OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Local hope El Kabeir and sensational juvenile Daredevil will square off in the Grade 1, $1 million Twinspires.com Wood Memorial on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack, where they will be met by a promising bunch of 3-year-old colts looking to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
The 1 1/8-mile Wood virtually guarantees its first and second-place finishers a berth to the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 2, offering 100 qualifying points to the winner as part of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" system, 40 points to second, 20 to third and 10 to fourth. With 75 points, El Kabeir currently sits in fifth on the leaderboard, while Daredevil finds himself in 28th with 10 points.
Joining Aqueduct's marquee race will be a trio of graded stakes, including the Grade 1, $400,000 Carter Handicap, the Grade 2, $300,000 Gazelle, and the Grade 3, $300,000 Bay Shore, totaling $2 million in purses in conjunction with the Wood. The quartet will also comprise a $500,000 Guaranteed All-Graded Stakes Pick Four, with the Wood serving as the penultimate leg of the sequence.
As a 2-year-old, El Kabeir made a name for himself with a snappy maiden win on August 30 at Saratoga Race Course, where he steamrolled a field by 10 Â¾ lengths, and then finished fourth, beaten 17 Â¾ lengths by Daredevil in the Grade 1 Champagne on October 4 at Belmont Park. After a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Nashua on November 2 at the Big A, the son of Scat Daddy closed out his juvenile campaign with a win in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club on November 29 at Churchill Downs, the site of the Kentucky Derby.
"We want to see him continue to hold his form and go forward, and we'll see how he handles the added distance," said Terranova. "All along we've been taking it one race at a time and not getting too far ahead of ourselves, so we're gearing up for an exciting race. We have a lot of confidence in him; he's seasoned, versatile, and all of that bodes well for him. However the race unfolds, we'll be able to adapt."
C.C. Lopez, who will be looking for his first Grade 1 win, retains the mount on El Kabeir, 3-1 on the morning line. The duo will depart from post 5.
Like El Kabeir, Daredevil burst onto the Kentucky Derby landscape as a 2-year-old. Sent off at even-money in his debut, the More Than Ready colt pounded a field of maidens on September 13 at Belmont by 6 Â¼ lengths for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Less than a month later, Daredevil returned to take the Champagne by 2 Â½ lengths over Upstart, runner-up in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, and a well-beaten El Kabeir. The chestnut colt earned a spectacular 107 Beyer Speed Figure for his performance in the Champagne, and in turn was sent off as the 5-2 second choice in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile later that fall, though he disappointed in the Juvenile, finishing a distant 11th place in his first start over a dry, fast track.
Making his 3-year-old debut in the Grade 2 Swale on March 7 at Gulfstream Park, Daredevil rebounded off his Juvenile debacle, but could not get past talented sprinter Ready for Rye in the stretch of the seven-furlong Swale and had to settle for second.
Given a little extra time to re-acclimate to New York by Pletcher and owners Let's Go Stable, Winstar Farm and China Horse Club, Daredevil put in his final work before the Wood on Sunday over the Belmont training track, breezing four furlongs in 48.85 seconds.
"I thought he did it very well," said Byron Hughes, assistant to Pletcher. "He looked good doing it, went very easily, and galloped out strong; we're definitely happy with the work. It didn't start out as planned [with Daredevil breaking a few lengths in front of his workmate], but the rider adapted and had a good hold of him."
Hughes, who spent the winter away from Daredevil while overseeing Pletcher's New York string, has been impressed with what he's seen of the colt since returning to his home base.
"He's very similar to what I saw last year," said Hughes. "Whenever I watch him, I think he can do just about anything."
Daredevil is listed as the 9-5 favorite on the morning line, and will be ridden by Javier Castellano from post 6.
The second choice on the morning line at 5-2, Frosted, may have an experience edge on the field, having become very well acquainted with Aqueduct's main track as a 2-year-old. The son of Tapit drew away from a maiden field at the Big A in his third career start, and parlayed the effort into a tough luck runner-up finish in the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile Remsen, in which he raced wide from post 13 on a day kind to inside paths.
Shipped to Florida for the winter by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, Frosted finished second in the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream behind Upstart, before contesting the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. Wearing blinkers for the first time in the Fountain of Youth, Frosted pressed a fast pace over a taxing Gulfstream main track and appeared poised to have a major impact on the finish, but tired badly in the stretch and finished fourth.
The gray/roan colt was being considered for the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream, but his connections ultimately opted for the Wood.
"We feel like we've accounted for every issue, and he has no excuse not to run his best race," said McLaughlin. "We know he has talent; he has to show it on Saturday. The track was very tiring for the Fountain of Youth and was again [on March 28 for the Florida Derby], so we're happy with our decision."
Frosted will break from post 4 with Joel Rosario aboard.
Rounding out the field are Tiz Shea D, who was purchased privately out of his debut and subsequently finished second in the Gotham for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott; Toasting Master, fourth in the Gotham for West Point Thoroughbreds and trainer Dale Romans; Tencendur, fifth in the Gotham donning blinkers for the first time in his career; and Lieutenant Colonel, a Chad Brown trainee that disappointed in the Gotham off a promising debut victory.