"I was totally confident," Scotty Schulhofer said after Lemon Drop Kid prevailed by a head over Behrens to win the $500,000 Woodward Stakes for his fourth straight victory. "Once he got his head in front, I knew he would win the photo. Everyone around me was screaming. Not me. It was the most relaxed day I've had in racing."
The 1 1-8th-mile Woodward might have been a tranquil experience for Schulhofer, but for everyone else it was one of the more thrilling editions of the Grade I race in recent memory. After the gates flew open, the lead changed hands three times in the first 440 yards alone, with Ecton Park, then Skimming, then Behrens gunning to the front. And after a half-mile, they were still five-across, with Lemon Drop Kid on the far outside, just a couple of heads off the lead.
On the far turn, however, Ecton Park began to drop back and the race was left to Behrens, still clinging to the lead; Skimming, who was just beginning to tire, and Lemon Drop Kid. At that point, Edgar Prado sent Lemon Drop Kid three-wide past Skimming and managed to wrest a narrow lead from Behrens as they straightened for home.
But Behrens, under Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, was not done yet. Coming back along the inside, he battled saddlecloth-to-saddlecloth with Lemon Drop Kid every step of the stretch, missing by a head at the wire.
"I saw Behrens on the inside moving into the far turn, and at the half-mile pole I asked my horse to move up because I didn't want Behrens to get away," said Prado. "I've got to give credit to Behrens. He was real tough to get by and he's an old warrior."
Said Bailey: "My horse ran a huge race. He had to fight the whole way and never had a breather. Lemon Drop Kid just got the bob."
Gander, a 40-1 shot who had dropped back on the turn, made up considerable ground in the final 300 yards to finish three-quarters of a length back in third. Skimming was fourth, 3 3/4 lengths back, and Ecton Park was last, 13 1/2 lengths back.
Lemon Drop Kid, coming off victories in the Brooklyn, Suburban and Whitney Handicaps, returned $3.40, $2.20 and $2.10 to his backers in the crowd of 20,189 as the narrow favorite, and earned $300,000 for owners Jeanne Vance and Laddie Dance. The 4-year-old colts time was 1:50.53 for the nine furlongs.
"In my mind, he's the Horse of the Year, but he'll do whatever it takes to get it," said Schulhofer, who will next start Lemon Drop Kid in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Oct. 14, followed by the Breeders Cup Classic on Nov. 4. "He'll have a month to get over (this) race."
Behrens paid $2.90 and $2.10, while Gander, ridden by John Velazquez, paid $2.10 for show.
"Its nice to know the old man isnt washed up yet," said H. James Bond, rainer of the 6-year-old Behrens, who will next start in the Gold Cup. "He ran a game race. He's just got to move up a half a head."
In the other Grade I race on the card, favored Riboletta ran off to a 7 1/2-length victory over Gourmet Girl to take the $250,000 Ruffian for fillies and mares for her fifth straight victory.
Ridden by Chris McCarron, the 5-year-old bay mare pressed the early pace set by Lu Ravi and Country Hideaway, then moved to the front on the far turn before pulling away with ease through the stretch. Her time for the 1 1-16th miles was 1:40 3-5.
"I didn't even touch her in the stretch," said McCarron. "She had some questions to answer today and she did it rather easily. Every time I ride this mare I look forward more and more to taking on (division leaders) Beautiful Pleasure and Heritage of Gold."
The winner returned $4.10, $3.10 and $2.70 as she earned $150,000 for owners Aaron Jones and Marie Jones. Gourmet Girl, ridden by Victor Espinoza, paid $8.70 and $4.80, while Country Hideaway, who held for third, 1 3/4 lengths back, paid $2.90 under Mike Smith.
Completing the order of finish were Pentatonic, Finders Fee, Lu Ravi and Houdinis Honey.
In the $200,000, Grade II Belmont Breeders Cup on the turf, longshot Forbidden Apple came from just off the pace to post a 1 1/4-length victory over Vals Price, giving trainer Christophe Clement his second straight victory in the race. The winner, ridden by Jose Santos, returned $45 for a $2 win bet.
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