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Mike previews the 2023 Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) from Aqueduct, then gives his top picks & long shots from this 100-point prep race for the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1). After winning the 2023 Withers Stakes (G3) over the same course & distance in February, the Brad Cox-trained Hit Show returns to the Derby Trail for his final tune-up before May 6. Did Mike pick him to defeat this contentious field of 12 rivals? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
A field of 13 sophomores have entered for their final shot to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points in Saturday’s 98th running of the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct Racetrack. The nine-furlong test is the final local qualifier for the Grade 1, $3 million Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs, awarding 100-40-30-20-10 points to the top-five finishers.
A total of four graded stakes are carded for Saturday’s action-packed program, which also includes the Grade 3, $200,000 Bay Shore for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs in Race 6; the Grade 1, $300,000 Carter Handicap presented by NYRA Bets in Race 8 for 4-year-olds and upward at seven furlongs; and the Grade 3, $250,000 Gazelle in Race 3, a 100-40-30-20-10 qualifier for the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks for sophomore fillies going nine furlongs. First post on the 11-race card is 12:15 p.m. Eastern.
The Racing Dudes Betting Bible features the EXACT race-by-race wagering plan for Aaron Halterman and Jared Welch, the two founders of Racingdudes.com, on April 8, 2023 at Keeneland. Includes pace analysis, Pick 4 and Pick 5 tickets, ROI stats, and Top 4 picks for each race from our team of expert handicappers!
Last year saw an exciting renewal of the Wood Memorial when Mo Donegal – eventual winner of the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets – mowed down next-out Grade 1 Preakness winner Early Voting. This year’s edition will be headlined by Gary and Mary West’s Hit Show, who will seek to back up a decisive 5 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3 Withers on February 11 at the Big A for trainer Brad Cox.
Hit Show will also strive to give his owners a second Wood Memorial triumph after their pink and black colors saw the Jimmy Bond-trained Buddha score in 2002. The son of Candy Ride earned a career-best 91 Beyer Speed Figure in the nine-furlong Withers, where he settled a close fifth down the backstretch and took command around the three-sixteenths to draw off to an in-hand victory under Manny Franco.
“He’s already been up to New York and won a race up there. He proved shipping wasn’t a concern and he’s familiar with the surroundings going on the road,” Cox said. “I think he’s a horse that does like a mile and an eighth and beyond. We think he’s a two-turn horse. We brought him back to Fair Grounds and trained him. We had our options of where to run next after the Withers – the Louisiana Derby, the Arkansas Derby or the Wood Memorial. Since he’s already shown success in New York, we decided that would be the best spot for him.”
Hit Show graduated at first asking in October at Keeneland ahead of a troubled fourth in November at Churchill Downs. He defeated winners in January at Oaklawn Park en route to his Withers coup.
A Kentucky homebred, Hit Show is out of the graded stakes-winning Tapit broodmare Actress. His second dam, Milwaukee Appeal, was a dual Grade 1-placed millionaire and 2009 Champion 3-Year-Old Filly in Canada.
Franco will retain the mount from the outermost post 13.
Cox will also be represented by Gold Square’s Slip Mahoney, who makes his two-turn debut after finishing a late-rallying second over muddy and sealed going in the Grade 3 Gotham on March 4 at Aqueduct. Although slow from the starting gate in the one-mile test and forced to go nine wide in the stretch, the son of Arrogate hit his best stride late and went from eighth-to-second in the last two points of call to collect 20 qualifying Kentucky Derby points.
Slip Mahoney, who has made all four of his lifetime starts here, broke his maiden at third asking going a one-turn mile on January 21 after finishing behind eventual graded stakes winners Litigate and Tapit Trice in his first two starts.
“I’m excited to get him around two-turns. I think he’s bred for it and, how he’s run, I think he’ll handle it well,” Cox said. “He obviously needs to get better in the Wood than he was in the Gotham. He ran a good race in the Gotham when he was compromised at the start, but this should be a tougher race.”
