Kentucky Derby Dream Bet Wood Memorial, Blue Grass, and Santa Anita Derby picks from Vance Hanson
The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct is a tough race with three or four legitimate win contenders, but I think Outwork (#8, 5-2) is coming into it the right way. The Todd Pletcher trainee comes in off a tough, stamina-building second in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) behind stablemate Destin, to whom he lost by only a length after leading most of the way in his two-turn debut. By Uncle Mo, third in the 2011 Wood Memorial, and out of a mare by 2003 Wood winner Empire Maker, he has a pedigree to get the extra distance despite his front-running tendencies.
Whether John Velazquez chooses to let Outwork set the pace or sit slightly off Matt King Coal, I think the colt can hold enough in reserve to fend off the undefeated Shagaf, who impressively took the Gotham (G3) from off the pace on speed-favoring surface.
There are seemingly no standouts among a field of 14 in the Blue Grass at Keeneland. I'm going to take a bit of a flyer on Crescent Drive (#5, 20-1), who should benefit off a get-fit trip Sam Houston grass stakes try in late February. It was the colt's debut for trainer Tom Amoss, and he finished well from behind a soft pace to miss by a half-length.
Crescent Drive was campaigned exclusively at Woodbine last season, winning his second start on Polytrack and placing in his other two attempts. He's always acted like a colt who will get better the farther he goes, and the addition of blinkers might help him stay within striking distance rather than get shuffled back in this congested field. By Flower Alley and out of a mare by 1997 Blue Grass winner Pulpit, he should handle running on dirt just fine (note his strong five-furlong work in a bullet :58 3/5 at Fair Grounds last month).
Finally, Amoss and jockey James Graham were a successful combo at Keeneland last year, teaming up to win four times from 11 attempts at this track.
The likelihood of a wet track does not affect my Santa Anita Derby selection. I think Danzing Candy (#4, 9-5) has proven in his last two starts, the San Felipe (G2) and an allowance win, to be a slight cut above the rest of these. Sent to the lead in both, he carved out honest fractions, turned back challenges and found more through the lane to win impressively. Horses capable of doing that have the makeup and fortitude to keep improving, which is what I think Danzing Candy will do here as he stamps his ticket to Louisville.