The $100,000 Woodward Stakes to be run at a mile and a quarter at Aqeduct today, has already been termed the race of the century. For perhaps the first time in racing history, one race may decide not only the three-year old and handicap championships, but Horse of the Year honors as well.
The field of six will include Damascus, Dr. Fager, Buckpasser, Handsome Boy, Great Power and Hedevar.
The long-awaited confrontation of Damascus, winner of the Preakness and Belmont, and the brilliant Dr. Fager will decide the hotly contested three-year old championship.
Dr. Fager, beaten only by two-year old champion Successor, defeated Damascus in the Gotham Mile last May. But on the basis of current form and classic breeding, Damascus will probably be the bettor's choice over the lightly-raced Dr. Fager.
Few doubt, however, that Buckpasser, Horse of the Year in 1966, will be installed a near even-money favorite by the Aqueduct faithful.
Once considered unbeatable. Buckpasser was soundly defeated in the Brooklyn Handicap by Handsome Boy. But Handsome Boy had a 20-pound weight advantage in that race which he will not enjoy under the weight-for-age conditions of the Woodward: both will cary 126 pounds.
Buckpasser hasn't raced since that defeat but has been impressive in recent workouts; most analysts give Handsome Boy little chance of duplicating his previous victory.
Hedever and Great Power, stablemates of Damascus and Buckpasser, respectively, will probably set a fast early pace in an attempt to tire the front-running Dr. Fager and Handsome Boy. The race may thus develop into an intriguing strategic duel, with Buckpasser and Damascus hoping to come from off the pace to overtake the fleet Dr. Fager.
If Dr. Fager can control the pace, he is unlikely to be headed. If a fast early pace tires Dr. Fager. stretch-runners Damascus, ridden by Willie Shoemaker, and Buckpasser, under the talented Braulio Baeza, will probably battle down to the wire--with the older Buckpasser a likely victor.