SARATOGA SPRINGS -- You get the feeling that Jimmy Jerkens just randomly grabbed a purple Breeders' Cup ballcap on his way out the door early Sunday morning.
This, because he wasn't exactly in full Breeders' Cup promotional mode.
An old-school trainer who reflects many of the methods and attitudes of his late father, Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, Jimmy Jerkens isn't in love with the idea of extending Woodward winner Preservationist's season into November to run in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
But it's such a big race on the calendar these days, that pointing toward the Breeders' Cup has become the default position for horses like Preservationist, who now has a Grade I dirt route stakes on his resume and the recency of Saturday's half-length win over Bal Harbour.
So as long as he's healthy and training well, Centennial Farms' Preservationist will forge ahead, probably to the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 28, and if that pattern holds, it'll be on to the BC Classic at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 2.
"It's such an undertaking, doing that, especially for a small outfit like ours," Jerkens said. "With the help situation, it's hard to cough up that help to go out there. It puts a big strain on us, but you do it for some race like that, that's for sure.
"But at the same time ... like my father said, 'Sure was a nice world before the Breeders' Cup came around.' Boy, is that the truth."
Jerkens said Preservationist looked no worse for wear when he walked the shedrow Sunday morning, and the 6-year-old horse playfully nosed away at groom Junior McFarlane in a sparring match in the stall.
"He's a Grade I boy, he's a Grade I boy," McFarlane said to his horse. "I didn't have a bit of doubt in you."
Preservationist came into the Woodward off a fourth to McKinzie in the Whitney, after a career breakthrough in the Suburban at Belmont.
He burst through a tight hole late under Junior Alvarado to win the Woodward and shake off that Whitney performance.
"He got into a nice rhythm," Jerkens said. "He was tugging on him a little bit, but nothing to where it was taking anything out of him. And Junior's a little better than the average jock at settling horses like that, too. I don't think a lot off the other jocks would've gotten away with it, really.
"Some horse started to fade outside and drop back, and that's where that little opening happened. Thank God for that. I said, 'Oh, boy, get him out now.' He's big and heavy, and he was still on his inside lead, so I don't think he was able to maneuver him out as early as he wanted to. But it worked out, and he was drawing away at the end, which was nice to see."
Although Preservationist is relatively lightly raced for a 6-year-old, he is just coming into his own as a graded stakes-caliber horse this year.
Jerkens took a strike-while-the-iron-is-hot approach to the Whitney and Woodward, so if Preservationist maintains form during training, the Jockey Club Gold Cup makes a lot of sense, especially since, at a mile and a quarter, it's the same distance as the BC Classic.
He is already proven at the distance, in the Suburban.
"It used to be so much easier to make a race like the Gold Cup the last race and then call it a year," Jerkens said. "Now you've got that [Breeders' Cup], so it changes things. Everyone's Breeders' Cup-crazy, so ... I don't know. If there was no Breeders' Cup, I'd love to just run him in the Gold Cup and have that be the end of it."
Awarding the jockey and trainer meet championships will be a mere formality during Monday's closing day card.
Chad Brown effectively clinched the trainer title, named for Allen Jerkens, weeks ago, and Jose Ortiz had what was an all-but-mathematically clinching lead over his brother, Irad, heading into Sunday's card.
Jose Ortiz won the first and seventh races to push his advantage to 59-51 and finished the day up 59-52, although Irad could console himself with a victory in the feature, the Grade I Spinaway, aboard Perfect Alibi.
Brown came into Sunday with 41 wins to 18 for Todd Pletcher, and stayed stuck on that number with a winless day in four races. He has horses entered in two races Sunday, including Sacred Life and Emaraaty in the Grade II Bernard Baruch. Pletcher has 19 going into closing day.
The Saratoga training record of 46 was set by Brown last year.
WAR OF WILL WORKS
Preakness winner War of Will made neither the Jim Dandy nor the Travers, but has continued to train at Saratoga and posted a five-furlong breeze in 59.55 on the main track Sunday.
He's pointing toward the Sept. 21 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx, and trainer Mark Casse told the New York Racing Association that War of Will appears to be responding positively to the cooler weather.
"He's been doing a lot of bucking and kicking recently, which he hadn't been for awhile," Casse said.
"We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but a good performance in the Pennsylvania Derby would have us looking at the Breeders' Cup. But we have to get past this next one first."
Casse also said that Belmont Stakes winner Sir Winston is back in full training and could get a race in New York toward the end of the year.