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The Racing Dudes team reacts to Mo Donegal narrowly winning the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct over Early Voting, then discuss who they like moving forward, including any potential longshots. Join our replay watch-along to get our instant LIVE reactions to this major Kentucky Derby (G1) prep race worth 100-40-20-10 points to the top 4 finishers, then tell us your thoughts about the race in the Comments section!
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The track press release:
Donegal Racing’s Mo Donegal, perfectly piloted by Joel Rosario, arrived in the final strides to capture Saturday’s Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino, a nine-furlong test for sophomores at Aqueduct Racetrack. The victory provided Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher a record-tying seventh win in the Wood Memorial, joining fellow Hall of Famer “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons.
Mo Donegal picked up the Wood’s maximum points allotment, which provided 100-40-20-10 qualifying points to the top-four finishers towards the Grade 1, $3 million Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs.
“I thought he was on wings,” said Jerry Crawford of Donegal Racing. “I think the performance he gave today was even better than it looked to the naked eye. I’ve been here all day yesterday and today and not one horse has closed on the dirt in two days and he came from far back. So, he had to be not just the best today, he had to be much-the-best to prevail. You never celebrate ahead of time, but I was confident for the last 100 yards at least. I love that we won today, not for me, but for my partners.”
The previously undefeated Early Voting, winner of the Grade 3 Withers in February at the Big A for trainer Chad Brown, broke alertly and took command through a quarter-mile in 23.86 seconds as Rosario saved ground from the inside post aboard the slow-starting Mo Donegal in front of only Morello, the 9-5 mutuel favorite under Jose Lezcano, who missed the break and trailed.
Early Voting dictated terms down the backstretch with A.P.’s Secret pressing from second position and Barese moving comfortably in the clear in third to the outside of Golden Code as the half-mile ticked by in 47.75.
Rosario, ever patient, inched his way closer to the frontrunners along the rail although the Uncle Mo colt still had only two horses beaten approaching the final turn. Early Voting kept command through the turn but Mo Donegal advanced with great energy to the inside of rivals.
Once straightened away for the stretch run, Mo Donegal easily passed to the inside of A.P.’s Secret along the rail before angling to the outside of Early Voting and taking dead aim at the leader. Early Voting dug in gamely, but could not deny Mo Donegal, who posted a neck score in a final time of 1:47.96 over the fast main track.
Pletcher said he was concerned about a potential lack of pace after the previously undefeated Grade 3 Gotham-winner Morello, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, broke poorly.
“I thought he ran a great race. It didn’t really unfold the way we thought it would,” said Pletcher, whose past Wood Memorial winners include Eskendereya , Gemologist , Verrazano , Outwork , Vino Rosso  and Bourbonic . “When Steve’s horse didn’t get away well, I was worried the fractions were a little soft but he was able to overcome that and come with a big run. I think he got his last quarter-mile in 23.69 which is pretty impressive. He was resolute. He kept coming and I was thrilled to see him get there.”
Rosario, who won the 2015 Wood Memorial with Frosted, credited the horse for never giving up.
“It was a perfect trip. He kept digging in at the end and kept coming,” Rosario said. “It was a good race. I tried to save ground and it looked like the track was good inside, so I tried to stay there for as long as I could. He was handling everything well.
“I just rode him the way he came out and saw how he handled it and hopefully he comes with a finish,” Rosario added. “He was just galloping out and reaching out. Turning for home, we just had something left. He took off on his own. He’s a very nice horse.”
Brown, whose Zandon captured Saturday’s Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland, was gracious in defeat.
“He ran a great race. He was second-best today,” Brown said of Early Voting. “He got a great ride and the winner ran a really good race as well. Both horses got good trips, we just got beat on the square here. We were second-best today, but no disgrace in his effort. I was very proud of the horse.”
Brown said he will gather his thoughts before deciding whether or not to persevere to the Kentucky Derby with Early Voting.
“I have to digest this and look at what happens everywhere today. Also, first and foremost look at the horse and put everything together to see if he’d have a reasonable chance to win the race,” Brown said. “All along, we’ve said about this horse and really all our horses, I’m not interested in going unless they have a legitimate chance to win the race. Based on his limited experience and such, I’m not sure, but let’s see. He has the points, so probably. I don’t want to make a decision until I evaluate everything.”
It was a further 3 1/2-lengths back to Skippylongstocking in third, who was 1 1/2-lengths clear of fellow Saffie Joseph, Jr-trainee A.P.’s Secret. Rounding out the order of finish were Barese, Morello, Long Term and Golden Code.
A $250,000 purchase at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Mo Donegal graduated at second asking in October at Belmont Park ahead of a narrow nose score in the Grade 2 Remsen over Zandon.
Mo Donegal, who spiked a temperature and was scratched from the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth last month at Gulfstream, entered from a closing third in the Grade 3 Holy Bull on February 5 at the Hallandale Beach oval.
Bred in Kentucky by Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stables, Mo Donegal banked $400,000 in victory while improving his record to 5-3-0-2. He returned $6.30 for a $2 win wager.
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