Kanthaka, World of Trouble Among Bettable Choices in Woody Stephens
A diverse and competitive group of 3-year-olds is set to converge in the Grade 2, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun run at seven furlongs on the main track on Saturday at Belmont Park.
Despite being a Grade 2 race on a card loaded with Grade 1s, the Woody Stephens is routinely one of the most intriguing heats on Belmont Stakes Day, featuring horses once on the Kentucky Derby Trail turning back in distance to meet confirmed, up-and-coming sprinters. With a full field of sophomores coming in from a variety of different directions, this year is no exception.
Perhaps the most intriguing contender in the 2018 edition is the lightly raced World of Trouble, which is exactly what the field has in store for it if he is able to duplicate his last sprint race. Two starts ago, making his debut for trainer Jason Servis, World of Trouble exploded in the seven-furlong Pasco, drawing off to win by 13 ¾ lengths and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 97.
After the jaw-dropping victory, the son of the speedy and precocious Kantharos was given a chance to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby via the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby on March 10 at Tampa Bay Downs. While he ran well to finish third, beaten just 1 ¼ lengths, he failed to show the brilliance he had displayed around one turn. On Saturday, he'll be given the perfect opportunity to recapture the magic he exhibited in the Pasco.
Owned by Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables, and Bethlehem Stables, World of Trouble will break from post 11 with Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard.
Going out for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and West Point Thoroughbreds, Kanthaka is another who has shown an affinity for sprinting. His preference for one-turn racing becomes especially pronounced when juxtaposed with his failed bid to make the Kentucky Derby. Sandwiched between a pair of graded stakes victories at sprint distances, most notably a dominant 3 ¼-length score in the Grade 2 San Vicente on February 10 at Santa Anita Park, the son of Jimmy Creed shows a couple of uncharacteristically dull efforts in Derby preps: a third in the Grade 2 San Felipe and a sixth in the Grade 2 Blue Grass.
"He's 3-for-3 at the seven-eighths," said Hollendorfer's assistant Dan Ward. "You have to see if you can go long. Sometimes, sprinters will do well the first time they go long and can fool you. The second time he really didn't want to go that far. If you have a 3-year-old who wins a stakes at seven-eighths from off the pace, you have to see if you can go long because everybody wants a Derby horse."
In his most recent outing, Kanthaka got back to doing what he does best. After tracking the pace in the Grade 3, seven-furlong Laz Barrera on May 12 at Santa Anita Park, the fleet chestnut chugged his way to a three-quarters of a length triumph.
"He's been up close, far off the pace, inside, outside, big field, small field," said Ward. "He was up close [in the Laz Barrera] because there was no speed. He was on the inside, so [jockey Flavien Prat] had to use him a little bit the first part, but he still finished well and ran a very professional race."
Kanthaka, the 3-1 morning-line favorite, will be ridden by Flavien Prat from post 8.
Yet another horse turning back after an unsuccessful stop on the Derby Trail is Strike Power. The Speightstown colt is 2-for-2 sprinting, including a sensational eight-length win in his debut, but didn't prove to be as effective around two turns. In his most recent start, the Mark Hennig trainee chased a suicidal pace in the Grade 1 Florida Derby set by fellow Woody Stephens entrant Promises Fulfilled. The early fractions of the 1 1/8-mile race proved so taxing that Strike Power and Promises Fulfilled finished second-to-last and last, respectively.
"I thought a mile and an eighth might be stretching it to the extreme for him, but no horse would want any part of the way that race unfolded," Hennig said of the Florida Derby. "He's doing great now and we're looking forward to getting him back around one turn. If you look at his first few races this is obviously what he likes to do. He drew a great post position. All [jockey] Johnny [Velazquez] will have to do is take a peek over his shoulder to figure out where to be."
The chestnut colt owned by Courtlandt Farms will break from outermost post 12 with the Hall of Famer Velazquez in the irons.
Adding a little Mid-Atlantic flavor to the race is Still Having Fun, owned by Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable, and Terp Racing. The Maryland-bred colt trained by Tim Keefe has finished first or second in all five of his one-turn outings, most recently finishing a game second in the Chick Lang Stakes on May 19 at Pimlico Race Course. After lagging well behind a modest pace, the son of Old Fashioned unleashed a strong rally in the stretch of the Chick Lang and was actually making up ground on the runaway winner Mitole, who flew home in just a few ticks over 23 seconds for the final quarter of a mile.
Still Having Fun will enlist the services of Joel Rosario, and the pair will depart from post 6.
Rounding out the field are Madison's Luna, winner of the Grade 3 Hutcheson on March 24 at Gulfstream Park; Pure Shot, most recently fourth in the Chick Lang; Engage, who won the Gold Fever Stakes at Belmont last out for trainer Chad Brown; Givemeaminit, third in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile in his latest outing; Aqua Bel Sar, winner of a New York Stallion Series race during the winter at Aqueduct Racetrack; Beautiful Shot, who finished second to Kanthaka in the Laz Barrera; Promises Fulfilled, winner of the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 3 at Gulfstream; and The Tabulator, a multiple stakes winner for trainer Larry Rivelli.
Unedited NYRA release