Aqueduct: The GII, $750,000 Wood Memorial at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 100-40-20-10)
by Brian Nadeau
#1 Tax (9-2): The 3-year-old version of Rodney Dangerfield has gotten little respect on the Triple Crown Trail this year but has done nothing but impress—and run fast—in his two starts since being claimed by Gargan, which includes a very important track and distance win in the GIII Withers when last seen in February. Son of Arch drew best of all here and figures to trip out as good as anyone, too, as he’s got the tactical speed to sit close to the pace, which will garner him first run on the stalker/closers off the far turn. The waters get deeper here, and he meets a much tougher field than the one he gutted out in the Withers, but he’s done nothing up to now to suggest that he’s not up to the task; call in a real scramble.
#2 Tacitus (5-2): ML favorite for Mott is a Juddmonte homebred who is bred to be a star (he’s by all-world stallion Tapit and out of multiple GI winner Close Hatches), and he started living up to his pedigree in his seasonal debut, when he added Lasix and closed stoutly late to win the GII Tampa Bay Derby, while facing winners for the first time, too, and off of a four-month break, so that’s pretty heady stuff for a lightly-raced horse. Of course, they simply could not have run any faster early that day, so his deep close was flattered a bit, though the pace here figures on the honest side as well, and he showed in his two one-turn races that he doesn’t have to be that far behind, either. The dreaded “b” word could surface here, as a bounce is a possibility off such a huge return, but he seems to be humming right along in the AM, and he’s got plenty of upside with just three lifetime starts, so there’s no reason to think that he doesn’t fire right back here, at a distance that he’ll like more than most; looms very large.
#3 Hoffa’s Union (6-1): The wildcard was a private purchase by Barber and company and turned over to Casse off an extremely fast length-of-the-stretch two-turn debut win at Laurel for Gary Capuano, and this group has been known to improve them even more when those pink silks go on. Obviously this is a seismic step up in class, however, and this Union Rags gelding won’t be walking on the lead today, and likely won’t even be making the front, at least not if he goes in 48 3/5 again, so while he’s probably a name worth remembering, it’s tough to think that he makes an immediate return on the investment in a spot like this; watching today.
#4 Haikal (7-2): Deep closer came from the clouds after sitting well off a suicidal speed duel in the local GIII Gotham and ran down a pair of talented runners late while hinting that he’s going to keep on running even as the distances keep growing. Things get even trickier today, though, as not only does he stretch out an extra furlong, but he’s got to negotiate another turn for the first time, too, and while the pace could be honest, it will be a far cry from the Breeders’ Cup Sprint-like early splits he saw last time. Shadwell homebred son of Daaher is bred to get two turns, and McLaughlin is as good as they get, but he’s going to have a lot to do in the lane, while playing a new game, too, against a group that doesn’t have the questions he does; mixed signals here.
#5 Final Jeopardy (8-1): The first of two from Jason Servis goes for a barn that can do no wrong wherever it runs while winning at 36% on the year, which includes Maximum Security’s tour-de-force in last week’s GI Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, and this son of Street Sense enters off a lifetime best run in an easy win there in an optional-claimer going a flat mile last month. Tactical sort will have to show that he too can handle two turns, while testing graded stakes foes for the first time, too, which is exactly what ‘Security had to do, so ignore this barn at your own peril, though this still seems like a big reach; not seeing it.
#6 Overdeliver (20-1): Lightly-raced son of Overanalyze is one of two here for a Pletcher barn that is starting to click on the Trail this winter, after seemingly starting the year with little fanfare, which means that you need to pay that much more attention to these late-developing types. Pace player and potential early leader is yet another that will stretch out today and try two turns after dueling on the lead of the 7-furlong Pasco at Tampa last time, when he was a distant second to Win Win Win, a major player in Saturday’s GII Blue Grass at Keeneland (see race preview here), but there seems to be enough other speed here to keep him occupied early, which won’t help his chances late; can’t see him lasting in the lane.
#7 Not That Brady (20-1): New York-bred entered the Gotham in raging form after running second by a nose to Tax in the Withers but didn’t make the lead and got fried chasing the crazy splits, while essentially walking to the line when eighth, a football field behind Haikal. If nothing else, it’s good to see Rodriguez forge on with this son of Big Brown, and the splits will be more to his liking today, so expect him on or just off the early lead, but that won’t be where he’ll be off the far turn; easy toss.
#8 Grumps Little Tots (30-1): The second from Servis picks a mighty ambitious spot to face winners and try two turns, though he does enter off a breakthrough win going a mile here in February. Son of Sky Mesa is bred for this, and his tactical one-turn speed will have him close during the early stages, but his ‘mate looks better, and even he doesn’t seem to be one of the ones here; in way too tough.
#9 Math Wizard (30-1): Expected longest shot on the board goes for a potent Joseph barn that rarely ships from South Florida, though this son of Algorithms couldn’t beat an optional-starter crew at GP last time going a mile, which doesn’t bode well facing GII stakes foes going two turns; next.
#10 Outshine (6-1): The more fancied of the Pletcher duo ran huge to be second to Tacitus in Tampa, as he was relatively close to the crazy splits in what was his two-turn debut, made first run, and then held on nicely late to be a good second in what was a breakthrough run. It was also his second start since June and clearly built on his return sprint win in a GP AOC in February, while stamping this son of Malibu Moon as one of the barn’s best sophomores at this point in the season. The worry here is a big one, though, as this post is brutal and he runs the risk of losing a lot of ground with a very quick run into the first turn, so he may have to be used early. He does have some speed, so if he can somehow save a little ground, he’s going to be a real tiger in here; very scary.
#11 Joevia (30-1): Improving sort drew worst of all here, especially since his running style has seen him laying very close to the early pace in all his starts, which includes a distant second in Laurel’s Miracle Wood last month in his two-turn debut, after running second by a neck to Haikal in the local Jimmy Winkfield two back. Son of Shanghai Bobby appears to have some talent and may even win a few stakes for Sacco this year, though this isn’t the kind he can make a dent in; needs softer to threaten.