Can Wood regain Derby luster?
April 05, 2019 6:40 AM
by Jon Lindo
Back in 2000, Fusaichi Pegasus used a win in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct as his final prep before winning the Kentucky Derby. Since then, not one of the winners of the Wood, including such noteworthy names as 2003 winner Empire Maker and 2004 winner Tapit, have been able to pull off the Wood Memorial/Kentucky Derby parlay.
Will this Saturday’s running of the Grade 2 $750,000 race re-establish the Wood as a key Kentucky Derby prep?
Trainer Bill Mott’s Tampa Bay Derby winner Tacitus, a son of Tapit, acts like he will only improve with the longer 1-1/8 mile distance, unlike his stablemate Hidden Scroll, who disappointed as the favorite in last Saturday’s Florida Derby. Tacitus owns a win over the Aqueduct surface and seems to be improving at the right time.
Gotham Stakes winner Haikal benefited from a fast early pace when he rallied to win the one-turn mile event. The early fractions figure to be softer in the Wood, so he has to prove he can duplicate that last effort with a less ideal pace scenario and show the same late punch around two turns.
Tax won the Withers Stakes over the same track and distance in February and has been a rags-to-riches story since being claimed by trainer Danny Gargan for $50,000 last fall. He has been pointed to the Wood since the Withers, while the Todd Pletcher stable figures to be represented by Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Outshine.
In a year where no single three-year-old has taken a stranglehold on the division going into April, the Wood Memorial could indeed become a relevant Kentucky Derby prep.
Santa Anita Derby field short
The $1 million Grade I Santa Anita Derby will feature fewer entrants than the Wood or Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, but the likely participants make this a must-see event.
The Bob Baffert-trained Game Winner, who was named Eclipse Award champion two-year-old colt for 2018, is back in just three weeks after getting beat by the slimmest of noses in the second division of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in his three-year-old debut. Baffert was forced to alter plans and have Game Winner make his 2019 debut in the Rebel after Santa Anita cancelled the San Felipe Stakes and halted horse racing in March due to a rash of equine fatalities.
If the quick turnaround off a taxing return doesn’t affect Game Winner, he should be tough to beat and could likely end up the Kentucky Derby favorite with a win. His stablemate Roadster looked good winning an Allowance race at Santa Anita in his March 1 return. It was Roadster’s first start since having throat surgery, so it looks like the procedure worked. Roadster was very well regarded last summer and also has plenty of upside going into the Santa Anita Derby.
The nine-furlong distance and two turns will be new for Instagrand, who finished a close third in the Gotham at Aqueduct in his sophomore debut. He has shown much quality, but may also have some serious distance limitations. Nolo Contesto chased home Roadster in that March 1 Allowance and will surely benefit from the added distance, while Extra Hope is improving but has been a cut below the best three-year-olds on the west coast so far.
Another equine fatality
Unfortunately, the story surrounding last Sunday’s Grade III San Simeon Stakes at Santa Anita was not the victory by Law Abidin Citizen, but the two-horse spill over the dirt crossing in which Arms Runner suffered a fatal injury.
Arms Runner severely injured his right front leg, fell, and caused the trailing horse, La Sardane, to also fall. La Sardane got up quickly, while jockey Martin Pedroza, who was aboard Arms Runner, was able to ride the rest of the card. Ruben Fuentes, who rode La Sardane, was unhurt but took off the remainder of his mounts on Sunday.
Arms Runner was vanned off the track but was later euthanized. He became the 23rd equine fatality at Santa Anita since the meet started December 26 and the first since racing resumed last Friday. The track was closed from March 3 to March 29 for inspections and renovations and long-time Santa Anita track superintendent Dennis Moore was rehired as a consultant after leaving Santa Anita at the end of 2018.
Training resumed as scheduled Monday morning with no incidents reported, but with seven Stakes races on Saturday that include the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap in addition to the Santa Anita Derby, track management along with trainers, owners, and horseplayers are on pins and needles hoping for a safe week of racing. Keep your fingers crossed.
UAE Derby minimal impact
Two U.S- based three-year-olds who struggled in U.S. Kentucky Derby preps shipped to Dubai last Saturday and ran 1-2 in the Gr. III $2.5 million UAE Derby.
Midwest-based Plus Que Parfait, trained by Brendan Walsh, was fitted with blinkers for the first time and rallied to beat the California-based and Peter Miller-trained Gray Magician by less than one length.
Plus Que Parfait is reportedly definite for the Kentucky Derby, while Gray Magician’s 40 Derby qualifying points should get him into the race if his connections decide to go.
Based on their previous races against top caliber three-year-olds on the Kentucky Derby trail, however, it seems doubtful either Plus Que Parfait or Gray Magician will be the first to win the Kentucky Derby by completing their prep work in Dubai.
Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Santa Anita Thursday Race 4 – T Bones Trick (No. 2). It is hard to debut around two turns, but trainer David Hofmans has been especially effective with first-timers at this meet and the son of Midnight Lute has a work pattern that screams ready. Beware first crack out of the box.
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