By Shawn Rychling
We can’t seem to shake the cold weather here in the Northeast despite the calendar saying April. But it’s the horse racing calendar we rely on for the real signs of spring and this weekend is perhaps the marquee moment with Aqueduct, Keeneland, and Santa Anita hosting perhaps the three major prep races for the Kentucky Derby.
The prep season has so far been lacking in star power and excitement it seems and we’ll take a look at each race and maybe give out a longshot or two that may emerge in each event.
At Aqueduct, the Grade 2 Wood Memorial caps a day that features five graded stakes. And this one seems like a one-horse race with Gotham winner Enticed appearing to be much the best.
There are three longer-priced horses to watch in the Wood if you want to take a shot at beating Enticed. They are Firenze Fire which had a rough trip in the Gotham getting held back early before getting jostled around in traffic heading into the turn. He could factor with room to maneuver.
Old Time Revival was a 35-1 shot in the Gotham and almost pulled it off taking a clear lead in the lane before yielding. He was second by four lengths to the much-heralded Free Drop Billy so maybe he gets some fitness and stretches out here.
Vino Rosso ran well in two starts at Tampa in graded stakes Derby preps and Pletcher has success with the moves to New York, and Restoring Hope is fast-improving for Bob Baffert who would not ship east if he thought he had no chance.
At Keeneland, the Blue Grass has two Derby frontrunners in 2-year-old champion Good Magic and the perpetually overrated Free Drop Billy. Two outsiders to watch are Quip and Flameaway which ran 1-2 in the Tampa Bay Derby and would validate those performances with similar efforts at Keeneland.
And there is a horse from New York to watch as Mike Maker ships in with California Night. We have liked this horse this winter at Aqueduct and while the speed figures are a little light, the Big A main track can play slow in dead of winter.
Out west, the Santa Anita Derby is billed as a showdown between early Derby favorite Bolt d’Oro and the late-blooming Justify who was unraced at two, but has romped twice at 3 with triple-digit speed figures.
One long-shot to watch in Instilled Regard which ran well in graded stakes at Fair Grounds and goes out for a top trainer.