Derby preps conjure visions of …. winter?
By Bob Ehalt
Spring may be the time of year for the major preps and the Kentucky Derby, but a couple of the biggest and most important stepping stones for the Run for the Roses could be run in conditions more appropriate for January than early April.
Both Aqueduct’s Wood Memorial and Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes will be contested on Saturday – weather permitting – in bitter cold and possibly snow.
At Aqueduct, where forecasts call for temperatures in the low 40’s with snow in the surrounding areas, a field of nine was entered in the $1 million Wood Memorial.
The mile-and-an-eighth stakes offers 100-40-20-10 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series to the top four finishers – as does the Blue Grass and Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby – and the first two horses across the finish line should be bound for Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
Heading the field is Enticed, the 6-5 morning-line favorite who is coming off a victory in last month’s Gotham at Aqueduct. Coupled with a win in the Kentucky Jockey Club as a 2-year-old, Enticed has enough points to run in the Derby, but will need a solid showing in a return to a two-turn stakes in the Grade 2 Wood to remain a leading candidate for the May 5 opening leg of the Triple Crown.
“He’s training great. We’re happy with him and we’re there trying to win an important race,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “Even if it doesn’t have Grade 1 status, we feel like it is a Grade 1. It’s a huge race for a horse in his career, especially for a stallion prospect. Only one horse wins the Derby and 19 are hot and dirty, so this is a very important race on Saturday.”
Everyone else in the field will need a strong showing to stay in the Kentucky Derby hunt.
Heading that list is Restoring Hope (4-1) and Vin Rosso (9-2).
Restoring Hope is shipping in from the appreciably warmer climate of California for trainer Bob Baffert off a maiden win at Santa Anita and will be tested for class in the Wood.
“We’ve always been very high on him and he worked really well the other day so I thought we’d take a shot,” Baffert said. “He’s doing really well. We’re like everybody else, we’re trying to see if he fits. The Wood is a very important race.”
Vino Rosso, trained by Todd Pletcher, showed great potential in winning his career debut at Aqueduct in November, but is coming off a pair of losses in Tampa Bay Downs stakes and must overcome the outside post in Saturday’s race.
“He’s a horse that’s trained very well all winter and in company with some very good horses that have gone on to be successful,” said Pletcher. “So, we’ve been a little frustrated with his races this year. We thought we had seen some improvement with him training (in blinkers) and in the Tampa Bay Derby, (jockey John Velazquez) felt like he was more focused in the earlier part of the race, so we talked about it and after discussing it with Johnny, we decided to leave them on.
“We’ve been looking forward to the Wood for a while,” he added. “We’re excited to get him back to Aqueduct. It’s where he broke his maiden and stretching out to a mile and an eighth is going to allow him to show his true ability.”
The rest of the field includes Heartfullofstars (20-1), Firenze Fire (6-1), Evaluator (20-1), Old Time Revival (6-1), Catch Twenty Two (50-1) and King Zachary (20-1).
In the $1 million Blue Grass, the horse to watch is 2-year-old champ Good Magic, who will try to rebound from a third-place finish in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.
Trained by Chad Brown, Good Magic is the 2-1 morning-line choice and will break from post 11 in a race that could be impacted by a snow storm which is predicted for Lexington on Saturday.
Free Drop Billy (6-1), Flameaway (6-1), Sporting Chance (10-1) and Kanthaka (10-1) shape up as the main threats in the mile-and-an-eighth Grade 2 stakes.
All three preps can be seen on NBCSN with post times of 5:45 p.m. for the Blue Grass, 5:55 p.m. for the Wood and 6:30 p.m. for the Santa Anita Derby.