Aqueduct: The GI, $1 million Wood Memorial at 1 1/8 miles
#1 Chrisandthecapper: Late addition to the field is clearly overmatched and is an easy toss, but oddly, he might hold the key to the race, as he could project as the speed of the race and the one to keep heavy favorite Verrazano honest early. Servis runner has yet to run past six furlongs or run against winners and needs much, much weaker to be a factor; pop and stop time.
#2 Normandy Invasion: Future Book hotshot was simply brutalized when fifth in his 3yo debut when he had trouble from start to finish in the GII Risen Star at Fair Grounds in February, yet can be commended for only being beaten 1 ½ lengths in a fast race. It really all depends on which side of the fence you are on, because several of those exiting the Risen Star were no-shows in the GII Louisiana Derby at FG last week, and the winner, Ive Struck A Nerve, was subsequently injured and is off the Triple Crown trail. Of course, if you’re a fan, then you’re saying “Well, he certainly had more than 1 ½ lengths of trouble in the race and would have likely won with a clean trip while making his first start since November.” Stretch runner burst on the scene with a scintillating second over the track and distance in last year’s GII Remsen, so you know he loves it here, and with only four Derby points, you better believe he’s ready to run a cracker; time to get back on the beam.
#3 Quinzieme Monarch: The first of two from Albertrani will try to build on his distant fourth-place finish in the Remsen last year, but if his meek try in his 3yo debut in Gulfstream Park’s grassy GIII Palm Beach in March is any indication, he’s still the same modestly fast horse he was at 2. First-time Lasix fans have something to work with here, and there’s no doubt he’ll handle the trip, but this just seems like an ambitious placement for a horse who has no speed and has shown no real stretch kick against winners; not seeing it.
#4 Elnaawi: Lightly raced McLaughlin runner impressed when third behind fellow rival Vyjack in the local prep, the GIII Gotham in March, and has every right to move forward second off the layoff, too. Son of Derby winner Street Sense is bred to love this trip and seems to have a nice blend of tactical speed and stamina to suggest he’ll be in the ballgame in that pivotal final furlong. We all know these 3yo’s can jump up and improve open lengths at this time of the year, and if the favorites stumble, this is likely the guy that’s going to be there to take advantage; price players have their hero.
#5 Vyjack: Undefeated gelding made it 4-for-4 in the Gotham while showing a new dimension when he rallied boldly in the final furlong to win going away in one of the most visually impressive 3yo performances this year. Expecting this versatile Rodriguez runner to show more speed today, as he did in his game GII Jerome win over the inner dirt in January, and be sitting just off the early pace while attempting to get first run on ‘Normandy, which seems like a winning recipe on paper. And while it’s foolish to discount an undefeated and multiple graded stakes winner’s chances, the gut says this is the end of the line for this talented gelding; making him prove it once again.
#6 Mr Palmer: Laurel stakes winner gets thrown into the deep end of the pool as he tackles graded stakes foes for the first time for the patient Mott, who is a relative newcomer to these important early season 3yo stakes. Son of Pulpit has come a long way in a short period of time and deserves the chance to show what he’s made of, and there’s no doubt the price will be right if you believe, but winning the Private Terms at Laurel isn’t going to scare any of the big boys in this gaudy GI; tabbing for down the road.
#7 Always in a Tiz: Once highly-thought-of MSW debut winner has seen the bloom come off the rose of late after a few failed attempts at Oaklawn Park this winter. Of course, he was third, beaten just a neck in their Smarty Jones in his 3yo bow in January, then exited the GIII Southwest there in February with a lung infection, so you might want to be a tad forgiving. But to play devil’s advocate, he’s never run remotely fast enough to threaten in a race like this and now will have to do it off a layoff in what is by far the toughest test of his career. Adds blinkers today and has the right to be a nice horse, but it’s just hard to think he’ll show it in this ambitious spot; needs to hurry.
#8 Verrazano: The so-called second coming of Pegasus improved to 3-for-3 with an easy win in the GII Tampa Bay Derby in March in what was his graded stakes and two-turn debut after laughing at a pair of overmatched fields at GP. Son of More Than Ready is the clear Derby favorite at this point after wowing his onlookers in all three open-length wins for Pletcher and figures to sit a dream trip right on or just off the early pace. If you want to nit-pick, he beat next to nothing at Tampa, and the one-turn brilliance he showed at GP seemed to give way to a more workmanlike performance going long, so going a sixteenth farther, you’re allowed to wonder if he’ll come back to the pack that much more. Point being, at about 3-5 with Derby points in the bag, he’s not exactly the best risk/reward proposition, though the path to the winner’s circle clearly goes through this potential freak; formidable.
#9 Go Get the Basil: Longshot did move forward several lengths when he missed to the talented The Truth and K G (tab his performance in the GII Bay Shore earlier on the card) in a two-turn optional claimer over the inner dirt but steps way up here while making his graded stakes debut. Former 35k claimer has improved leaps and bounds for Violette and appears to be peaking at the right time, but this post did him no favors, and it’s not like he’s any faster than a few of the longshots, let alone the favorites; minor award appears to be his ceiling.
#10 Freedom Child: West Point runner looked good when finally breaking through in his MSW win at this distance at GP. and he showed a ton of speed that day, so from this wide draw he might be inclined to get involved in the early proceedings. Albertrani charge is bred to be a nice horse and is another adding Lasix today, but it’s tough to envision him pressing Verrazano early, putting that stud away on the far turn and bracing for the challenges of Vyjack and ‘Normandy late, all while facing winners for the first time; minimal exotics interest.
#2 Normandy Invasion