The Grade 1 Woodward Stakes returns to Belmont Park for the first time since 2005, bringing with it a field full of intriguing characters at varying points in their careers.

Art Collector-Woodward
Art Collector and jockey Luis Saez’s gutsy victory in the Charles Town Classic sets them up for Saturday’s Grade 1 Woodward Stakes. Art Collector is the 3/1 third-favorite to win his first Grade 1. (Image: Coady Photography)

And all seeking validation for where they are in those varying points.

One of two Grade 1s on Belmont Park’s Saturday slate (2:45 p.m. PT post), the 1 1/8-mile Woodward anchors an 11-race, four-stakes card. And it does so with one of the top older horses in the country, one of the hottest older horses in the country, an older horse on the tail end of a wonderful career and two contenders who want to be where their aforementioned competitors are now.

We start with Maxfield, your 7/5 morning-line favorite. He comes in with three victories in five races this year, two of those in Grade 2 races: April’s Alysheba and June’s Stephen Foster. He arrives off a respectable runner-up to Knicks Go in the Grade 1 Whitney, one of two defeats on the son of Street Sense’s ledger. Maxfield does have a Grade 1 win on the resume, the Breeders’ Futurity in his 2-year-old season. That featured the powerful closing kick that is his trademark.

Maxfield’s turning capabilities are formidable

This should play well at Belmont Park, where the expansive turns provide Maxfield the slingshot effect he’s used en route to seven career wins in nine starts.

“I think it suits him if anything,” trainer Brendan Walsh told the New York Racing Association. “He should love the sweeping turns here. He seems to run his turns very well, which is probably the strongest part of his races. A big horse like him with a big stride on him, I can’t see why it wouldn’t be to his advantage more than anything.”

Speaking of advantages, getting a Grade 1 win for Maxfield would be a huge one. Walsh said this is critical for his stallion career.

Watch Art Collector on the lead

The same goes for Art Collector (3/1), one of two Bill Mott entries. The 4-year-old son of the late Bernardini is on a roll since joining Mott’s barn earlier this year, posting victories in the Alydar at Saratoga Aug. 6 and the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic Aug. 27. Both came with 103 Beyer Speed Figures and the 115 from his Charles Town Classic win marked a career best.

“He’s made no mistakes so far. He looks great and the horse is doing very well,” Mott said. “We’re very pleased with him.”

Expect Art Collector, still looking for his first Grade 1 score, to be on or near the lead going out. And expect his stablemate Forza Di Oro to come along for the ride. He comes in off a third in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, where he went out quick, yet tired on the 1 ¼-mile trek.

“It could have been the distance,” Mott said about the son of Speightstown. We were concerned about that going in.”

Yes, Code of Honor returns for this Woodward

Looming over all is the crafty, $2.8-million-winning veteran in the field: Code of Honor (5/2). The 5-year-old returned to action Aug. 21 with a solid victory in the Grade 3 Phillip Iselin at Monmouth Park. That came with a 105 Beyer and a 120 Equibase Speed Figure that is not only Code of Honor’s career-best, but the best of anyone in this field.

That marked Code of Honor’s return from a seven-month layoff, following his mediocre fifth in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup. Code of Honor’s 7-4-2 record in 17 career starts includes two Grade 1s, but they also represent oft-inconsistent form. Both Grade 1s came in his 3-year-old season: the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

“He’s training as good as he could – as good as I’ve ever seen him,” trainer Shug McGaughey said about the stalker. “I think two turns is probably better, but the mile and an eighth is fine. I think the way he’s training right now, he’s sharp and he’ll be laying in the right spot to wait and make a move.”

Is a Grade 1 too strong an Rx for Dr Post?

Code of Honor doesn’t have much left to prove. The same can’t be said for Dr Post (6/1). He too, needs a Grade 1 win for validation. This year, there are two Grade 3 victories for the 2020 Belmont Stakes runner-up: the May 1 Westchester and the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup two starts later. Those bookended a non-factor fifth in the Grade 1 Met Mile.

Last time out, trainer Todd Pletcher shipped the son of 2010 Woodward winner Quality Road west to Del Mar for the Aug. 21 Pacific Classic. There, he finished third, losing ground on the turn before rallying down the stretch.

Grade 1 Woodward Stakes/Belmont Park

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Dr Post, 6/1 (Irad Ortiz Jr./Todd Pletcher)
  2. Maxfield, 7/5 (Jose Ortiz/Brendan Walsh)
  3. Art Collector, 3/1 (Luis Saez/Bill Mott)
  4. Mo Gotcha, 50/1 (Jalon Samuel/Naipal Chatterpaul)
  5. Code of Honor, 5/2 (Paco Lopez/Shug McGaughey)
  6. Forza Di Oro, 5/1 (Junior Alvarado/Bill Mott)

“(Jockey) Joel (Rosario) seemed to think that maybe he was struggling with the track a little bit in the middle part of the race, for some reason,” Pletcher said. “He seemed to get a hold of it well late in the race, but just put himself in a tough spot with too much to do. It wasn’t a bad race by any means.”

The pick: Art Collector. This is more a bet on Art Collector than a bet against Maxfield, who could put himself back into Horse of the Year contention with a victory here. But since moving to Mott’s barn, Art Collector has found another gear. His form and sit-on-or-near-the-lead style come with the speed needed to counter Maxfield’s finishing kick. It’s worked very well this summer.