Bred in Kentucky by Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings and Phillip J. Steinberg, Slip Mahoney is out of the Grade 1-winning A.P. Indy mare Got Lucky and is a direct descendant of influential broodmares Get Lucky, Numbered Account and La Troienne. He was a $150,000 purchase at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
Dylan Davis, the pilot in Slip Mahoney’s first three starts, will be reunited with the gray colt from post 5.
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Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher currently shares the record for most Wood Memorial victories with the late Hall of Famer Sunny “Jim” Fitzsimmons. He will be in pursuit of a third consecutive and eighth overall Wood Memorial conquest when sending out Whisper Hill Farm’s Classic Catch as well as Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable-owned maidens Crupi and Dreamlike.
Classic Catch, a dark bay or brown Classic Empire colt, enters from a two-length victory against winners going nine furlongs on March 2 at Gulfstream Park. A perfect 2-for-2 at the Wood Memorial distance, Classic Catch was a second-out maiden winner going 1 1/8 miles on November 20 at the Big A before finishing third in his sophomore debut at Tampa Bay Downs.
“He looks good. He shipped in [Tuesday] and his energy level is good. His coat looks well and we’re right on track,” said Pletcher’s Belmont-based assistant Byron Hughes.
Classic Catch will be ridden by Trevor McCarthy from post 11.
After watching their reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Forte assert his dominance on the Kentucky Derby trail in last Saturday’s Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, owners Mike Repole and Vinnie Viola [St. Elias Stable] will be playing the longshot role in the Wood Memorial with Crupi and Dreamlike.
Named in honor of the late horseman J.J. Crupi – who owned Crupi’s New Castle Farm in Ocala, Florida – the equine Crupi has kept quality company through the maiden ranks, finishing behind fellow Wood Memorial aspirants Classic Catch and Slip Mahoney as well as graded stakes winner Instant Coffee and graded stakes placed Disarm. The son of Curlin, who produced previous Wood Memorial winners Vino Rosso  and Irish War Cry , comes into the Wood Memorial off his lone off-the-board result when seventh in the Grade 2 Risen Star on February 18 at Fair Grounds Race Course.
Crupi is out of the Malibu Moon mare Don’tforgetaboutme – a half-sister to graded stakes winners Red Ruby and Mo Tom as well as multiple Grade 1-placed Beautician. Bred in Kentucky by Claiborne Farm, Crupi was bought for $275,000 at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
Dreamlike, who adds blinkers, has finished second in his pair of career outings, both taking place at Gulfstream Park. Following a debut effort going a one-turn mile on February 11, the son of Gun Runner replicated the same result one calendar month later when stretching out to a two-turn 1 1/16 miles to finish three-quarters of a length behind impressive winner Empirestrikesfast. The effort garnered a 91 Beyer, which is tied for the field-best figure.
A $975,000 acquisition at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Dreamlike is out of the Tapit mare Time to Tap who is a full-sister to 2014 Champion 3-Year-Old Filly Untapable.
“They both have talent and either one of them could step up and run a big race on Saturday,” Hughes said.
Kendrick Carmouche – who piloted the Pletcher-trained 2021 longshot Wood Memorial winner Bourbonic – will ride Crupi from post 9; while Jose Ortiz pursues his second Wood Memorial victory aboard Dreamlike from post 1.
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Trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr. will saddle a pair of contenders in maiden winners Lord Miles [post 8, Paco Lopez] and Knox [post 3, Jose Gomez].
A Vegso Racing Stable homebred, Lord Miles was fifth last out in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 11 at Tampa Bay Downs. The effort came two starts after the son of Curlin was a close third in the January 1 Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park. Both efforts earned Lord Miles a total of five points on the Kentucky Derby trail heading into Saturday’s race. He is currently 56th on the leaderboard.
Joseph, Jr. has started three horses in the Wood – all of them longshots – finishing fourth in 2019 with Math Wizard [64-1], while Skippylongstocking [17-1] and A.P.’s Secret [49-1] ran third and fourth, respectively, in last year’s running.
“He’s normally a very handy work horse, that’s why it’s been a bit weird that in his races he’s been off the bridle. I think the longer distance will work well for him,” Joseph, Jr. said of Lord Miles. “We’ve tried to put him in the race earlier, but he has different ideas. He’s slow early in his races, but in the morning he’s not that kind of horse. We just have to let him decide where he wants to sit.”
