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The Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial, offering 100 Kentucky Derby points to the winner, takes place on Saturday, April 6 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Tax, Tacitus and Haikal top a wide-open 95th running of the Grade 2, $750,0000 Wood Memorial.
The Wood Memorial, which offers 100-40-20-10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top-four finishers, 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 Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby from Santa Anita Park.
Race 10 on Aqueduct's Saturday card with a Post Time of 6:00 PM
|3||Hoffa's Union||6-1||Dylan Davis
|5||Final Jeopardy||8-1||Manuel Franco
|7||Not That Brady||20-1||Reylu Gutierrez
|8||Grumps Little Tots||30-1||Jose Lezcano
|9||Math Wizard||30-1||Eric Cancel
|Saffie Joseph, Jr.|
The dependable Tax, trained by Danny Gargan for owners R. A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable, will look to go from claim to Kentucky Derby fame in the prestigious nine-furlong Wood.
The dark bay son of Arch was claimed for $50,000 on October 21 out of a winning effort at Keeneland and promptly shipped to Aqueduct, where he ran third in the Grade 2 Remsen over nine furlongs on the Big A main.
Tax, who currently boasts 12 Derby qualifying points, arrives at Saturday's test from a determined head score on February 9 over Wood rival Not That Brady in the Grade 3 Withers.
"He's training tremendous; he looks good. We're just hoping we get a clean trip," said Gargan. "He's a nice horse and we're just hoping we can run top-three, so we can go to the Derby.
"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."
Junior Alvarado has the return call aboard Tax from the inside post in a field of 11.
"Junior has a lot of insight into him. If it's working well, why change it? When a rider has confidence like that, it can only help," said Gargan.
Juddmonte Farms homebred Tacitus, by Tapit out of 2014 Eclipse Champion Older Mare Close Hatches, graduated on November 10 at Aqueduct at second asking when traveling one-mile over a track labeled good.
The talented bay, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, wintered at Payson Park in Florida ahead of a successful seasonal debut in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby when 1 ¼-lengths the better of Wood rival Outshine. He picked up 50 Derby qualifying points in victory.
Jose Ortiz, aboard for all three career starts, will pilot Tacitus from post 2.
Shadwell Stable homebred Haikal will try two turns for the first time in the Wood. The Daaher bay is a neck away from being undefeated after narrowly missing to stakes-placed Family Biz in his debut.
The late-moving Haikal broke his maiden on December 15 at Aqueduct in a six furlong sprint and used a similar style in his 3-year-old debut when rallying to a neck score over Wood rival Joevia.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, who won the Wood in 2015 with Frosted, Haikal arrives at his stamina test from a closing length score in the Grade 3 Gotham, which earned him 50 Derby qualifying points.
McLaughlin said he is hopeful that Haikal will be more forwardly placed on Saturday.
"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."
McLaughlin, who also conditioned Haikal's Canadian-bred sire Daaher, said that his Wood hopeful is a little more sizable than the stallion who captured the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in 2007.
"The sire was very classy. This horse is a little bigger and taller than his sire and has more size to him. But we like him, and he's already won three in a row, so hopefully we can keep it going on Saturday," said McLaughlin.
Rajiv Maragh, who is undefeated aboard Haikal, will guide the bay colt from post 4.
Todd Pletcher, a five-time winner of the Wood, and Jason Servis will each saddle a pair of Wood starters.
Pletcher previously won the Wood with Eskendereya (2010), Gemologist (2012), Verrazano (2013), Outwork (2016) and last year with Vino Rosso. On Saturday, he will send out the runners-up from both the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby and Pasco at Tampa Bay Downs.
Outshine, owned by Let's Go Stable and Richard Schibell, boasts a record of 2-1-0 from four starts and arrives at the Wood from a game second to Tacitus in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Pletcher said that Outshine has trained well since his Tampa Bay Derby effort.
"He came out of it super and has been training very forwardly," said Pletcher. "We're excited about stretching him out to a mile and an eighth. We've been pointing to the Wood since the Tampa Bay Derby and we're optimistic from what we're seeing."
Hall of Famer John Velazquez has the call aboard the Malibu Moon bay from post 10.
The lightly-raced Overdeliver, a Kentucky-bred son of Overanalyze owned by Repole Stable, bested eventual Florida Derby runner-up Bode Express in an impressive debut maiden score on December 23 at Gulfstream Park.
The chestnut colt followed that effort with a second-place finish in the Pasco in a troubled trip that saw Overdeliver bobble at the break in the seven-furlong test.
Pletcher said the decision to come to the Wood was made based on Overdeliver's strong showing during morning training at Palm Beach Downs.
