Starting a high-profile colt in the Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) at Aqueduct Racetrack is nothing new for trainer Todd Pletcher. Last year, Gemologist won the Wood by a narrow neck over Alpha and in 2010, Eskendereya won by a commanding 9¾-lengths. This Saturday, Pletcher will send Verrazano to the starting gate as the prohibitive 4-5 morning-line favorite in the 89th running of the prestigious $1 million graded-stakes race.
Undefeated in three previous starts, including a 3-length victory in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), Verrazano is the deserving favorite. His combined margin of victory in those starts is 27 lengths, and his Brisnet Speed Figure for his last two races tops 100.
I’m looking forward to see how well Verrazano stretches out to 9-furlongs in the Wood, and it looks like a bullet workout on March 31 has him ready to run another good race.
An interesting long shot I like in this race is Elnaawi (12-1) who’s never been out of the money in his three previous starts, and he comes into the Wood with a third-place finish in the Gotham Stakes (G3) on March 2. Elnaawi had a troubled trip in the Gotham and he showed a lot of grit and determination to get up for the third-place finish.
A half-brother of To Honor And Serve, Elnaawi has the breeding to be competitive on the Derby trail and a victory in the Wood will get him into the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
Street Sense, the sire of Elnaawi, was the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes (G1) victor and 2-year-old Eclipse champion. As a 3-year-old, Street Sense won his season debut in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) and finished second in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) en route to victory in the 2007 Kentucky Derby.
Elnaawi’s damsire, Deputy Minister, was a tough competitor winning eight of nine starts as a 2-year-old, and he was selected as the 1981 Canadian Horse of the Year and 2-year-old champion in Canada and the United States.
As a sire, Deputy Minister sired the Canadian Classic Champion Awesome Again and the Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Touch Gold. As a damsire, Deputy Minister mares have produced the Classic Champion Thoroughbreds Sarava, Jazil, Curlin and Rags To Riches.
Miswaki, the sire of Elnaawi’s second dam Misty Hour, sired Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Urban Sea. English Triple Crown winner and outstanding sire Nijinsky is the sire of the third dam Our Tina Marie.
Pilfer, the dam of Elnaawi, is a tail-female descendant of the fifth dam Golden Trail who was the ancestral dam of multiple graded stakes winners Brian’s Time, Sunshine Forever and Memories of Silver. Golden Trail is also the fifth dam of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos and she is the third dam of Dynaformer.
I profiled To Honor And Serve in my 2011 Kentucky Derby Outlook as a colt with potential and if Elnaawi is anything like his half-brother, he could be competitive in the Wood.
This is the time of year when 3-year-olds colts can, quickly, make a lot of improvement and the 30-1 long shot Freedom Child appears to be an improving colt.
Last September, Freedom Child finished eighth in his maiden debut. He followed that with a second-place finish in November and in February, he finished third in an 8½-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream Park. Finally, on his fourth-attempt, Freedom Child broke his maiden in a 9-furlong race at Gulstream Park on March 10.
The time of the race – 1:50.96 – was a little slow. But the fractional splits were pretty good and I like how Freedom Child broke alertly from post eight to take the early lead. Freedom Child never trailed in that race and he easily won his second start of the season by an impressive 5¼-lengths.
His pedigree is not that flashy. But with Malibu Moon as the sire and Deputy Minister as the damsire, Freedom Child has good breeding. His second dam, City Band, was a multiple graded-stakes winner with over half a million in earnings.
Another move forward off of that performance and Freedom Child could, perhaps, be competitive in the Wood.
Vyjack, the 4-1 morning-line second choice, and Normandy Invasion (5-1), the morning-line third choice, also look like they could be competitive. But, I’m not too keen on them for the win.
The winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) will receive 100 points while second-place will yield 40 points, the third-place finisher will receive 20 points and the fourth-place finisher will receive 10 points. Here’s a look at the current top 20 list:
Kentucky Derby 2013 Leaderboard
(Updated March 30, 2013)
Individual Leaders ranking, total points, Trainer, Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings
1 = Orb, 150, Shug McGaughey III, $840,000
2 = Revolutionary, 110, Todd Pletcher, $720,000
3 = Lines of Battle, 100, Aidan O’Brien, $1,261,089
4 = Will Take Charge, 60, D. Wayne Lukas, $512,971
5 = Itsmyluckyday, 50, Eddie Plesa, Jr., $593,600
6 = Vyjack, 50, Rudy Rodriguez, $405,000
7 = Govenor Charlie, 50, Bob Baffert, $400,000
8 = Black Onyx, 50, Kelly Breen, $317,130
9 = Verrazano, 50, Todd Pletcher, $210,000
10 = Hear the Ghost, 50, Jerry Hollendorfer, $195,400
11 = Mylute, 42, Tom Amoss, $363,365
12 = Oxbow, 36, D. Wayne Lukas, $316,000
13 = Uncaptured, 30, Mark Casse, $394,674
14 = Flashback, 30, Bob Baffert, $180,000
15 = Goldencents, 29, Doug O’Neill, $758,000
16 = Shanghai Bobby, 24, Todd Pletcher, $1,731,000
17 = Java’s War, 22, Ken McPeek, $201,772
18 = Merit Man, 20, Bob Hess Jr., $357,500
19 = Den’s Legacy, 20, Bob Baffert, $325,000
20 = Falling Sky, 20, John Terranova II, $157,500