Knox, a Florida homebred for Arindel, seeks his first win since June when he won on debut by 1 1/2 lengths over a sloppy and sealed Gulfstream Park main track. The Brethren bay was third in his lone two-turn effort in the FTBOA Florida Sire In Reality on October 1. He enters the Wood Memorial off a late-closing second in a seven-furlong starter optional claimer at Gulfstream Park.
Last week, Knox’s full-brother Clapton captured the Grade 3 Ghostzapper going two turns at Gulfstream Park. Both horses are out of the stakes-winning Afleet Alex mare Alexandra Rylee.
“He’s not an overly big horse. He’s a compact colt but he’s built strong,” Joseph, Jr. said. “We’ve been trying to stretch him out for a while and we’re going to take a chance with him. His full-brother won the Grade 3 at Gulfstream last week. Two turns is definitely in his pedigree, so we’ll give a chance and see how he gets on.”
Trainer Brittany Russell will send up emphatic maiden winner Uncle Jake [post 10, Jevian Toledo]. The son of Uncle Mo, who finished third in the 2011 Wood Memorial and also sired last year’s winner Mo Donegal, was a 9 1/2-length winner at second asking on March 10 going a two-turn mile at Laurel Park.
Uncle Jake drilled five furlongs in 59 seconds flat on Friday at Laurel Park.
“He ran really well last time. He got a little lost late, but I think he was out front on his own for some time,” Russell said. “I think he wants the ground. He needs racing and he still has some maturing to do mentally. He’s a big, lovely horse who’s trained really well and had a really good work. If you’re going to ask for things to click on the right day, this Saturday would be it.”
Uncle Jake is owned by SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert E. Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay A. Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, and Catherine Donovan. He was purchased for $675,000 from the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale and is out of the multiple graded stakes winning Harlan’s Holiday mare Tasha’s Miracle.
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Three New York-breds will line up in the starting gate for the Wood Memorial, including Chester and Mary Broman’s homebred Arctic Arrogance [post 7, Jose Lezcano], who has never finished worse than second in six lifetime starts for trainer Linda Rice.
Arctic Arrogance, who will race with blinkers off, captured last year’s Sleepy Hollow on October 30 at Belmont at the Big A before a string of runner-up placings on the local Kentucky Derby trail in the Grade 2 Remsen on December 3, the Jerome on January 7 and the Grade 3 Withers on February 11. He is currently 37th on the leader board with 16 points.
Arctic Arrogance is a son of 2015 Wood Memorial winner Frosted. A victory would provide a three-generation sequence of Wood Memorial winners as Frosted’s sire is 2004 Wood Memorial winner Tapit.
Peachtree Stable’s New York-bred Shadow Dragon [post 2, Eric Cancel] will attempt to give Hall of Famer Bill Mott his second Wood Memorial victory after saddling 2019 winner Tacitus. Bred by AJ Suited, the dark bay Army Mule colt enters off a distant fifth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 4 at Gulfstream Park, which came following a close second to stablemate Rocket Can in the Grade 3 Holy Bull one month prior. He is currently 42nd on the leaderboard with 13 points.
Seacoast Thoroughbreds of N.E.’s New York homebred General Banker [post 4, Frankie Pennington] has been knocking on the door in the last three local Kentucky Derby prep races and will take a swing at the Wood Memorial for trainer Jimmy Ferraro. Third in each of the Jerome, Withers and Gotham, the son of Central Banker has 26 points and is currently 24th on the leaderboard. He enters as the most seasoned horse in the field with a record of 1-3-3 through 11 lifetime starts.
Completing the field are Victoria’s Ranch’s Mr. Swagger [post 12, Carlos Olivero] – a first out maiden winner at Parx Racing, who finished a distant sixth in the last-out Gotham; and Turfway Park maiden winner and Gotham fifth-place finisher Clear the Air [post 6, Heman Harkie], who is cross-entered in Saturday’s Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland where he is expected to run.
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