Outwork earns Wood Memorial victory the hard way

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

April 9th, 2016

Owner Mike Repole, a strong supporter of New York racing and an Aqueduct kind of guy, finally got his first win in the Big A's most important race Saturday when Outwork proved hard as nails in the $1 million Wood Memorial (G1).

The son of juvenile champion and hot sire Uncle Mo, who ran third for Repole in the 2011 Wood Memorial, was part of a taxing pace and held on gamely from the maiden Trojan Nation, an 81-1 longshot, to prevail by a head and punch his ticket to the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs in four weeks.

Earning 100 qualifying points for the Derby, Outwork paid $6.80 and gave trainer Todd Pletcher his fourth Wood Memorial win and jockey John Velazquez his third.

There were things to like and dislike about Outwork's performance. Hustled from the start by Velazquez to establish position from post 8, Outwork wound up dueling with Matt King Coal through taxing splits of :22.91, :46.93 and 1:12.31 over a muddy strip while several paths off the inside.

Finally getting the upper hand over that rival entering the stretch, Outwork began to draw away and drifted closer to the rail under right-handed urging by Velazquez. That proved beneficial as that kept a path for the charging Trojan Nation, who had rallied up the inside around the far turn and upper stretch, very narrow. As the lead whittled away in the final stages, the wire came in time for Outwork.

Having done all the dirty work, it was no surprise Outwork was a tired horse at the end. The final time of 1:52.92 was the slowest Wood Memorial ever run at nine furlongs and a little off the 1:52.60 posted by the filly Lewis Bay in the Gazelle (G2) earlier in the card. She tracked in third behind a softer pace and finished up her final three furlongs nearly two seconds faster than Outwork did.

While the effort was commendable under the circumstances, Outwork is not going to win many fans for the Kentucky Derby having run slower than Lewis Bay and barely edging the California-based maiden Trojan Nation, who had never finished better than third in five starts coming into the Wood.

Trojan Nation's connections now have a ticket to the Derby, courtesy of 50 qualifying points, and the Street Cry colt will now attempt to become the first maiden since Broker's Tip, in 1933, to win the Run for the Roses.

Adventist finished third, 2 1/4 lengths behind Trojan Nation, in the Wood, just like he did in the Gotham (G3) and Withers (G3). Like Trojan Nation, he certainly had every chance to rally into the contested pace. He couldn't, nor could the previously unbeaten 19-10 favorite Shagaf, who was just in behind the leaders entering the stretch and offered no punch. Shagaf was beaten for fourth by the tiring Matt King Coal, and both he and Adventist have serious improvement to show if they go on to Churchill.

This was the third win in four starts for Outwork, who won on debut at Keeneland last April going 4 1/2 furlongs and was not seen again until February 13, when he took a six-furlong allowance at Tampa Bay Downs. Last time, he led most of the way before bowing to stablemate Destin by a length in the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby (G2).

The connections of Outwork were probably hoping Outwork would show more ratability in the Wood, but perhaps the conditions put paid to that idea. Even though his dam is by Belmont S. (G1) winner and Derby runner-up Empire Maker, Outwork, with this running style, might find 10 furlongs a little beyond his scope.

(Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography)