Saratoga Race Course's first running of The Woodward (gr. I) produced what is believed to be the highest winning odds in the prestigious stake's 53-year history when 31-1 shot Premium Tap edged Second of June by a half-length Saturday.
In what turned out to be a two-horse race, Premium Tap, a 4-year-old son of Pleasant Tap who ran fifth in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) in his last effort, was put to the drive while switching leads late and surging away from Second of June on the outside leaving the sixteenth pole under Kent Desormeaux. It was the first graded stakes victory for the John Kimmel-trained Premium Tap.
"He's kind of been under the radar for quite some time," Kimmel said. "Even when he broke his maiden as a two-year-old, I thought he was a pretty darn nice horse. I thought he would be a lot tighter this time than he was in the Whitney. I'm really proud of the effort."
Under the weight-for-age conditions of the Woodward, Premium Tap was at equal weight of 126 pounds with nine rivals, including 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness (both gr. I) winner Funny Cide, 2005 Jim Dandy (gr. II) and Travers (gr. I) winner Flower Alley, and Sun King--who lost the Whitney (gr. I) by a nose to Invasor.
There was some bumping as the two contenders battled down the lane but Premium Tap, who appeared to take the worst of it, won with his tongue flapping and there was no inquiry into the $500,000 event.
"All I tried to do was keep him between the fences, he did the rest," Desormeaux said. "Second of June really took a good run at him, and (Premium Tap) was really brave turning him back.
"He's just loving Saratoga right now," the jockey added. "I had gotten on him a couple of times after the Whitney, and he just dragged me around there."
Sun King, the slight 2-1 choice in the field of 10, rallied belatedly to be a close third, three-quarters of a length behind the runner-up, while Papi Chullo edged Andromeda's Hero for fourth. Nowhere to be seen were Flower Alley and Suave, the second and third choices. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile Woodward was an unimpressive 1:50 3/5 on a fast track.
The prices, though, were eye-popping. Premium Tap paid $64, $27.60, and 9.40, topping a $929 exacta with Second of June, who returned $19 and $7.70 with Garrett Gomez aboard. Sun King ($3), ridden by Julien Leparaoux, rounded out a $5,567 trifecta. The superfecta paid $45,129.
Both Second of June and Premium Tap benefited by the early scratch of Wanderin Boy. Without the likely pacesetter, Second of June, prompted closely by the winner, carved fractions of :22 3/5, :47 1/5 and 1:11 4/5. Funny Cide, racing third early, dropped out quickly and Suave, who was squeezed soon after the break, fell out of contention as well.
"When I turned for home, I thought he had a little more than he actually did," Gomez said of the runner-up. "He just got beat by a better horse today."
Second of June lost for the eighth straight time dating back to February 2004, but has been worse than third just once in that span.
Sun King angled out for his patented late run at the leaders after an inside trip, but didn't make much of an impact until the final stages.
Trainer Nick Zito could not find fault with Sun King's effort.
"He tried his guts out. Speed has run good all day. He could not make up any ground," Zito said. "He's the only one that tried."
Flower Alley, who was favored in the Whitney and finished seventh, ran poorly again and was not a factor.
"I don't know what happened," trainer Todd Pletcher said of Flower Alley. "He never fired at all. He went into the first turn and got fanned out a bit; but the fractions were pretty moderate, and he didn't keep up. We'll re-group."
Owned by George Kline, Peter Alevizos, and David Whelihan, Premium Tap improved his career record to 5-3-1 in 13 starts. The $300,000 winner's share swelled the bay colt's earnings to $471,280. Premium Tap, who is out of the Thirty Six Red mare Premium Road, was bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall and W.S. Farish. He sold for $60,000 at Ocala in March 2004.
"If we can keep him sound and healthy, we got some things to look forward to," Kimmel said, noting that Premium Tap is not Breeders' Cup eligible. "There are plenty of good races. Maybe we can take a trip to Dubai with him next year."
Wild Desert finished sixth, followed by Flower Alley, Funny Cide, Naughty New Yorker, and Suave.