Alpha returns to Saratoga winner's circle with upset of G1 Woodward
By Jenny Kellner | 08/31/2013 07:28 PM ET
Returning to the site of his greatest triumph, Alpha dug in through the final yards to hold off a game Flat Out in a furious finish and win the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward at Saratoga Race Course by a head.
Ridden for the first time by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, Alpha -
who dead-heated with Golden Ticket to win last year's Grade 1 Travers -
popped out of the gate on top and took the field of five through an opening quarter-mile in 24.26 seconds over the sloppy track. With 3-2 favorite Paynter and Flat Out tracking him intently, two lengths back, the 4-year-old son of Bernardini got a half-mile in 48.20 and three-quarters in 1:11.57.
As Paynter began to fade, Alpha turned for home with a one-length advantage that increased marginally when Flat Out went wide coming off the turn. Straightened out by Junior Alvarado, Flat Out bore down on the front-runner and the two went saddlecloth to saddlecloth through the final yards with Alpha putting his head down on the wire first.
"We waited until the quarter-pole when the other horse [Flat Out] came to me," said Velazquez. "Once that other horse didn't pass me at the three-sixteenths pole, I knew my horse was going to put up a good fight. Obviously, he did and kicked ahead."
Said Flat Out's Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott: "He did everything but catch him. I can't complain."
Alpha, a front-running winner of last year's Grade 2 Jim Dandy at the Spa over a similarly sloppy track, completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.28 for his first victory in seven starts since the historic dead-heat in the "Mid-Summer Derby."
"The stretch run was more nerve-wracking than the Travers, because we were there, trying to hold him off," said Kiaran McLaughlin, who outfitted Alpha with blinkers for the Woodward. "But it was great. When Flat Out came to us, Johnny said he kind of looked at the tire tracks [on the track] late, but we're here in the winner's circle, so it was a great win, one of our biggest, probably. I told Johnny if he breaks well and he can throw mud on the rest of them, please do. He agreed with me. He's a great rider and you hope things go like planned, and they did."
Made the longest shot on the board at 7-1 by the crowd of 20,068, Alpha returned $17.40 for a $2 win wager. Having broken his maiden at Saratoga in 2011, Alpha is now 4-for-5 at the track, with his only loss coming when sixth in the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap on August 3 in his most recent start.
Alpha, 6-2-0 from 16 career starts, has earned $1,772,500 for Godolphin Stable.
Finishing third, 6 ¾ lengths behind Flat Out, was Successful Dan. Ron the Greek was fourth, with Paynter checking in fifth.
"He broke a little slow but I found my position right away," said Rafael Bejarano, aboard beaten favorite Paytner. "We had a good trip, but I was out of horse by the half-mile. I think he didn't feel comfortable on the surface, he never felt comfortable."
Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man were scratched.