Wide-open field of 11 contests Aqueduct’s Wood Memorial
By NY Hot List Staff
New York’s Road to the Kentucky Derby has been traveled by some of the sport’s greatest stars.
Secretariat, Foolish Pleasure, Seattle Slew and Easy Goer are just some of the illustrious champions who appeared in the Wood Memorial, the race known as New York’s definitive Kentucky Derby prep.
Yet if you take a long look at that list, you’ll notice the most recent runner on that list is Easy Goer, who won the 1989 Wood Memorial as well as the Belmont Stakes later that year.
Looking at Derby history, the last horse to run in the Wood and win the Derby was Funny Cide in 2003. Beyond that, the last horse to win both the Wood Memorial and the Kentucky Derby was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.
Clearly, from that info, the Wood has not been a reliable harbinger of success in the Run for the Roses, but droughts have to end sometime, and the field for Saturday’s race certainly boasts a few 3-year-olds who could be serious factors on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.
With a field of 11, the Wood should also be an excellent betting race with a few intriguing horses to key on.
Leading the way is Tacitus, the 5-2 morning-line favorite who is coming off a victory in the Tampa Bay Derby in just his third career start. Looking back on recent Wood history, eight of the past 11 Wood Winners exited a race in Florida.
Haikal and Tax are veterans of the New York Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Haikal won last month’s Gotham Stakes, while Tax has not raced since winning the Withers on Feb. 2.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Haikal (7-2) has a strong late kick but the mile-and-an-eighth Wood will serve as his first start at a two-turn distance.
“The only question is the two turns, but we feel like it’ll be no problem. Hopefully he won’t be as far back as he was last time,” said McLaughlin. “He could be in the middle of the pack or last, but he won’t be 15 lengths off the pace like last time. He has a great mind and the post doesn’t matter with him. We’ll be behind most of the horses and so we’ll be able to save ground.”
Tax (9-2) was claimed by trainer Danny Gargan for $50,000 in October and since then ran third in the Remsen Stakes in December and won the Withers.
“He’s training tremendous. He looks good. We’re just hoping we get a clean trip,” Gargan said. “He’s a nice horse and we’re just hoping we can run top-three, so we can go to the Derby. You have to get lucky and get a horse who wants to win as much as you want to win, and that’s the kind of horse he is. He wants to win. He wants to run competitive, and he trains like that. He’s real competitive in the mornings, so we just have to keep our fingers crossed and hope for good things going forward because the big goal is to be lucky enough to run him in the Derby.
Outshine (6-1) was second to Tacitus in the Tampa Bay Derby, finishing 1 ¼ lengths behind his fellow Wood starters.
Helping Outshine’s cause in trying to turn the tables on Tacitus and register a victory in the Wood is that he’s trained by Todd Pletcher, who owns five victories in the Wood.
“He came out of (the Tampa Bay Derby) super and has been training very forwardly,” Pletcher said. “We’re excited about stretching him out to a mile-and-an-eighth. We’ve been pointing to the Wood since the Tampa Bay Derby and we’re optimistic from what we’re seeing.”
The rest of the Derby field includes Hoffa’s Union (6-1), a 15 ½-length winner of his career debut at Laurel Park, Final Jeopardy (8-1), Overdeliver (20-1), Not That Brady (20-1), Grumps Little Tots (30-1) and Math Wizard (30-1) and Joevia (30-1).