Five things to know for 2018 Wood Memorial
The first of Saturday’s “big three” points races for the Kentucky Derby (G1), the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2) may be viewed as lacking the intrigue of the other two. But the Aqueduct feature has more going for it than the obvious points windfall of 100-40-20-10 to the top four.
If there’s no marquee match-up on the order of Justify versus Bolt d’Oro in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), or the will-the-champion-get-his groove-back angle of Good Magic in the Blue Grass (G2), the Wood could consolidate the Derby claims of a Godolphin blueblood, or herald the arrival of an understudy from a major barn.
Here are my five things to know for the Wood:
1. Enticed is the one to beat after racking up a field-best 104 Brisnet Speed rating in the Gotham (G3). The Godolphin homebred by Medaglia d’Oro and out of multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire It’s Tricky had been on a learning curve until then. Bookmarking a narrow verdict in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) with a third in the Champagne (G1) and a disappointing fourth in the Holy Bull (G2), he went to Aqueduct on a retrieval mission. The change of venue worked, and the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee appeared to turn the proverbial corner that day. Winning as much the best around Aqueduct’s one-turn mile, he bids to follow up while stretching out to 1 1/8 miles. An upset would be a massive knock on his Derby candidacy, and open up questions about a possible one-turn preference. Should any showers materialize, an off track would be a plus for this debut winner in the Saratoga mud.
2. Restoring Hope can underscore the strength of the Southern California sophomore brigade. Being fourth on Bob Baffert’s depth chart (or have I forgotten someone?!) isn’t such a bad thing if the top three are Justify, the sidelined McKinzie, and consistent graded performer Solomini. The May 5 foal made a most promising debut sprinting six furlongs, just edged in a photo by All Out Blitz, the future placer in the Sham (G3) and San Vicente (G2). Between his late birthday and his pedigree, as a son of Giant’s Causeway and a Tapit mare, Restoring Hope was sure to improve with distance and maturity. That breakthrough came two starts later in a 1 1/16-mile maiden at Santa Anita, where he forced the pace and powered clear. Fourth-placer Heartfullofstars came back to break his maiden and now follows his rival to Aqueduct. Note that on Monday Restoring Hope covered five furlongs more smoothly than workmate Solomini, staying in front in :59.80 and prying a “breezing” designation from the stingy clockers at Santa Anita. The very fact that Baffert is shipping the Gary and Mary West colorbearer here may be read as a positive sign. Although every individual comes along at different rates, Baffert took a little more time with West Coast and American Freedom for the same owners. The Hall of Famer apparently believes Restoring Hope is up to it.
3. Vino Rosso continues to give a whiff of talent that can use more aging. The Todd Pletcher pupil ran in snatches in the Sam F. Davis (G3), turning heads when he finally got his act together in a belated third. Adding blinkers didn’t help his focus next time in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), but the slow pace worked against him as he wound up a non-threatening fourth. Still, Vino Rosso turned in his third consecutive triple-digit BRIS Late Pace rating, and chances are he’ll get a more favorable set-up here. The $410,000 son of Curlin has struck me as more of the type to blossom come Belmont S. (G1) time, a notion reinforced by the fact that his dam is a half to 2014 Belmont near-misser Commissioner. Vino Rosso was bred by John D. Gunther of Glennwood Farm, the breeder of Justify, so it could be a big day for them.
4. King Zachary is not to be overlooked at 20-1 as an even pricier son of Curlin. Trained by Dale Romans, the $550,000 Keeneland September yearling was very unlucky not to break his maiden two starts back when badly hampered. But King Zachary roared back to graduate in dominant fashion next time at Gulfstream Park, firing a gaudy 108 BRIS Late Pace figure. Off that evidence, he warrants a shot at this level.
5. Old Time Revival and Firenze Fire, second and fourth in the Gotham, have a task in trying to reverse the form. Firenze Fire has better claims as the hero of the Champagne, Sanford (G3), and Jerome, but the overachiever has had his distance limitations exposed in his prior two-turn attempts. As likeable as he is in his own comfort zone, he’s been questionable as a Derby contender, and his trail likely ends here. Old Time Revival, who nearly pulled a front-running upset at 35-1 in the Gotham, will probably find life tougher in this two-turn debut with other proper speed signed on. Also last seen at Aqueduct, in state-bred stakes company, is Evaluator, the Sleepy Hollow winner who was just denied in the Damon Runyon. He’d been found wanting in graded turf stakes as a juvenile, and trainer Michael Dilger goes for the blinkers in this spot.
Enticed photo courtesy NYRA/Coglianese Photography