham, the 5-year-old has had a rollercoaster 2013 season, with just a win in the Stephen Foster followed by a fifth in the Whitney.
Naturally, Wilkes was disappointed to scratch out of the Woodward, but especially because Fort Larned had worked so well recently.
“I was over the moon the way this horse was doing,” he said. “I was tickled to death. He worked really good the other day. He came out of it good, he jogged good the next day. He walked [Wednesday] and was high as a kite. Today, he just wasn’t quite right. I don’t know if he did it in his stall, but something happened between yesterday and this morning.”
Wilkes said that because the problem is minor enough, there’s no reason to believe that Fort Larned won’t make the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
When it was suggested to trainer Bill Mott that his horses, Ron the Greek and Flat Out, look good for the Woodward, he joked, “If they keep scratching, we’ll look real good.
“I guess it changes the pace scenario. It probably affects Ron the Greek more than Flat Out.”
Ron the Greek prefers to come from farther out of it that his stablemate does, and Fort Larned likely would have supplied some early pace to the race.
Trainer Gary Sciacca said that Saratoga Snacks might not run in the Grade I Forego on the Woodward card.
He said that he and owner Bill Parcells probably will make a decision today.