The Wood Memorial anchors a sequence of five graded stakes at Aqueduct
By Matt Shifman
The $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2) anchors this Saturday’s card at Aqueduct which features five graded stakes. With the Kentucky Derby just four weeks away, eleven 3-year-olds will make their final try to make the field for the Run for the Roses as they vie for a piece of the qualifying points [100-40-20-10].
Of the eleven, only Haikal and Tactitus have accrued enough points to lock up a spot in the Derby when they won 50-point races in their prior starts. Both of them also have previous victories at Aqueduct.
Haikal [ML 7-2] has made all four of his starts at the Big A and is just a neck shy from being unbeaten. With each start, the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee has stepped up in class and distance using a deep closing move to finish in front. Now, he must go two-turns for the first time and handle nine-furlongs.
“The only question is the two turns, but we feel like it’ll be no problem. Hopefully he won’t be as far back as he was last time,” said McLaughlin. “He could be in the middle of the pack or last, but he won’t be 15 lengths off the pace like last time. He has a great mind and the post doesn’t matter with him. We’ll be behind most of the horses and so we’ll be able to save ground.”
Tacitus [ML 5-2] won the Tampa Bay Derby at odds of 8-1 in only his third start when he made a late rally through traffic at win for trainer Bill Mott. He was a heavily bet favorite when he won his second start in a maiden special weight in November at the Big A.
Tax [ML 9-2] picked up 10 Derby points when he won the Withers (G3) at Aqueduct for trainer Danny Gargan whose New York barn had a very strong winter meeting.
“He’s training tremendous; he looks good. We’re just hoping we get a clean trip,” said Gargan. “He’s a nice horse and we’re just hoping we can run top-three, so we can go to the Derby.
“He’s a warrior. You have to get lucky and get a horse who wants to win as much as you want to win, and that’s the kind of horse he is. He wants to win,” continued Gargan. “He wants to run competitive, and he trains like that. He’s real competitive in the mornings, so we just have to keep our fingers crossed and hope for good things going forward because the big goal is to be lucky enough to run him in the Derby.”
The Todd Pletcher barn has gotten hot on the Derby trail as of late. He suddenly has two horses qualified for the Run for the Roses and he has two entered in the Wood. Outshine [ML 6-1], who was a highly regarded 2-year-old, may continue to advance after a second-place finish behind Tacitus last time out.
“He came out of it super and has been training very forwardly,” said Pletcher. “We’re excited about stretching him out to a mile and an eighth. We’ve been pointing to the Wood since the Tampa Bay Derby and we’re optimistic from what we’re seeing.”
Mike Repole’s lightly raced Overdeliver [ML 20-1] comes home to New York off a second in the speedy Pasco Stakes at Tampa.
“We didn’t really have a firm plan after the Pasco. It’s really just been based on his last three works that he’s trained exceptionally well that we decided to take a shot at the Wood. I think his last couple works he’s shown some really strong gallop outs and indicates that he’s capable of stretching out,” said Pletcher.
The Wood Memorial is part of Saturday’s Cross-Country Pick 5 which this weekend combines Aqueduct and Keeneland and features three Grade 1 stakes and two Kentucky Derby preps.
Leg 1 – Keeneland, Race 8: Grade 1, $300,000 Madison (5:10 p.m.)
Leg 2 – Aqueduct, Race 9: Grade 1, $400,000 Carter (5:22 p.m.)
Leg 3 – Keeneland, Race 9: Grade 1, $500,000 Ashland (5:45 p.m.)
Leg 4 – Aqueduct, Race 10 Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial (6:00 p.m.)
Leg 5 – Keeneland, Race 10: Grade 2, $1 million Toyota Blue Grass (6:23 p.m.)