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Wood Memorial Preview: Wide Open Field Takes Aim at Kentucky Derby

Wood Memorial Preview: Wide Open Field Takes Aim at Kentucky Derby

The 95th running of the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) is set to go this Saturday at Aqueduct. A field of 11 will contest this year’s running that features several horses looking to continue to make a big impact on the Kentucky Derby trail. Offering 100-40-20-10 Derby points to the top four finishers, the Wood is slated for an approximate post time of 6 p.m. ET and will be part of a live national broadcast on NBCSN from 5:30-7:30 p.m., scheduled to also include the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland and the Santa Anita Derby (G1) from Santa Anita Park.

Leading the charge for this race is Withers Stakes (G3) winner Tax, who is one of the few horses in this race that has experience racing at this distance. This will be his third start going 1 1/8th miles, while many of the other horses in this spot will be making their first start at the distance. Tax will break from the rail today, with jockey Junior Alvarado aboard. Trainer Danny Gragan is excited about this chances.

“He’s a warrior. 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,” continued Gargan. “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.”

The late closing Haikal also will play a factor in the race after winning the Gotham Stakes (G2) in his last start. The son of Daaher will break from post 4 in this race, with Rajiv Maragh back aboard once again. The major question mark is how effective the horse will be when going two-turns, after winning a one-turn mile last time out. His trainer believes he can get this distance without much problem.

“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.”

The Bill Mott trained Tacitus is the other horses to watch out for in this spot after his late closing kick to win the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) last time out. The breeding on this horse is impeccable, being by Tapit, out of the former super star mare Close Hatches. The gray horse will break from post 2, with jockey Jose Ortiz coming in to ride the horse.

The full field form the rail out includes: Tax, Tacitus, Hoffa’s Union, Haikal, Final Jeopardy, Overdeliver, Not That Brady, Grumps Little Tots, Math Wizard, Outshine, and Joevia.

Blue Grass Picks

Top Choice

#10 Outshine – The Tampa Bay Derby (G2) ended up coming down to who got the best trip, which is why Tacitus was able to pick up the win. The second place finisher in that event was Outshine, who was hung wide coming into the stretch, making it tough for him to catch Tacitus late. However, he was still determined when nearing the wire, not giving up and driving to the finish. With a better trip he has a big shot here, while this stretch out in distance should be right up his alley. Trainer Todd Pletcher has been hot lately on the Kentucky Derby Trail, so this horse is dangerous, which is one the trainer has liked from the very start.

Horses to Use in Multi Race Wagers

#3 Hoffa’s Union – There is no doubt this is the wildcard of the race. He has only one start under his belt, which came at Laurel Park, but it was a big time effort, winning a maiden special weight by an eye-catching 15 1/2 length’s. After the race owner Gary Barber bought into the horse, while the colt was sent to new trainer Mark Casse. The hype on this horse is starting to really grow. With a crop that is struggling, any horse that shows this kind of talent immediately becomes interesting. If he is mature enough to handle this jump up in class he’ll have a big shot.

#2 Tacitus – This regally bred colt lived up to that breeding hype last time out with a big time win in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) last time out. The race set up perfectly for him, while the trip was ideal, but he still had to put forth a big effort to close late and win the race. A repeat performance will obviously make him tough in this spot; however, the inside rail draw might make it a bit tricky for him. He’s in with a big shot today if he can continue to develop and improve.

#5 Final Jeopardy –  Trainer Jason Servis comes into this race hot after winning the Florida Derby (G1) last week with Maximum Security. Believe it or not, at one time this horse was more highly thought of that Maximum Security, with that alone making him interesting today. He is two for three in his young career, winning a maiden impressively on debut, before also winning an allowance event last time out. Last time out he won at a mile, while also running the best speed figure of his career. Perhaps another stretch out in distance will see him improve even further.

Exotic Plays

#1 Tax – Until we see a horse actually come back and run well out of the Withers Stakes (G3) it will be hard to bet anyone coming out of that race. Several horses have come back to running poorly out of that event, which does not bode well for Tax in this spot. He has proven to be a reliable horse for all of his career, so hitting the board is definitely still a possibility. It’s just hard to like him at a short price to actually win the race based on what we have seen from the horses he has defeated.

#4 Haikal – Simply put, it’s very possible he could only be a one-turn type of horse. Even though he won the Gotham Stakes (G2) impressively going 1-mile with a nice late closing move, that doesn’t mean he can stretch out in distance today to this challenging 1 1/8th-mile test. Sometimes a late closing sprinter will still make a move going long, yet it won’t be quite as explosive. That is what we predict for this horse in a spot like what he faces here.

Check out our Inside Track to the Blue Grass wagering guide for bonus Wood Memorial analysis!

Party Crashers

#6 Overdeliver – Out of respect for trainer Todd Pletcher, this horse deserves a shot at what should be a big price today. After a solid maiden breaking score, he went to the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, where he was a well-beaten second behind Win Win Win. That wasn’t a terrible effort for his first start against stakes company, while he has been working out well leading up to his next start. This jump up in class is going to be tough; however, at anything close to 20-1 he’s worth a shot.

Throw Outs

#7 Not That Brady – At this point it is just hard to play anything that came out of the Withers Stakes (G3) until someone from the race proves they can win. Every horse out of that contest has come back to really struggled. Not That Brady was a well beaten 8th last time out in the Gotham Stakes (G2).

#8 Grumps Little Tots – There is no doubt this horse wins the “Cool Name Award.” He also comes into this race off of a win last time out, although, if was the first of his career. He will try the always difficult task of breaking his maiden, then jumping right on the Kentucky Derby Trail.

#9 Math Wizard – Last week we saw a former $16,000 maiden claimer win the Florida Derby (G1). Will this horse make it more of the same this week in the Wood Memorial (G2)? It’s not likely; however, this Kentucky Derby Trail has been drunk all year long. Surely it won’t happen again…right?

#11 Joevia – After two second place efforts against softer company, his connections decided to give him in a shot in race of this caliber, which is something that is normal during the final push towards the Kentucky Derby. It is just tough seeing him having much of a chance in this spot based on those previous efforts.

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