Fort Larned, among the favorites for Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward at Saratoga Race Course, will be scratched from the race, said trainer Ian Wilkes.
“He worked great Monday morning and jogged and walked fine Tuesday and Wednesday,” the trainer said of Fort Larned, most recently fifth in the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap.
“This morning, he was not 100 percent in his training. He was a little off behind. It’s not serious, possibly a pulled muscle, but when you are competing against horses on this level, you have to be 100 percent.”
Wilkes said the next likely start for Fort Larned, winner of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic, would be the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 28 at Belmont Park.
“We’ll wait for that and go from there,” said Wilkes.
With the defection of Fort Larned, who had been expected to be on or close to the pace, Eric Donovan, oddsmaker for The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA), made Paynter the 2-1 favorite for the 1 1/8-mile race.
Successful Dan is 5-2, followed by Flat Out (3-1), Mucho Macho Man (9-2), Ron the Greek (8-1) and Alpha (12-1).
Along with the Grade 1 Forego and the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch, the Woodward it will be shown live on the NBC Sports Network.
Woodward morning-line favorite Paynter got a look at Saratoga on Thursday morning with an easy gallop over the main track in preparation for Saturday’s race.
Owned by Ahmed Zayat and trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, the 4-year-old Awesome Again colt arrived in Saratoga at 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday, following a nearly 17-hour trip from California via Newark International Airport.
“Flying is a very easy deal for the horses,” said Baffert’s assistant, Jim Barnes. ‘He flies easier than he vans, actually.”
The 1 1/8-mile Woodward will be the first Grade 1 race for Paynter since he won the Haskell Invitational last July at Monmouth Park. He developed a fever out of that race which evolved into colitis and, ultimately, laminitis in three of his four hooves.
“To tell you the truth, a year ago I didn’t know where we were going to be in a year’s time. I’m happy to be where we’re at, that’s for sure,” Barnes said. “He’s come a long way. The recovery was a lot quicker than I ever expected it to be. When he came back and ran his first race, he was very full of himself.”
Paynter showed plenty of energy upon his arrival, turning his head from side to side and neighing loudly and often as Barnes walked him from the van to his residence at trainer John Terranova’s barn.
“That’s him. That’s how he rolls,” Barnes said. “He rolls with a lot of energy. It isn’t uncommon for him to act like that. He’s normal, just how he should be.”
Paynter won a seven-furlong allowance on the Cushion Track at Betfair Hollywood Park on June 14 in his comeback race, and followed up by running second, beaten a half-length, in the Grade 2 San Diego over Del Mar’s Polytrack surface on July 27.
“He trains at Del Mar and he deals with the racetrack; he just doesn’t move over it as well as he does on dirt,” Barnes said. “We’re glad it all worked out and we’re here. When we ran him at Del Mar, so many people showed up; even at Hollywood when he ran.
“I expect it will be the same, maybe even more of a following up here. It’s exciting. Racing needs something like this, to have people interested in it and be excited about it.”
NYRA photo by Raisher