by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now and Capital OTB TV.
Aqueduct: The GI, $1 million Wood Memorial at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points 100-40-20-10)
#1 Shagaf (2-1): Expected favorite made it 3-for-3 when he rode one of the most intense speed biases in recent memory early before tipping out off the far turn to win the local prep, the GIII Gotham last month over the inner dirt, and while the public will tell you he’s the one to beat, he’s got to run a lot faster today if he wants to handle this sharp field, especially when you remember that the second-place finisher last time, Laoban, is still a maiden. Brown runner oddly might now be Shadwell’s top Kentucky Derby horse after then pro-tem leader Mohaymen bombed in last Saturday’s GI Florida Derby, and while this son of Bernardini is hardly a second stringer, it’s not like he was running down anyone too sharp in deep stretch of the Gotham. And don’t forget, we’re in this game to make a buck or two, and this is eerily similar to Mohaymen last week, since you’re going to have to take a short price on a horse that has never run fast, has no margin for error, and is facing by far the toughest field in his life; comfortable making him prove it again.
#2 Adventist (10-1): Versatile and lightly raced runner closed from fifth to be third, just 2 lengths behind Shagaf in the Gotham, and he had a tougher trip with the way the track was playing that day, as he was three-wide most of the way, while the winner hugged the rail for about seven furlongs. Of course, he did have the length of the stretch to go by and really didn’t make an impact in the lane, so the verdict is still out on how far this son of Any Given Saturday wants to run, as he really didn’t do a lot of late running when third in the GIII Withers over the inner track in January. Respect Gyarmati and the job she’s done for Treadway in the graded stakes ranks over the past few years, but this might be too tall a task; underneath, if at all.
#3 Trojan Nation (30-1): Wow, let’s hope Gallagher and company had some frequent flyer miles so they didn’t have to pay for a flight from Santa Anita for this maiden, who is 0-for-5 in his career and has never even run second, let alone cross the line first. Son of Street Cry (IRE) is cut out to be a nice horse, as mom Storm Song won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Woodbine in 1996, but as a broodmare she hasn’t produced much. Stretchrunner will like the expected honest pace he’ll get here, but this California invader is as out of place as someone wearing shorts and flip flops on a blustery spring day in New York City; easy toss.
#4 Tale of S’avall (20-1): Talented runner made some friends last year in New York, as he was an impressive MSW winner at Saratoga and then took all sorts of money when sent off at 4-1 in Belmont Park’s GI Champagne. But things didn’t go well in the slop that day, when he was fifth, and his comeback, when a well-beaten fifth in the GII Tampa Bay Derby last month, wasn’t much either, so it’s safe to ask if the precociousness of last summer has worn off and the big boys have caught and passed him. It’s good to see Tagg forge on, and this Fipke homebred should be a lot tighter off that run, which was also his two-turn debut, but it’s tough to see him being much more than a pace player in here; thinking his calling will be around one-turn this summer.
#5 Flexibility (8-1): Brown’s other runner was all the New York rage earlier this winter, when he aired in the GIII Jerome over the inner in January, which built upon a strong 2-year-old season that ended with a fine second to Mohaymen at the track and distance GII Remsen in November. Though in the “What have you done for me lately?” world of Thoroughbred racing, he needs to wake up in a hurry, as his fourth at 1-2 in the Withers when last seen was a real downer, with no visible excuse, either, and now he’s being asked to rebound in what is by far the toughest race of his life. New York-bred has the benefit of the home track advantage, and as a son of Bluegrass Cat, he’s bred for this trip, but you better demand a really nice price (12-1?) if you think he’s coming back around; tread very lightly here.
#6 Matt King Coal (3-1): Scary newcomer looked awesome winning his comeback over the inner last month, as he set an unpressured, though honest, pace, and had enough left to defeat My Man Sam, today’s pick in Keeneland’s GI Blue Grass, for Rice and Lady Sheila Stable, who have made quite a splash in New York in the past few years. Speedy son of Cool Coal Man has others to contend with up front today, but he does look like the speed of the speed, so if they let him go early they may never see him again late, though with Tale of ‘S’avall to his inside and Outwork to his outside, he’s no doubt going to have to earn it on the engine. Heavy hitter looks like he’s the most talented horse in here and the thinking is that he’s going to win a big stakes race this year, but with the way the race flow shakes out, the gut says it won’t happen today; second-best.
#7 Dalmore (12-1): The much more credible of the SA invaders impressed with a stalking MSW win last month in his first start at two turns on the dirt, and now ships in to see where he ranks on the national scene. Long-striding son of Colonel John will probably get overlooked in here, but let’s not forget that not only has the West Coast held all the cards on the national 3-year-old scene over the past few years, but that Desormeaux has Exaggerator (the pick in today’s GI SA Derby) and Swipe, who are heavy hitters in their own right, so obviously he knows what do with a nice 3-year-old on the Triple Crown trail. Tactical colt looked at home going long last time, and that’s not a surprise based on his pedigree, so if you’re not a fan of the locals and are looking for a price, you could do worse than landing here; eligible to outrun his odds.
#8 Outwork (5-2): The most intriguing member of the field, and the runner with the most upside, gets a real acid test after just three starts, but his second to stablemate Destin in a fast renewal of the Tampa Bay Derby speaks volumes of his ability, especially when you consider that it was only his third lifetime start and first past six furlongs. Pletcher-Repole runner will get bet here and must negotiate a trip from this poor draw, but he’s got enough speed to be placed anywhere, and with Matt King Coal being faster early, he should be able to follow him over and around with an alert beginning. Homebred son of Uncle Mo will look to make amends for these very connections, as they saddled that 2-year-old champion to a disappointing third-place finish in this race at about 1-100 a few years back, and with the likelihood of an ideal, up-close trip, you have to think he’s got every right to do it; tepid call in a stellar renewal of the Wood.
#6 Matt King Coal