Horseplayers who rely on complex methods of handicapping should, by now, have adopted a simple approach toward the Woodward Stakes: bet on the horse ridden by Angel Cordero Jr.
Today, Cordero rode the Woodward winner for a record sixth time and fifth consecutive year, as 6-to-5 favorite Track Barron led from start to finish in defeating Vanlandingham by four lengths in the $334,000 event at Belmont Park.
New York's "fall championship series" offers a $1 million bonus to the horse that wins the Woodward, Marlboro Cup and Jockey Club Gold Cup, and today Track Barron appeared up to the task. He covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:46 3/5 over a track hit by heavy rain the night before.
Last year, Cordero rode Slew o' Gold to the first fall series sweep.
Track Barron had posted his biggest victory four weeks ago in Saratoga's Whitney Handicap, leading wire to wire. In approaching the Woodward, Track Barron's trainer, Leroy Jolley, said, "I left (tactics) up to Angel." Cordero said, "Track Barron does what he wants to do . . . he's a funny horse."
Left to his own devises, Track Barron dashed from the outside post position to take the lead over five rivals. Vanlandingham (2-1), as expected, challenged on the inside and Bounding Basque (18-1) ran third on the outside.
Those three took a seven-length lead over the rest of the field within the first two furlongs, and it appeared Chief's Crown (9-5), running fourth along the rail, might benefit from the speed duel. But Track Barron was not taxed in running the first quarter mile in 23 1/5 seconds.
Vanlandingham, ridden by Pat Day, and Bounding Basque (Antonio Graell) remained about a length behind Track Barron entering the turn, where Cordero angled his mount away from the rail. Bounding Basque gained a temporary advantage over Vandlandingham but tired badly with a half-mile to go, as Track Barron increased his advantage to nearly three lengths.
Coming out of the turn, Vanlandingham regained second on the outside but was not gaining on the leader. Laffit Pincay Jr. rallied Chief's Crown along the rail, passing Bounding Basque and running a neck shy of Vanlandingham. But even with a ground-saving effort, Chief's Crown could not take second place.
As Track Barron approached the eighth pole, Cordero took a glance at his pursuers and primarily hand-rode Track Barron to the victory, whipping his mount four times with his right hand. Vanlandingham defeated Chief's Crown by 1 1/2 lengths for second place.
Track Barron earned $200,400 for owner Peter Brant and became thoroughbred racing's latest millionaire, with career earnings of $1,179,674.
"This is the best he's been," said Cordero. "But he's a very peculiar kind of horse. He takes an hour to go to the track in the morning. Good horses are like that."
Three months ago, Cordero lost the opportunity of a $2.6 million payday astride Spend a Buck because of a year-long riding commitment on Track Barron and a share in his breeding rights. Track Barron is two victories shy of making that memory far less painful.