"We didn't really have a firm plan after the Pasco. It's really just been based on his last three works that he's trained exceptionally well that we decided to take a shot at the Wood. I think his last couple works he's shown some really strong gallop outs and indicates that he's capable of stretching out," said Pletcher.
Kendrick Carmouche has the call aboard Overdeliver from post 6.
Servis, who won the Florida Derby last weekend with longshot Maximum Security for Gary and Mary West, will team up with the Wests once more when saddling optional-claiming winner Final Jeopardy and maiden winner Grumps Little Tots in the Wood.
Final Jeopardy, a Street Sense bay purchased for $110,000 at the Keeneland November sale, graduated at first asking when sprinting six furlongs on December 9 at Gulfstream Park.
Following a troubled trip when third in the six-furlong Limehouse at the Hallandale oval, Final Jeopardy returned to win a one-mile optional-claiming tilt by a widening 3 ¾-lengths.
Aqueduct winter meet-leading rider Manny Franco has the call from post 5.
Grumps Little Tots, owned by Michael Dubb, Coyle Boys Stable and Bethlehem Stables, hit the board in a trio of sprint events before graduating last out when stretched out to a one-turn mile at the Big A.
The dark bay son of Sky Mesa will boast the services of Jose Lezcano from post 8.
Not That Brady, bred in New York by KatieRich Farms, will look to bounce back from an uncharacteristic eighth last time out in the Grade 3 Gotham. The Big Brown chestnut, owned in part by conditioner Rudy Rodriguez with Michael Imperio, Lianna Stables, and R. A. Hill Stable, is out of the popular Lisa's Booby Trap.
Not That Brady captured the Damon Runyon here on December 31 and proved his class with a strong second over nine furlongs in the Grade 3 Withers.
Rodriguez has named Reylu Gutierrez for the return engagement from post 7.
Michael and Jeff Fazio's Joevia, trained by Gregory Sacco, graduated at first asking before battling to a narrow neck defeat behind Haikal in the Jimmy Winfield. Last out, the Shanghai Bobby colt finished second in the Private Terms at Laurel Park.
Nik Juarez will ride Joevia from the outermost post.
Hoffa's Union earned a lofty 95 Beyer Speed Figure in his February 28 debut at Laurel Park, wiring a field of six by 15 ½-lengths in a 1 1/16-mile maiden event. Trained by Gary Capuano for Non Stop Stable, Rose Petal Stable and Foard J. Wilgis, the Union Rags bay will face a class test when stepping up against winners for the first time.
Dylan Davis has the call aboard Hoffa's Union from post 3.
Completing the field is Math Wizard, trained by Saffie Joseph, Jr., who has been claimed three times in seven starts. The Algorithms chestnut, owned in part by his conditioner with John Fanelli, Collarmele Vitelli Stables, Bassett Stables, Ioannis Zoumas, and Wynwood Thoroughbreds, boasts a record of 2-1-1.
Claimed for his current connections for $25,000 from an impressive 18 ½-length win in a one-mile claiming tilt at Gulfstream Park, Math Wizard returned to finish a rallying second at the same track and distance in an optional-claiming event that earned a career-best 85 Beyer number.
Eric Cancel will pilot Math Wizard from post 9.
Probable: Final Jeopardy (Servis); Grumps Little Tots (Servis); Haikal (McLaughlin); Joevia (Sacco); Outshine (Pletcher); Overdeliver (Pletcher); Tacitus (Bill Mott); Tax (Danny Gargan)
Possible: Much Better (Bob Baffert)
Shadwell Stable homebred Haikal remains on target for the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial on Saturday, April 6 and is expected to return to the work tab soon, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Friday morning.
Haikal won his third consecutive start and earned a personal-best 95 Beyer Speed Figure when he posted a one-length victory in his graded stakes debut, besting a talented field that included Grade 1-winner Mind Control and Instagrand in the one-mile Grade 3 Gotham on March 9 at Aqueduct.
Should a Grade or Group 1 winner become an official starter in the Wood Memorial, which is expected to be the case with Mind Control pointing towards the nine-furlong challenge, it would trigger a purse increase to $1 million.
Haikal, who earned 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby with that win, will now be aiming at 100 additional qualifying points for the "Run for the Roses" and will start that trek next week when he works on either Thursday, March 28, or the following day.
"He's doing very well; we're just going to work him once, either next Thursday or Friday," McLaughlin said.
Since running second in his debut on November 10, Haikal has won at increasing distances. His maiden-breaking win by a neck over American Mandate came at six furlongs on an Aqueduct track labeled good on December 15. In his first appearance as a 3-year-old, the Daaher colt edged Joevia by a neck in the seven-furlong Jimmy Winkfield on February 9.
