Aqueduct: The Grade I, $1 million Wood Memorial at 1 1/8 miles
Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now checks in with his analysis of New York’s premier Derby prep (its recent history notwithstanding). He’ll be back later today and tomorrow with previews of the Illinois and Santa Anita Derbies; I’ll be back with a look at the 1904 Carter, won by Beldame.
#1 Alpha: Godolphin runner has come to hand here this year for McLaughlin over the inner with two wins, including the GIII Withers, and will now get the acid test to see where he stacks up with legitimate graded stakes horses. Son of Bernardini has been rerouted several times in the past few weeks after being labeled possible for the GII Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds and GI Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park and enters off a trio of strong drills at Palm Meadows in Florida. Drew the perfect ground-saving post and should be close to what figures to be a moderate early pace, but there’s no doubt the waters get a lot deeper here and it’s not like he was ultra impressive in the Count Fleet or Withers against far lesser; making him prove it.
#2 Casual Trick: Looked good in the minor Gulfstream Park Derby New Year’s Day but then was nowhere behind El Padrino and Take Charge Indy in an optional claimer and Union Rags in the GII Fountain of Youth there, so you have to question his quality. Zito runner reportedly displaced his palate in both starts, so there’s a potential excuse, but expecting him to rebound against this type over a track he’s never tried before is asking an awful lot; not using.
#3 My Adonis: Under-the-radar runner has chased a few heavyweights in his past two starts, running third to Algorithms and Hansen in GP’s GIII Holy Bull and then finishing behind the latter in the GIII Gotham here over the inner. The good news is that he’s improving, but the bad news is that both of those aforementioned runs were over off tracks, so when you add in his other muddy win at Monmouth Park in the slop last year, it’s pretty apparent that he moves way up when there’s moisture in the surface. On dry land he’s never run remotely fast enough to compete with a group like this, and the forecast calls for fine weather throughout the week, so on dry land he’s worth trying to beat; using only if the skies open up.
#4 Teeth Of The Dog: Lightly raced Matz trainee gets some bonus points as the only 1 1/8-mile winner in the field (and the only horse to try the distance as well) but loses even more when you factor in the win came in an MSW at GP in his last start, which was over two months ago. Owns some speed to get a good trip and may very well develop into a nice horse, but this looks like way too much way too soon; longshot.
#5 Street Life: Rapidly improved runner has flourished since coming to NY and going two turns for Brown, and now tries by far the toughest assignment of his three-race career. Exits a modest stakes win over the inner, when he was under a serious drive entering the far turn and took the length of the stretch to run down a allowance sprinter named Copy My Swagger. And while he did extend nicely in the lane, that stakes win isn’t scaring any of the big guns today. Raced a bit closer to the pace last time and with today’s splits being average at best, he might pull the same trip, which means he’s going to be spotting ground to all the favorites while trying to run them down while playing their game. Son of Derby winner Street Sense has the look of a future stakes winner, but doubt it comes in this solid GI; playing underneath, if at all.
#6 Gemologist: Undefeated Pletcher runner made it 4-for-4 when he romped in a GP allowance at a one-turn mile to open his 3yo season, and figures to go favored today due to his resume and connections. Showed he was top-class as a 2yo when he won the two-turn, GII Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs to close out his campaign, but there’s no doubt that it’s a bit odd that he didn’t get going this year until mid-March. Still, he looked great in his comeback and is tactical enough to run on or just off the lead, so he should pull the best trip of anyone in here while getting first run on the closers, so there’s little doubt who everyone has to beat; rock solid favorite.
#7 Tiger Walk: Fringe player finished a well-beaten third to Alpha in the Withers and then fourth to Hansen in the Gotham, so he’s got some catching up to do to factor against this saltier group from a very tough draw. Continues to train forwardly from his Pimlico home base but as of now, he’s simply not fast enough to compete for the lion’s share of the purse in this type of company; tough to envision him running in the number.
#8 The Lumber Guy: Undefeated and untested New York-bred made it 2-for-2 with a resounding win in Laurel’s 7F Miracle Wood and will undoubtedly be the speed of the race, especially since this wide draw leaves no other option than to gun to the front. Hushion knows the game better than anyone and is as patient as they come, so it’s one heck of a positive to see him start this colt in such an ambitious spot, especially when 3yo NY-bred stakes races are a dime a dozen at this time of the year. Faces by far his toughest test to date and tries two turns for the first time, but with Alpha having questions to answer and Gemologist just one race removed from a four-month layoff, isn’t this dude eligible to get mighty brave on a track that has been know to carry speed a long, long way? We’ve already mentioned that the pace doesn’t figure to be too hot, so there’s a chance he gets away with an easy half-mile and then tries to gut them off the far turn, and as a son of Grand Slam, today’s 9F distance is certainly within his scope. In expert hands and may be set to run the race of his life and honor his exceptional sire, who passed away late last month; gets the upset call on the front end.
#8 The Lumber Guy