The finale of the Derby Handicap ends with the Wood Memorial, which I have the unique pleasure of attending this year for the very first time after struggling to make the trip for the past couple of years. And, it looks like it’s going to be a pretty good race with a rematch of the mighty New York-breds Samraat and Uncle Sigh, the promising invader Social Inclusion, and a number of other interesting horses looking to pounce into the Kentucky Derby.
$1 million Wood Memorial (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Aqueduct Racetrack. Post Time: Saturday, April 5 at 5:40pm EST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, All carry 123 lbs, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Kid Cruz - Manuel Franco, Linda Rice - An impressive closer in his two career wins, one being at Aqueduct at this distance, this Lemon Drop Kid dark horse romped in the 9-furlong Private Terms by 4 lengths despite breaking a bit slow and hanging wide, going from 16 lengths in last to first by daylight. Dismiss his turf debut, and his record is marred by just a 3/4 length loss. Certainly an interesting horse, Kid Cruz looks to close into the fast pace that will be almost assured. He’ll get his well-deserved class test here.
2) Wicked Strong - Rajiv Maragh, James Jerkens - A horse I liked early on and impressed me in the Remsen (II) whilst rushing in too late in 3rd, the Hard Spun colt’s recent efforts have been messy, with a hapless chase given way in the Holy Bull (III) and a 6 1/2 length loss in another Gulfstream allowance— albeit a very good allowance won by eventual Florida Derby (I) winner Constitution. He deserves more of a look than what his most recent efforts suggest. He ships back to a more reasonable surface which he appeared to excel on as a two-year-old. Jerkens has conditioned this colt to go the distance, and he should be fit to try again.
3) Noble Moon - Irad Ortiz Jr, Leah Gyarmati - The Malibu Moon son and winner of the Jerome Stakes (III) back in January has made enough recovery progress from a hoof issue to give it his best shot off a 3-month layoff. Gyarmati has drilled Noble Moon through mile breezes in a last-ditch effort to get the colt to the Derby. He won the Jerome off a 2-month layoff— can it be done? I’m not going to favor it personally— the Jerome was run on the inner track which favors speed— and he went wire-to-wire in that effort. Too much too soon.
4) Harpoon - John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher - The same connections as last year’s winner Verrazano team up again with this dappled son of Tapit, who by the way is absolutely dominating this year’s Derby trail hopefuls! Harpoon scarcely lost the Sam Davis won by Vinceremos, then inexplicably lost the Gotham (III) by nearly 6 lengths in a non-effort. Harpoon’s been a notch below the rest just about every step of the way, and seems to be your typical Tapit headcase with green efforts. But who can stop the Toddster from winning this race for the third straight year and on the 10-year anniversary of Tapit’s victory here?
5) Los Borrachos - Cornelio Velasquez, Bill Mott - After failing to break his maiden with Richard Mandella out west, the Pulpit colt traded barns to Bill Mott’s to win his first time out on Aqueduct’s inner course, closing ground well to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Huge step up in class for a big longshot.
6) Kristo - Martin Garcia, John Sadler - Shipping out of California likely to avoid the Chrome menace who whopped him last out, the half-million-dollar Distorted Humor colt had a rough run of the San Felipe (II) last out, and before that couldn’t gain much ground on Midnight Hawk in the Sham (III). It’s possible he could have grown up a bit in the last few months, but at the same time he’s got some speed influence in his pedigree with his dam being a half to Smoke Glacken.
7) Schivarelli - Javier Castellano, Eddie Kenneally - 2-for-2 lifetime, the Montbrook colt ran to the nines with both of his starts coming at Aqueduct on the inner track. He romped in his last allowance one very foggy day, winning by some 12 lengths in the mud and has been burning the topsoil in his workouts. A very cool horse worthy of some discussion. Montbrooks typically excel as sprinters which could be the end of things as Schivarelli stretches out another furlong. But while he switches to the outer track, he picks up Javier Castellano.
8) Samraat - Jose Ortiz, Richard Violette - Undefeated in 5 starts, the Noble’s Causeway colt is considered the horse to beat after putting up some impressive and headstrong performances in the Withers and Gotham Stakes. Violette shipped Samraat down to Florida for his workouts, and then ships him back home to run in the Wood. Very very tough horse and a consistent competitor, he does not have to win and I would not be surprised if he doesn’t to save that gas for the Derby.
9) Effinex - Montanez Rosario, David Smith - Making his graded stakes debut after winning twice in 3 starts, the son of Mineshaft hopes to cash in on the fast pace with a closing style of running, most recently winning him a nice allowance win over 1 1/16 miles on Aqueduct’s inner to win by 6 lengths at 28-1. A class hike for a small-time outfit, Effinex is another with a mile breeze— among the fastest at 1:42 4/5— but will need to breathe life into his numbers to compete.
10) Uncle Sigh - Corey Nakatani, Gary Contessa - I’m not a huge fan of Indian Charlies, but Uncle Sigh is an easy horse to love after his game duels with Samraat and Wounded Warrior connections. He appears to be sharp for another go at Sammy. Uncle Sigh could take advantage of a building speed duel that might engage Samraat and Social Inclusion early while remaining off-the-pace. Indian Charlies can get 9 furlongs.
11) Social Inclusion - Luis Contreras, Manuel Azpurua - The hype horse of the bunch, the Pioneerof the Nile colt gained attention when he romped over Honor Code in a track record-setting allowance race at Gulfstream Park, wiring the field by 10 lengths and setting some blazing digits in the process. Pedigree says yes, but style of running says maybe. Social Inclusion has yet to be headed by another horse in just 2 career starts, both on Gulfstream’s hard and super fast main. While Florida horses fare very well shipping into cooler climate, he has some speed to contend with as he stretches out to 9 furlongs in his graded stakes debut. Food for thought.
Top 3 Picks in Order:
1) Wicked Strong
2) Uncle Sigh
Tough race! Because of the amount of speed in here and the post of Social Inclusion, I have to believe that multiple horses will be sent straight to the lead to do battle. Others will wait, and they will be rewarded if the brave do not prove their mettle— Wicked Strong has everything going for him if he’s good enough, and I’m saying yes to him here after he showed signs of class in that allowance race down south. He likes Aqueduct’s outer, his running style fits, pedigree fits, and he’s been training to make a big effort. I like Uncle Sigh a lot in this spot as well; he could sit behind a pace duel and make an honest shot at Samraat late in the game. Above all, I want to see what Social Inclusion is made of.
Value Pick: Wicked Strong (7-1 or better)
Contest Pick: Wicked Strong