Mucciolo’s Sophomore Spotlight: Wood Memorial, Blue Grass & Santa Anita Derby Recaps

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April 11th, 2017

Wood Memorial (G2):

IRISH WAR CRY turned the tables in a big way after a poor race in Florida and cemented his status as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender following a convincing 3 ½-length triumph at Aqueduct. The Graham Motion trainee tracked in second until midstretch before asserting his class and drawing off like a good thing, with potentially more in the tank going forward. The New Jersey-bred has the bloodlines to run long and is in expert hands. And sans his dud at Gulfstream in the previous start, he is unbeaten from four starts with a fine foundation under him.

BATTALION RUNNER was a tiny bit disappointing to me in that I thought that the colt was going to put on a show in this race. But it was not the worst prep race of all time as he finished a clear second. A fine allowance hero in preparation for the Wood, the Todd Pletcher pupil was pretty game until the latter stages and remains a high-quality prospect who is lightly raced. I wouldn’t give up on this sophomore, especially later this season.

CLOUD COMPUTING was a clear third, seven lengths ahead of his nearest foe, and has some class to him for sure. The son of Maclean’s Music is also lightly-raced with just a trio of runs under his belt to date but I think ultimately he will be a high-class miler type. He may remain on the Triple Crown Trail for the time being, but looks like a Met Mile (G1) or King’s Bishop (G1)-type with expected progression.

Blue Grass (G2):

Doug O’Neill’s IRAP broke his maiden in style in the Blue Grass after fending off a stern test from PRACTICAL JOKE in the final furlong to steal the race at odds of 31-1. Son of Tiznow is bred to route and has pace, and I was surely impressed at how readily he took command from the talented Wild Shot at the top of the lane. This could be the case of a three-year-old getting good at the right time of the year, but I wish we still had one more race to view to get a better judgment on this colt.

Practical Joke proved me wrong to an extent in that he handled the nine panels after I dubbed him as a miler, and the Chad Brown pupil could be ranging up to a big Kentucky Derby run in his third race of 2017. The dual Grade 1 hero has a very good foundation in him, never runs a bad one and received a very good prep in advance of his Run for the Roses bid. He benefitted from a genius ride from Joel Rosario and the push-button sophomore could make his way into the Derby top three with a forward move in coming weeks.

My infatuation with MCCRAKEN continues and he will be in my Derby top three barring any mishaps along the way. The Ian Wilkes pupil was headstrong and “strangled” early on by pilot Brian Hernandez, dropping back at the top of the lane before rallying again into contention. He flattened out late in his first performance in seven weeks and the son of Ghostzapper didn’t flatter himself a ton with the third-place effort, but he needed the outing and I love his affinity for the Churchill Downs main oval (3-for-3). I fully expect a leap forward from McCraken on May 6.

J BOYS ECHO and TAPWRIT both disappointed in not factoring and I am, once again, left scratching my head and doubting my handicapping skills. The former, I had thought, was sitting on a big race, while the latter, in my view, was a consistent and top-notch colt who would “never not” be running into contention in the final stages of a race like this. I still think both have a lot of ability and each fit the profile of a Belmont Stakes-type to me.

Santa Anita Derby (G1):

GORMLEY sat off the contested pace, ranged up at the top of the lane and finished best of all in taking the field down for conditioner John Shirreffs. The two-time Grade 1 winner proved capable of sitting off the pace and finishing, a good sign going forward. I have never been a huge supporter of the son of Malibu Moon, but he is a Grade 1 winner at age 2 and 3, so I have to give him some props.

BATTLE OF MIDWAY ran a lot better than I expected and has now put in a trio of fine tries from four career starts. The Jerry Hollendorfer pupil was never given a break in this feature, dueling through swift early splits, and never gave up holding the place spot by a half-length in a determined showing.

ROYAL MO was always widest from a tough 13-post slot and my faith in him was restored some after a dud at Oaklawn Park in the previous outing. Talented son of Uncle Mo fought back after being passed in the lane and could possibly be the type to endure 10 furlongs if he makes the field (currently ranked #22 with 30 points). He needs to get faster to offer a serious challenge but the colt could be an exotics player if he trains well in preparation for the Kentucky Derby.

Here’s my conclusion of the Santa Anita Derby: I can’t imagine the Kentucky Derby winner coming out of this field. The closing splits were awful (:26 3/5, :13 3/5) and the big field size was a bit of a hoax in that more than half of the cast was pretenders looking for a paycheck. No Pharaohs or Chromes in this group!