When last seen, Quality Road was coming off the Saratoga turn with the lead in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I), only to be run down in the final strides by Blame.
With no Blame-caliber horse to worry about this time, Quality Road again came off the turn with a commanding lead in the $750,000 Woodward Stakes (VIDEO), and was never challenged. With a couple taps of the stick and a vigorous hand ride by John Velazquez, the 4-year-old son of Elusive Quality bounded home for a convincing 4 3/4–length victory as the 3-10 favorite on Sept. 4, locking up his third grade I score of the year and fourth overall.
It was likely the final start for Quality Road before he goes to the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs as one of the horses to beat.
“We’ll see how he comes out of it,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “The plan all along has been to go from here to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. We’ll have his next to last work at Belmont Park, and his final work at Churchill, so we’ll probably go to Churchill Downs 12 or 13 days out.”
In his Aug. 7 Whitney defeat, which came by a head for his only setback in five starts this year, Quality Road had nothing to run at and found himself on the lead. To his advantage this time, the bay colt was able to sit just off of longshot pacesetter Arcodoro, who took the field of seven around in splits of :24.06 and :47.36.Mythical Power and 2009 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum Brands (gr. I) winner Mine That Bird, who was ridden by Rajiv Maragh for the first time and was adding blinkers, were also close to the pace.
Velazquez told Quality Road to go with three furlongs remaining, and after running three-quarters in 1:11.52, easily passed Arcodoro. Quality Road came off the turn with a commanding lead and hit the eighth pole ahead by three lengths. Two-time grade III winner Mythical Power was the only threat, but he was no match for the Edward Evans homebred, who was kept to task for the entire stretch run.
The final time for nine furlongs on the fast dirt was 1:50 flat. Mythical Power was runner-up under Garrett Gomez, a half-length in front of late-closing Tranquil Manner.
“He was much, much better than last time,” Velazquez said. “In the Whitney, I was struggling to get him going. But today he was much more willing and much more on the bridle. It was better for him to have (Arcodoro) to follow. It made him much more competitive. And then down the lane I just wanted to keep him focused, because once he gets to the lead he sometimes he gets lazy. I guess he's older and smarter because he thinks he's done once he gets to the lead. But overall, he did it well.”
Quality Road won the Hal’s Hope (gr. III) and Donn Handicap (gr. I) to open his season at Gulfstream Park, then scored the Metropolitan Mile Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont in May before his failed Whitney effort. The Woodward was his seventh graded stakes win. Overall, he is 8-3-1 from 12 starts with earnings of $2,232,830.
The winner was bred in Virginia by Evans and is out of the Strawberry Road mare Kobla.
“He’s accomplished a lot this year with the Donn, the Met Mile, and this race. He’s certainly put himself in a position, if he wins the next one," Pletcher said. "Right now, the plan all year has been to run in these races. He got beat a short head in the last one, but I think he redeemed himself today on a track that did not appear to be playing very fast.”
“We have tremendous respect for (last year’s BC Classic winner) Zenyatta, but we don’t expect to show up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and have it be an easy field. That’s what championship events are about.”
Quality Road paid $2.60, $2.10, and $2.10. Runner-up Mythical Power returned $5.90 and $4.40 and Tranquil Manner earned $4.60 to show. The exacta (3-7) paid $14 and the trifecta (3-7-6) was $94.
Convocation finished fourth, followed by Indian Dance, Arcodoro, and Mine That Bird, who is now winless in eight starts since the Derby, including three losses this year.