Exactly a month later, Haikal moved from second-last in the eight-horse field to close strong in the Gotham in his first start at one mile. The quarter and half-miles provided the fastest fractions in Haikal's four-race career [22 1/5 and 44 2/5 seconds], which McLaughlin said favored his style.
The conditioner said while the pace for the 1 1/8-mile Wood might not be as fast, he is encouraged that Haikal can get the distance [the Kentucky Derby, slated for May 4, is contested at 1 1/4 miles].
"It was great. We were hoping he could go a mile or further, and the pace was very fast, which helped us," McLaughlin said. "But he's got a great mind. He does everything right. We don't think nine furlongs will be a problem, either, though we aren't going to get such a hot pace to run. Hopefully, we won't have to have a hot pace.
"He's versatile and he does everything right," he added. "He's a neat horse to train, and we're excited about it."
McLaughlin will be seeking his second career Wood Memorial victory, with Frosted capturing the 2015 edition. Frosted, who finished second to American Pharoah in his Triple Crown-winning Belmont Stakes effort that year, went on to set the largest margin of victory in the Metropolitan Handicap with his 14 ¼-length score in 2016.
McLaughlin said Stonestreet Stables' Dawn the Destroyer is a possibility for the Grade 3, $150,000 Distaff Handicap for older fillies and mares at seven furlongs on Friday, April 5.
The 5-year-old Speightstown mare has won her last two starts at the Big A, capturing the Interborough on January 25 after defeating allowance company on November 28. She is coming off a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie on February 16 at Laurel Park.
Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables' Joevia will make his graded stakes debut in the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial, trainer Greg Sacco said Friday morning (March 29).
Joevia won in his debut on July 15 at Monmouth Park. Following a seven-month layoff, the Shanghai Bobby colt returned and stretched out from five furlongs to seven-eighths of a mile, finishing second by a neck to Haikal in the Jimmy Winkfield on February 9. Sacco extended Joevia again in the 1 1/16-mile Private Terms, where he ran second in earning a personal-best 85 Beyer Speed Figure on March 16 at Laurel Park.
Joevia will now be looking to take a step up in class in the 94th running of the Wood Memorial, part of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series that offers 100-40-20-10 qualifying points to the first four finishers for the Run for the Roses on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
"I think he handled two turns at Laurel well," Sacco said. "He came out of his last race great and worked super today. He has to step it up in the Wood and we feel he will."
Following up on a successful winter meet in which he has accumulated 18 wins from 66 starts through Friday's card, trainer Jason Servis said he is looking to gear up for the upcoming Aqueduct spring meet, with a bevy of formidable stakes contenders for the Wood Memorial Day card.
In the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial, Servis said he will likely enter Gary and Mary West's Final Jeopardy. The son of Street Sense impressively won his debut by 5 ¼ lengths on December 9 at Gulfstream Park, going six furlongs, and kicked off his 3-year-old campaign on January 5 with a third-place finish in the Limousine.
He bested a field of seven by 3 ¼ lengths going a mile in his most recent start; an optional claiming race on March 3.
Set to try two-turns for the first time in his career in the Wood, Servis, speaking from his winter base in Palm Meadows, Florida, said he is pleased with Final Jeopardy's development this winter.
"He's really got us excited," Servis said. "He's come along real nicely over the winter and steadily improved with each start. Being a son of Street Sense, he's certainly bred to handle the two turns just fine, so we're looking forward to giving him a shot to get to the [Kentucky] Derby off the Wood [effort]."
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott is enjoying a remarkable start to 2019 with a trio of Kentucky Derby contenders - Hidden Scroll, Country House and Tacitus - as well as conditioning one of the favorites for the Group 1, $12 million Dubai World Cup.
Juddmonte Farm homebred Tacitus, by Tapit out of multiple Grade 1-winner Close Hatches, is considering the Grade 2 Wood Memorial as the follow-up to his impressive win in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.
Tacitus graduated at second asking in November at Aqueduct and is training forwardly at Payson Park in Florida.
"He came out of his win at Tampa very well. He's a very exciting horse for us," Mott said trackside in Dubai. "The Wood is a possibility. We're leaning in that direction at this point. He has a win over the track, so that race is pretty enticing."
Close Hatches, who was also conditioned by Mott for Juddmonte, was named Eclipse Champion Older Mare in 2014 on the back of Grade 1 wins in the Ogden Phipps at Belmont and the Personal Ensign at Saratoga.
Riley said that training a son of the champion mare adds to the excitement of the Derby trail.
"Certainly. She's one of the best race mares we've ever had," Mott said. "For it being a Juddmonte mare, who have been so great to us over the years, it's definitely special to have Tacitus perform so well."
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