As the owner of the speedy 3-year-old Social Inclusion, Ronald Sanchez chose the $500,000 Woody Stephens (gr. II) June 7 instead of taking another shot at Triple Crown aspirant California Chrome in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
Certainly, the linemaker for Belmont Park agreed with the decision to cut back in distance. He made Social Inclusion the 7-5 morning line choice among 13 sophomore entrants in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens, named for one of New York's all-time great trainers.
The Woody Stephens was carded as the fifth on the super-charged 13-race Saturday program, with a scheduled post time of 1:54 p.m. EDT.
Lightly raced by trainer Manuel Azpurua with two wins and two thirds from four starts, Social Inclusion will sprint for the first time since winning his debut by 7 1/2 lengths in February at Gulfstream Park. He won a 1 1/16-mile open allowance by 10 lengths in March at Gulfstream before finishing third by 3 1/2 lengths in the 1 1/8-mile TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial (gr. I) in April at Aqueduct Racetrack in his third start.
His connections decided to target the Preakness (gr. I) after the Wood Memorial, and the colt battled hard to the wire to finish third, eight lengths behind California Chrome.
Sanchez and Azpurua considered running Social Inclusion in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes as well as the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) against older rivals before opting in favor of the Woody Stephens. The shorter distance and the fact the race will start far away from what will be a massive crowd factored into that decision, Sanchez said.
"When we schooled him, he acted up behind the gate," said Sanchez. "It's not possible to run him in front of a large crowd. I want to run in the Belmont, but I was expecting the horse to settle down (when he schooled) at the gate. The Woody Stephens is seven furlongs and will start on the backstretch. No crowd there."
He has posted one official workout at Belmont since his arrival, blazing three furlongs in :33.55 followed by a strong gallop out May 31.
"His last breeze was amazing, and he's cutting back," said Sanchez. "The short distance should be better."
Social Inclusion will have a new rider on Saturday as Irad Ortiz Jr. replaces Luis Contreras. The bay son of Pioneerof the Nile drew post 11.
Among the dozen opponents to face Social Inclusion is Bayern, another speedster also exiting the Preakness.
Bayern, owned by Kaleem Shah, easily won his first two starts at Santa Anita Park before setting the pace and yielding in the stretch when third in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I). He traded punches with fellow Woody Stephens entrant Embellishing Bob from start to finish in the Derby Trial (gr. III) in April at Churchill Downs, holding on to prevail by a nose before being disqualified to second for brushing his opponent. In the Preakness, Bayern never fired, steadily falling off the pace to finish ninth, beaten 21 lengths.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Bayern will leave from post 1 at 5-1 on the morning line. Gary Stevens, who rode Bayern in his first three starts, will be reunited with the colt, who will go back to blinkers after racing without in the Preakness.
Havana, who won the Foxwoods Champagne (gr. I) as a 2-year-old in his second start, looks to rebound off a disappointing 3-year-old debut. A solid second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) in November at Santa Anita, the gray colt was found wanting in the stretch of the six-furlong Gold Fever May 4 at Belmont, racing evenly to report home third, beaten 2 3/4 lengths.
"I'm hoping he was a little rusty off the layoff," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who conditions Havana for Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith. "Unfortunately, we had some foot issues that held him up. We had to scratch him from the Swale (gr. I) in March. We had a valid excuse going into the Gold Fever. We've subsequently gotten three quality breezes out of him, and I hope that race and the consistent works move him forward."
Havana, the 6-1 morning-line third choice, will leave from post 3 with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez aboard.
Fox Hill Farms' Coup de Grace brings proven seven-furlong form into the Woody Stephens, having rallied from sixth to win the Bay Shore (gr. III) by a nose in April at Aqueduct Racetrack. He had raced on the lead in his first three starts before the change in tactics by trainer Chad Brown.
Trainer Christophe Clement expects his entrant, Pure Sensation, to be part of the early pace. Pure Sensation has placed in all three of his stakes starts, most recently posting a second in the Gold Fever.
The field also includes Financial Mogul, Chick Lang winner Meadowood, Embellishing Bob, Tonito M., Favorite Tale, Swale winner (gr. II) Spot, San Vicente (gr. II) victor Kobe's Back, and Top Fortitude, who surprisingly captured the Laz Barrera Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita.
$500,000 Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. III, Race 5, 1:54 p.m.), 3YOs, 7 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Bayern (KY), G L Stevens, 117, B Baffert, 5/1
2. Financial Mogul (KY), J L Ortiz, 115, R A Violette Jr., 30/1
3. Havana (KY), J R Velazquez, 123, T A Pletcher, 6/1
4. Meadowood (KY), Napravnik, 121, D S Ryan, 15/1
5. Coup de Grace (KY), J Castellano, 123, C C Brown, 10/1
6. Embellishing Bob (KY), J Lezcano, 123, S Margolis, 8/1
7. Tonito M. (KY), C S Nakatani, 123, J Hollendorfer, 20/1
8. Favorite Tale (PA), J L Flores, 121, G Preciado, 12/1
9. Spot (KY), L Saez, 123, N P Zito, 30/1
10. Kobe's Back (KY), J Rosario, 123, J W Sadler, 15/1
11. Social Inclusion (KY), I Ortiz Jr., 117, M J Azpurua, 7/5
12. Top Fortitude (AZ), M E Smith, 123, R K Owens, 20/1
13. Pure Sensation (FL), C H Velasquez, 115, C Clement, 30/1
Blinkers On; Bayern, Financial Mogul