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Lord Miles won the 2023 Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct, a major 100-point prep race for the Kentucky Derby (G1), in a controversial photo finish over Hit Show & Dreamlike. Was the no-DQ decision correct? Is the Saffie Joseph Jr. trainee now a legitimate Derby contender? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
Vegso Racing Stable’s Kentucky homebred Lord Miles prevailed in a dramatic three-pronged stretch duel to capture Saturday’s Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino, at Aqueduct Racetrack. In victory, Lord Miles secured the maximum allotment in the nine-furlong contest for sophomores which provided 100-40-30-20-10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top-five finishers.
Trained by Saffie Joseph, Jr. and expertly handled by Paco Lopez, Lord Miles dueled to the outside of 8-5 mutuel favorite Hit Show in the final sixteenth with the inside-traveling Dreamlike, who had the lead at the top of the lane, staying on gamely. The rivals came together in a gritty stretch run with Lord Miles prevailing by a nose over the Manny Franco-piloted Hit Show and the Jose Ortiz-ridden Dreamlike another head back in third. The pacesetter, Arctic Arrogance, landed 5 1/4-lengths back in fourth by a head over Classic Catch.
Following the race, the stewards launched an inquiry into the stretch run and Franco claimed foul against Lopez for interference, but the result stood to give Lord Miles his first career stakes win. The Kentucky Derby-bound Lord Miles now has 105 total points and sits in sixth position on the leaderboard.
“I knew they got in tight. Watching the head on, I thought we were good, but you’re dealing with opinion,” Joseph, Jr. said. “You never want to be in that position, but I accepted that if something happened at least we would be second. But I didn’t think there should be a change.”
Lopez concurred with Joseph, Jr.’s assessment.
“The one [Dreamlike] came out and Franco was looking for room and so he bumped into my horse,” Lopez said. “My horse stayed in line all the time and stayed fighting for the line. It was a tight race.”
Hit Show, who now has 60 points and sits in 11th position, was the second Brad Cox-trained horse to come out on the wrong end of a dramatic finish featuring an objection on Saturday after Verifying lost to Tapit Trice in the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland.
2023 Kentucky Derby
Franco said the contact cost Hit Show, last out winner of the Grade 3 Withers here, the win.
“Yes. Definitely,” Franco said. “I was right in between those horses like a ping pong ball. They hit me on both sides. I don’t know. He was there for me and right between horses. Those bumps, I don’t know. I don’t think he was comfortable with that.”
Joseph, Jr., who notched his first Grade 1 in the 2019 Pennsylvania Derby with 31-1 shot Math Wizard, has started three previous horses in the Wood – all of them longshots – finishing fourth in 2019 with the aforementioned 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.
“Peter Vegso has been a big supporter of us and to run a horse at 59-1, he didn’t get scared away. He gave us a chance to do it,” Joseph, Jr. said. “When you take chances, this is where you are. I learned to take chances because of Math Wizard. John Fanelli, the [co-] owner [of Math Wizard], pushed me to run there and it worked out. From there, I learned in life to never stop taking chances. If the horse is doing good, take a chance, because each chance you don’t take is a chance you miss.”
Lord Miles tracked in fourth position in the Wood to the outside of Dreamlike as Arctic Arrogance and Uncle Jake dueled through splits of 24.88 seconds, 49 and 1:12.88 over the fast main track. Ortiz gave Dreamlike his cue into the final turn as Lopez continued to ride Lord Miles for position to the outside of Hit Show.
Dreamlike hooked up with Arctic Arrogance at the top of the lane with Uncle Jake backpedaling, while Lord Miles and Hit Show moved into contention. Dreamlike got the better of a game Arctic Arrogance, setting up a dramatic run to the finish with Lord Miles prevailing in a final time of 1:51.17.
Slip Mahoney finished sixth with Shadow Dragon, the Joseph, Jr. trained Knox, Crupi, General Banker, Mr. Swagger and Uncle Jake rounding out the order of finish. Clear the Air scratched in favor of the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland, where he finished a pacesetting 11th.
Lord Miles, by Curlin, made his first three starts at Gulfstream Park. He graduated on debut in a six-furlong sprint in November before a rallying third in the one-mile Mucho Macho Man in January where he was on-and-off the bridle and defeated just three-quarters of a length.
Joseph, Jr. attempted to address the lack-of-focus issue by adding blinkers to Lord Miles’ repertoire for the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Holy Bull in February, but the bay colt broke poorly and never factored.
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Last out, with blinkers off and Lopez aboard for the first time in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby, Lord Miles raced as close as fourth early on before dropping back to eighth and eventually finishing fifth.
Joseph, Jr. said the impact of Lopez in the Tampa Bay Derby effort pushed Lord Miles to another level on this day.
“He got in such a good position and was more in the bridle. Paco gave him a great ride,” Joseph, Jr. said. “In the Tampa Bay Derby, Paco taught him to keep running. He tried on him and he kept running and got fifth. I was very proud of him that day.
“After his first start, I was dreaming Derby,” Joseph, Jr. added. “The Mucho Macho Man was good, but from there everything was derailed. The Holy Bull went wrong, the Tampa Bay Derby was a step in the right direction, but we were probably running out of time. Today, here we are, one more time and it worked out.”
Lopez echoed the trainer’s comments.
“He ran a very good race. I know at Tampa he didn’t give me a very good race the first time I rode him,” Lopez said. “This time, I knew I had a chance. I didn’t have too much time to jog and gallop him. This time I had plenty of time and that helped me a lot today and it worked out very well today. He gave me a beautiful run today.”
Ortiz said the regally-bred maiden Dreamlike performed admirably for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.
“He broke clean. It was good,” Ortiz said. “I was behind horses for the first turn, in the backside I had a window of opportunity to put him in the clear and I did. He’s a young horse, only two races, so I didn’t want to bury him behind dirt. It was good for him but he only has two races and is very immature, and I feel like he waits a little bit.
“I think race to race he is going to improve,” added Ortiz. “He’s a big horse, a threat to go long but just needed to focus a little bit more in this race.”
2023 Blue Grass Stakes Replay | Tapit Trice Overpowers Verifying; Top Kentucky Derby Contender?
The Linda Rice-trained Arctic Arrogance, who was piloted by Jorge Vargas, Jr. after Jose Lezcano was injured in a spill earlier on the card, has accumulated 36 points which is good for 27th on the leaderboard after completing the exacta in a trio of Derby qualifiers here in the Grade 2 Remsen, Jerome and Grade 3 Withers.
But Rice, who captured the Grade 3 Bay Shore earlier on the card with Joey Freshwater, said whether or not Chester and Mary Broman’s New York homebred will make the Derby, “is very up in the air.”
“I don’t know where we’ll go from here, but I thought he ran well,” Rice said. “We lost Lezcano and I thought Vargas did a good job, but that’s horse racing.”
The victory helped brighten what might otherwise have been a somber afternoon for Joseph, Jr., who had to scratch White Abarrio from the co-featured Grade 1 Carter Handicap presented by NYRA Bets after the Grade 1-winner spiked a temperature earlier in the week.
“It was tough when White Abarrio scratched and that’s a different owner, but it shows you when things are meant for you, they’re meant for you,” Joseph, Jr. said.
Bred in Kentucky by his owners, Lord Miles banked $400,000 in victory while improving his record to 5-2-0-1. He paid $120.50 for a $2 win ticket.
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