The Wood Memorial: A Perplexing Race
by Laura D. Pugh
Spring has finally arrived, at least according to the calendar, and with it the final stage of the Kentucky Derby prep races.
This weekend we will bear witness to three Grade 1 prep races – California’s Santa Anita Derby, Keeneland’s Bluegrass Stakes and Aqueduct’s Wood Memorial.
The Wood Memorial hasn’t been the best producer of Kentucky Derby winners in recent years, but that doesn’t mean this year’s contenders should be tossed out.
The headliner for the race is undefeated Gotham Stakes (G3) winner Shagaf, but make no mistake, he will face some talented rivals in tomorrow’s race.
Shagaf will be breaking from the innermost post in this race, which could pose a problem. His typical running style is to sit just off the leaders, then pounce in the stretch. The two main speed horses, Outwork and Matt King Coal, are to his outside and could come over on him. Advantist and Flexibility, whom both have similar styles to Shagaf’s, could also come over and possibly block him in behind Outwork and Matt King Coal.
On the bright side, Shagaf was in a similar position in the Gotham Stakes, breaking from post position 2 that day. Obviously, being towards the inside didn’t bother him and he was able work out a good enough trip to score the win.
Outwork, campaigned by the same connections as sire Uncle Mo, looks to be Shagaf’s most accomplished rival. He was last seen finishing second to Destin in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), a race that was run in track record time.
Outwork, himself, broke the stakes record of the Tampa Bay Derby, so obviously he isn’t short on speed. It is also arguable that he catches a group of softer opponents in the Wood Memorial, but he will likely have to duel another improving colt in Matt King Coal.
Matt King Coal has set the pace in three of his four career starts, and since he has started winging it on the front end he has compiled a record of two wins and a place. His only blemish using that running style was by a nose. He also possesses the highest BRIS Speed figure of the entire field (101), clocked in his last outing a full second faster than the final time of the Gotham Stakes.
Flexibility is the only other horse in the entire Wood Memorial field that has a triple digit BRIS Speed figure. That number came back in the running of the Remsen Stakes (G2), where he ran second to the previously unbeaten Mohaymen. That day he earned a 100 but he has yet to approach that number in 2016, and with Mohaymen’s flop in the Florida Derby last week one has to wonder how good Flexibility really is.
Overall the race looks to have a solid pace, with Outwork and Matt King Coal heading the field. They have proven to be the fastest horses in the race and their past performances this season prove it. The question is, can they reproduce their efforts looking one another in the eye, over a course that is foreign to them both?
Only time will tell, but with this in mind, who do you think will prevail in the final chapter of New York’s Kentucky Derby prep series?
Shagaf photo courtesy of NYRA/Joe Labozzetta/Adam Coglianese Photography