Looking at the Graded Stakes Revisions, Part 3: The Woodward

December 23, 2022

Life Is Good wins the 2022 edition of the Woodward, downgraded to G2 status for 2023 (NYRA/Coglianese)

By Ashley Tamulonis

On Friday, December 16 the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) announced its revisions to the graded and/or listed status of all U.S. stakes races with a purse of at least $75,000 for 2023. 

In Part 1 of this series, I looked at the upgrading of the Stephen Foster from a grade two to a grade one race and concluded that was a justified and necessary change. In Part 2 of this series, I looked at the downgrading of the Cigar Mile and determined that the committee had gotten it wrong. In Part 3, I will be reviewing the downgrading of the historic Woodward from grade one to grade two status.

The 2018 edition of the Woodward was the last time in which it went to post with a full field. Yoshida earned his dirt grade one victory in this race after already being a grade one winner on the turf. Multiple graded stakes winner and multiple grade one placed Gunnevera was second while grade one winner Leofric was third. Other grade one winners and grade one placed runners in the field included Rally Cry, Patch, Tapwrit, Sunny Ridge, Kurilov, Discreet Lover, Seeking the Soul, and Imperative.

In 2019 Preservationist scored his only career grade one victory with a triumph in the Woodward. Multiple grade one placed Bal Harbour was second while the previous year’s winner, Yoshida, was third. Grade one winners Tom’s d’Etat and Mongolian Groom were fourth and fifth. The rest of the field was comprised of stakes/graded stakes placed runners.

Global Campaign won the 2020 edition when only five runners entered the starting gate. Though a multiple graded stakes winner, that would be his only career grade one victory. Multiple graded stakes winner and grade one placed Tacitus was second, while Prioritize earned a grade one placing when finishing third. Spinoff finished fourth and grade one winner Math Wizard was fifth.

Multiple graded stakes winner Art Collector finally earned his elusive top tier win when annexing the 2021 Woodward. Grade one winner Maxfield was second, multiple grade one placed and graded stakes winner Dr. Post was third, grade one winner Code of Honor was fourth, while graded stakes winner and grade 1 placed Forza Di Oro was fifth. Stakes placed Mo Gotcha completed the field.

This year NYRA could only get three others to go to post with Life Is Good, who won by 1 ¼-lengths over graded stakes winner and grade one placed, via this very race, Law Professor. Multiple grade one placed Keepmeinmind was third while multiple graded stakes winner Informative was fourth.

Churchill Downs’s Lukas Classic was run on the same weekend as the Woodward this year, so six potential Woodward contenders opted to run in that spot. Logistically it made sense for Rich Strike, who loves that particular track, and Hot Rod Charlie, since Churchill Downs is closer to Keeneland, where this year’s Breeders’ Cup was held. For the rest of the Lukas Classic field, facing Rich Strike and Hot Rod Charlie was preferable to facing the freaky fast Life Is Good. 

In 2021, the Woodward was moved from its traditional spot of late August/early September to early October, something that held true again this year, perhaps playing a role in the small field in 2021. You can put a line through 2020 as that was just an odd year due to Covid-19 and races were held at untraditional times of the year, if they were run at all.

With the continuously decreasing field size for the Woodward, I can understand why the TOBA Graded Stakes Committee voted to downgrade the race’s status. Logically, it just makes sense. However, this race has always been a grade one race. Some of the best horses to look through a bridle have won this event. Those winners include the great Forego, Triple Crown winners Seattle Slew and Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, Easy Goer, Holy Bull, Cigar, Ghostzapper, Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, Havre de Grace, and Gun Runner.

If you only look at this race solely through the lens of “what have you done for me lately,” then it’s easy to see why this Committee unceremoniously demoted this once great race. However, in doing so, they have effectuated the travesty of throwing tradition straight out the window. Logic has its place, but in this case, snubbing the proverbial nose at one of racing’s most esteemed races is simply unacceptable. 

Contributing Authors

Ashley Tamulonis

Ashley Tamulonis

Ashley has been an avid horse racing fan since she was introduced to the sport through the Joanna Campbell series "Thoroughbred." As a Georgia native...

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@jonathanstettin Wonderful article! You’re a great ambassador for the game! We’ve been spoiled with elite equine athletes in recent memory.

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