Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. figured all he needed in order to get Saint Liam home on top in Saturday's $490,000 Woodward (gr. I) was to put a little pace pressure on Commentator, who upset his star in the Whitney (gr. I). Dutrow's strategy worked to perfection as Saint Liam galloped home an easy winner at Belmont Park.
In his march toward the Breeders's Cup Classic, Powered by Dodge (gr. I), Saint Liam, ridden for the first time by Jerry Bailey, didn't have to work very hard. He completed the 1 1/8-mile test wrapped up by Bailey in a moderate time of 1:49 while finishing two lengths ahead of Sir Shackleton, part of the Nick Zito-trained entry with Commentator, who finished a distant third, 12 1/2 lengths behind the runner-up.
"I love this race. I am so happy," Dutrow said. "We're living a dream right now is what we're doing. I've always been confident around this horse. He's something special. I was even more confident around the half-mile pole today. He's running next in the Breeders' Cup (Classic)."
Saint Liam, a 5-year-old by Saint Ballado, notched his third grade I victory of the year after capturing the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in February and the Stephen Foster in June at Churchill Downs. The bay horse went over the $2 million mark in career earnings for owners Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren Jr.
"It worked out to perfection," said Dutrow, whose main goal in softening Commentator up was to avoid having the Woodward take too much out of Saint Liam. "I never felt we needed these horses to kill the speed. Going into the race for his next start, I didn't want Saint Liam to get down on his belly. Last year, he put in an unbelievable race (in the Woodward) and we didn't get to run him in the Breeders' Cup. This year looks different. So far, so good."
Saint Liam was defeated by a neck by Ghostzapper in last year's Woodward in a grueling front-running effort.
There were only three betting interests Saturday and really only two as Dutrow entered the sprinters Show Boot and Crafty Player as a separate entry from Saint Liam, who went off at odds of 2-5. Shaniko scratched, meaning the five remaining starters were saddled by two trainers – Dutrow and Zito.
Gary Stevens attempted to keep Commentator from going after Show Boot shortly after the start, but soon gave up on that. The head-strong Distorted Humor
gelding shot past Show Boot after a :23 3/5 opening quarter mile, but the Whitney winner couldn't shake loose as he did at Saratoga. After being pressured through fractions of :45 2/5 and 1:10 1/5, Commentator had little left for Saint Liam, who was in close attendance as well and clearly had his rival's measure at the 3/16th pole.
Bailey negotiated the rest of the trip with Saint Liam under his hold, continually checking over his left shoulder to make sure the late-running Sir Shackleton didn't get too close. Saint Liam floated a bit wide through the lane but won as much the best. Sir Shackleton, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, finished second.
"I don't think he needed the `rabbits,'" said Bailey, who replaced Edgar Prado on Saint Liam for his fifth Woodward victory. "You just don't want to gut him chasing a horse today with $4 million on the line six weeks from now. I knew I had Commentator going into the far turn. To be honest with you, I didn't think Sir Shackleton was the horse that could run me down any where at any point. That is as easy as you can win. I feel bad taking the money for this – but I will."
Saint Liam, who lost the Whitney by a neck, won for the eighth time in 19 starts and increased his earnings to $2,023,395. He paid $2.80 to win. There was no place or show wagering.