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Post Time: Major Derby preps on national stage

By Gene Kershner

The Road to the Kentucky Derby takes the national stage on Saturday afternoon (NBC, Ch. 2, 4:30 p.m.) when two major Derby prep races will be featured in a 90-minute national telecast. The Wood Memorial and the Santa Anita Derby will be shown on NBC as part of a series of Derby preps leading up to the Run for the Roses on May 5 at Churchill Downs.

The Grade 1 $1 million Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial (say that five times fast) will be run at Aqueduct Racetrack where eight 3-year-olds will attempt to garner precious graded stakes earnings. The field is led by 8-5 favorite Gemologist, a Tiznow colt running his first graded stake of the year, after defeating the highly regarded Currency Swap (Illinois Derby bound) in an allowance race at Gulfstream.

Trainer Todd Pletcher knows he needs to finish first or second for a great shot at making the Derby.  “The most important thing for him, moving forward, is to accomplish enough graded earnings that we're able to get in the Kentucky Derby field, so that sort of suggests, looking at the table right now, that first or second would take care of that and third would put him on the bubble. So we're hoping for a strong performance and it goes without saying we'd love to win,” Pletcher proclaimed in an NTRA teleconference on Tuesday afternoon.

Gemologist currently sits in 35th place on the graded earnings list with $103,855. It is likely that a horse would need somewhere around $275,000 - $300,000 to qualify for the Derby.

His main challengers are Alpha (5-2) and Street Life (4-1), both looking to win enough earnings to gain a gate in Louisville. Ramon Dominguez will ride Alpha for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, as he comes off a collarbone injury to ride for the first time in three weeks.  After winning the Comely and the Grade 3 Withers over the Big A’s inner track earlier this year, he has been sitting on the sidelines waiting for this opportunity after skipping the Grade 2 Gotham in February. Alpha is in 23rd on the graded earnings list.

Street Life, sired by 2007 Kentucky Derby champion Street Sense, races in his fourth career race for red-hot trainer Chad Brown. He has no graded earnings so he will need to win to have a shot at the Derby. He had a blowout workout on Apr. 1 and could be a formidable challenger to the top two. Another horse that has been on my radar, My Adonis (8-1), has finished behind Hansen in his last two graded stakes races. I think the stretch out to 9 furlongs may suit this Pleasantly Perfect colt perfectly and he could be rolling late if a speed duel erupts out front.

On the left coast the Grade 1 $750,000 Santa Anita Derby will be run at 1 1/8-miles over the Santa Anita dirt track. A field of 10 colts will be led by San Felipe winner Creative Cause, who with $686,000 in earnings and sixth place on the list will not have to sweat out a spot in the Derby.

The Giant’s Causeway colt and most likely post time favorite drew the rail and is running third off the layoff on the form cycle, an angle that could prove that he’s ready for a big effort. In an interesting equipment move, trainer Mike Harrington has decided to remove his blinkers after running with them for every race of his career.  He’s removed them for the horse’s last three workouts and Harrington has been impressed enough to try racing him without them for the first time in his career.

“He ran good in the Norfolk; but the other races, even the Breeders' Cup, he was kind of wandering around at the end of it, and I don't know whether that's going to make a difference but now is the time to find out. I don't want to wait until the Kentucky Derby and then try it (blinkers off) to see what happens,” Harrington told the media on Tuesday.

Creative Cause will be challenged by surprise Grade 2 Robert Lewis winner I’ll Have Another, who shocked a talented field at 43-1 odds. Trainer Doug O’Neill has been working him out at 7-furlongs and a mile distance in hopes to have him ready for his second career route race. 

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sends out no less than three colts into the gate for the Santa Anita Derby, highlighted by the underachieving Liaison, a maiden winner, Paynter and the English Channel colt Blueskiesnrainbows.

Liaison, currently 13th on the graded earnings list, has one of the west coast’s best riders in Rafael Bejarano aboard for Saturday’s big race. He’ll hope to rebound after losing Bejarano after the break in the Lewis and a dismal fifth place finish in the San Felipe.

Similar to the Wood, I’ve got my eye on an under the radar colt, Midnight Transfer, who finished third in the San Felipe and was only three lengths behind the winner. I’m looking for this Hard Spun sophomore to improve in his second route race and will be playing him at the windows, looking for a square price.

The Derby picture should become much clearer after the two major preps, as well as a full field running at Hawthorne in the Illinois Derby on Saturday as well.

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.

The field for the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial:

PP

Horse

Jockey

Wgt

Trainer

Odds

1

Alpha (KY)

R A Dominguez

123

K P McLaughlin

 5-2

2

Casual Trick (KY)

C S Nakatani

123

N P Zito

20-1

3

My Adonis (KY)

E Trujillo

123

K J Breen

 8-1

4

Teeth of the Dog (KY)

J Bravo

123

M R Matz

15-1

5

Street Life (KY)

J Alvarado

123

C C Brown

 4-1

6

Gemologist (KY)

J Castellano

123

T A Pletcher

 8-5

7

Tiger Walk (KY)

J R Velazquez

123

I Correas, IV

15-1

8

The Lumber Guy (NY)

C H Velasquez

123

M E Hushion

 8-1

 

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