SARATOGA SPRINGS — It seemed like every jockey — and there were 14 of them — came back with their faces caked with dirt.
Only one, of course, was smiling through it.
Joel Rosario didn’t mind it, because his horse, Yoshida, absolutely loved it.
Cavalry charge at the start of the Woodward pic.twitter.com/0R3mzvM0Nk— Mike MacAdam (@Mike_MacAdam) September 2, 2018
For the second week in a row, the Saratoga Race Course main event was won by a horse with proven stellar form on the turf, but was being asked to race on the dirt.
Yoshida saved ground early and swung outside coming off the second turn to roar down the middle of the track and win the Grade I Woodward Saturday by two lengths over the hard-charging Gunnevera.
Yoshida came into the Woodward with 10 career starts on turf, but none on the conventional dirt used at most tracks in North America. He took to the Saratoga main track with ease and was guided by Rosario through a clean trip — dirty faces notwithstanding — through the full field of 14. Although his pedigree suggested that he would run well over it, especially at Saratoga, where his dam won the Grade I Ballerina, the question still stood.
“Well, we got our answer,” trainer Bill Mott said. I had a wait-and-see attitude. The horse had worked well on the dirt.
“He went well. This was a pretty impressive run, actually. I don’t think you ever really know how they’ll run on a surface until you try them.”
Yoshida was a proven Grade I winner on the turf, having won the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day May 5.
He had two second-place finishes in graded stakes as a 3-year-old last year on the Saratoga grass, and was sent to England for the historic and prestigious Royal Ascot meet this year, finishing a close fifth in the Queen Anne.
After a fifth to Voodoo Song in the Grade I Fourstardave on Aug. 11, though, controlling partner WinStar and Mott decided to give the Woodward a whirl, thinking he could be a Breeders’ Cup Classic-type horse.
His Woodward victory came a week after Catholic Boy won the Travers after two straight stakes victories on the grass.
“He’s a Grade I winner on the dirt and a Grade I winner on the turf,” Mott said. “We haven’t won going a [BC Classic distance] mile and a quarter, but after today you’d have to start thinking about his options.”
Yoshida, turf to dirt in the Woodward pic.twitter.com/SogI5DMiI5— Mike MacAdam (@Mike_MacAdam) September 1, 2018
Gunnevera’s Woodward began a scary note and ended on a sour one.
He half-reared in the paddock and knocked former trainer Larry Kelly, whose brother Pat was saddling the horse for Antonio Sano, on his back.
After being taken to first aid in a neck brace, Larry Kelly said he had gone numb when bumped because of a pre-existing neck problem.
Then Sano lodged an objection to the stewards for what he believed was interference by Yoshida as they came off the second turn.
Yoshida and Rosario had used a mid-pack route on the rail before angling out on the turn to find clean running room. They angled out more as they approached the head of the stretch to get around Kurilov and Discreet Lover, forcing Gunnevera and Edgard Zayas on the outside to go wider, too, although there didn’t appear to be much contact between him and Yoshida.
The stewards let the result stand.
“My horse ran good, but, if you look, in the last turn, that horse bumped us and pushed us wide -- 10 wide -- and it was just impossible to win,” Sano said.
“I had to check a little bit from the start and had to get him going again, which caused him to be a little further back than I wanted,” Zayas said. “But he made a huge run in the end.
“Yoshida ran a very huge race. He beat us fair and square.”
“I was just a passenger,” Rosario said. “He was taking very nice to the dirt, and he liked it early on. Turning for home, he was there for me, and he kept going.”