The seven-furlong Woody Stephens is the third of six graded stakes on the New York track’s card anchored by the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Post time is scheduled for 3:59 p.m. The Woody Stephens, which drew a field of seven, is the start of Belmont’s all-stakes late Pick 4 that carries a guaranteed jackpot of $1 million.
E. Paul Robsham Stables’ homebred Travelin Man has the benefit of having a seven-furlong graded win to his credit. That came in the April 3 Swale (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park when he scored by two lengths. Last out, he was right on the pace in the April 30 The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (gr. III) at Churchill Downs but faded to sixth as the 8-5 favorite in the one-mile contest. The cutback in distance should only help Travelin Man, who broke his maiden by more than seven lengths in January and was a distant runner-up to Flashpoint in the Hutcheson (gr. II) in late February.
“I think it was the surface,” trainer Todd Pletcher said of the Derby Trial. “He just didn’t seem to like the surface there. He kind of spun his wheels, according to John Velazquez, and I don’t think it had anything to do with the mile distance. It probably didn’t matter what distance he was going that day; he didn’t seem to fire.
Breaking from the rail under Velazquez and carrying co-top weight of 123 pounds, Travelin Man should be part of the pace once again. He was pegged as the 2-1 morning-line favorite.
“He’s been a very straightforward, sound horse for us,” said Pletcher, who won this event in 2000 with Travelin Man’s sire, Trippi, and also in 2009 with Munnings. “He’s always been very easy to train, and very professional. Seven furlongs is the perfect distance for him. We look forward for him to bounce back with a good race.”
Steve Asmussen has also won the Woody Stephens twice (Posse 2003, J Be K 2008) and should have a good chance to notch his third triumph with Zayat Stables’ Justin Phillip. The son of First Samurai seeks his first stakes win in his fifth try. He ran a good third, beaten less than two lengths, in the April 9 Bay Shore (gr. III) going seven furlongs at Aqueduct, and returned to finish third again in the April 23 Jerome (gr. II) going one mile.
One of Justin Phillip’s two career wins have come at Belmont, as he broke his maiden there at second asking last September. New York’s top rider, Ramon Dominguez, will keep the mount.
Also carrying 123 pounds and breaking from the outside is Fresh Start Stable’s J J's Lucky Train. The Silver Train colt won the Bay Shore by a neck from Vengeful Wildcat for his second straight stakes score. The other came in the Feb. 26 Miracle Wood, which was also at seven furlongs. He returned to Churchill Downs to finish third in the Derby Trial, as he hit the board for the eighth time in nine career starts for trainer Bill Anderson.
Based at Parx Racing in Pennsylvania, J J’s Lucky Train will be ridden by Paco Lopez, who was aboard the dark bay colt when he scored a starter allowance sprint at Monmouth Park by nearly six lengths last October.
The other four starters enter off wins. Little Drama, a half-brother to sprint champion Big Drama, comes out of the seven-furlong Philmont Stakes April 26 at Parx for his second stakes victory; Arch Traveler took the seven-furlong Ziggy’s Boy Stakes May 12 at Belmont by three lengths; Derivative scored an optional claimer on the Oaklawn Park slop for D. Wayne Lukas last month; and Bold Warrior broke his maiden for Allen Jerkens May 21 at Belmont.
Lukas is a four-time Woody Stephens winner, while Jerkens won in 2001 with Put It Back.
$250,000 Woody Stephens (gr. II, Race 8, 3:59 p.m.), 3YO, 7 Furlongs (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Travelin Man (KY), J R Velazquez, 123, T A Pletcher
2. Justin Phillip (KY), R A Dominguez, 117, S M Asmussen
3. Derivative (KY), J Rosario, 117, D W Lukas
4. Bold Warrior (KY), C H Velasquez, 117, H A Jerkens
5. Arch Traveler (KY), J Lezcano, 119, J A Jerkens
6. Little Drama (FL), J Castellano, 121, D Fawkes
7. J J's Lucky Train (KY), P Lopez, 123, W D Anderson