Five Wood Memorial winners worthy of remembrance
Despite its historic and long-standing importance as a Kentucky Derby (G1) prep, the $1 million Wood Memorial (G1) continues to experience a bit of a drought as far as seeing its winners succeed in the Churchill Downs classic or in Eclipse Award balloting as champion three-year-old. Fusaichi Pegasus (2000) is the only Wood winner since 1982 to double up in the Derby, while the last Wood winner to be named divisional champion was Slew o' Gold, who took a division of the race in 1983.
Of course, there have been many good-to-great Wood winners to have come down the pike since those days. Here are several of them, plus one of older vintage, that are historically underrated.
Though second fiddle to fellow Bob Baffert trainee Point Given in his year, he finished a brave third in the Kentucky Derby despite racing even closer to a record early pace than his Horse of the Year-winning stablemate, whom he out-finished. A colt who could do pretty much anything on the main track (he was a Grade 1 winner from seven furlongs to 1 1/4 miles), he was arguably most effective in the lower end of that range with two blowout wins in the Cigar Mile (G1) and a thumping of champion sprinter Aldebaran in the Carter H. (G1) to his credit.
Unbridled's Song (1996)
A gusty, neck winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) in only his third career start, he headed to Churchill Downs as the Derby favorite off comfortable wins in the Florida Derby (G1) and Wood. Though he looked strong rounding the far turn, he proved ineffective in the stretch, no doubt in part caused by the wearing of a bar shoe to protect a quarter crack which appeared after his Wood victory. After closing out his sophomore campaign with four straight defeats, he kicked off his four-year-old season with a sharp win in the Olympic H. at Gulfstream, which at the time seemed to be precursor of better things to come. However, it turned out to be his last race. He was one of the world's most noted and successful stallions up until his death at the age 20.
Cahill Road (1991)
One year after seeing her Unbridled capture the Kentucky Derby in one of the sport's most memorable moments, nonagenarian owner Frances Genter was briefly poised to have a big chance at winning two in a row with another son of Fappiano. Not debuting until January, the Scotty Schulhofer trainee won three of his first five outings at Gulfstream, recording BRIS Speed ratings of 103, 101, and 107 in the victories, and rolled to a three-length score in the Wood while earning a 110 Speed rating. Unfortunately, he returned to the winner's circle lame after injuring a suspensory ligament and never raced again.
Broad Brush (1986)
Often referred to as the "Cardiac Kid," the Maryland-bred star enjoyed a busy three-year-old season of 14 starts, of which he won six. In addition to wins in the Wood, Meadowlands Cup (G1), Ohio Derby (G2), and a strange renewal of the Pennsylvania Derby (G2), he finished third in both the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1). At four, he finally got revenge on his classic conquerors, Ferdinand and Snow Chief, winning the Santa Anita H. (G1) by a nostril over the former. After pulling off the rare Big 'Cap/Suburban H. (G1) double, he was permanently sidelined by injury in late summer when arguably the leading older male at that point in the season. He achieved prominence at stud keeping the near-extinct Domino sire line alive.
No match for the great Northern Dancer in either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness, the colt proved to have more stamina than his Canadian rival in the 12-furlong Belmont S., contested that year at Aqueduct. Owned by Paul Mellon's Rokeby Stable and trained by Elliot Burch, he enjoyed a virtual sweep of all of New York's major long-distance test for three-year-olds that season, also winning the Wood, Dwyer, Travers, and Lawrence Realization. The sire of Angle Light, who upset stablemate Secretariat in the 1973 Wood, Quadrangle's most prominent offspring was Susan's Girl, the Hall of Fame filly who won three divisional championships.
Previously in the series, I looked back at Calumet Farm's six Blue Grass (G1) winners, selected five underrated winners of the Florida Derby (G1), Gotham (G3), San Felipe (G2), and Louisiana Derby (G2), and recognized the quintet of Rebel (G2) winners campaigned by Loblolly Stable.
(NYRA/Bob Coglianese Photography)