OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Shadwell Stable's undefeated Gotham winner Shagaf has been tabbed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite over seven rivals in the 92nd edition of the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial for 3-year-olds on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
As part of the official Road to the Kentucky Derby prep series, the 1 1/8-mile Wood is the final stop in New York en route to the "Run for the Roses," worth 100 qualifying points to the winner, 40 points to second, 20 to third and 10 to fourth - virtually guaranteeing the top two finishers spots in the starting gate in the Grade 1, $2 million Kentucky Derby May 7 at Churchill Downs.
Already in possession of a coveted Kentucky Derby berth with 50 points from the Grade 3 Gotham, Shagaf will look to continue his domination of the Triple Crown trail at the Big A with a repeat performance of his 1 ¼-length victory on March 5. The Chad Brown trainee closed on a speed-favoring track to overpower the front-running Laoban in his stakes debut and third career start.
"Shagaf is in great form," Brown reported. "He's only raced three times and, each time, he's done everything we've asked. He seems to be in a nice forward progression in his development. We've always loved the horse and, hopefully, we see another step on Saturday."
A bay son of Bernardini, Shagaf will be ridden from the inside post by his regular jockey, Irad Ortiz, Jr.
"I think he's very adaptable," Brown said of possible race scenarios. "He's sat really close to a 46[-second] half before at Gulfstream, so he has enough speed to sit close if he needs to or wants to, and he also showed the ability to rate in his last start, so he can adapt given whatever post position or situation he's in. Irad has a lot of confidence in the horse and knows the horse well, so I'm sure he'll place him wherever he's comfortable."
Shagaf will be joined by Brown's other entry, Grade 3 Jerome winner Flexibility, who is returning from a two-month layoff following a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Withers on January 30. The New York-bred Bluegrass Cat colt bested state-bred maidens in his October debut at Belmont Park before graduating into open stakes company last fall, where he ran into leading Derby contender Mohaymen, finishing second to the eventual Fountain of Youth winner in both the Grade 2 Nashua and Remsen.
With Mohaymen in Florida, Flexibility took command in the Jerome, drawing clear to a 4 ¼-length win under Ortiz on January 2, but faltered as the 1-2 favorite four weeks later in the Withers, leading his connections to pass on the Gotham.
"Obviously, Flexibility is coming off a layoff that he has to contend with," said Brown. "But he's coming into the race a fresher, sharper, horse right now than maybe he was in the Withers. Maybe it was too much racing for him in a short amount of time, so we've freshened him up and he seems to be training well."
Flexibility, at 8-1, will leave from post 5 with Manny Franco in the irons.
Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Outwork will make his first start in New York for owner-breeder Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher as the 5-2 second-choice on the morning line.
The lightly raced son of Uncle Mo broke his maiden at first asking last April at Keeneland, wiring the field in a 4 ½-furlong maiden special weight to draw off by 2 ¼ lengths. Outwork returned fresh as a 3-year-old, revamping his initial effort with a 4 ¼-length optional-claiming score against sprinters in February at Tampa Bay Downs en route to his stakes debut the following month.
In his first try at two turns in the Tampa Bay Derby, Outwork set the early pace and dug in gamely to finish a length behind his Derby-bound stablemate Destin on March 12.
Scheduled to arrive from Florida on Thursday, Outwork will break from the outside post 8 with Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard.
At 3-1 on the morning line, Lady Sheila Stable's stakes newcomer Matt King Coal will look to make an impression for the Linda Rice barn following a gutsy one-length allowance victory on March 6.
Forced to skip his original target of the Grade 3 Jerome in January after the colt spiked a fever in December, Matt King Coal regrouped with a trio of works in February. He was nominated for the Grade 3 Gotham on March 5 before Rice opted instead for the 1 1/16-mile optional claimer the following day that ultimately attracted Blue Grass entrant My Man Sam and the stakes-aimed Mo Power.
The Florida-bred Cool Coal Man colt has posted back-to-back wins and a close second-place finish over the dirt, all with front-running trips with regular jockey Jose Ortiz, who will retain the mount for the Wood. His worst effort was a third-place finish when he debuted on the grass last summer at Saratoga after Rice had purchased him as a 2-year-old-in-training for Sheila Rosenblum's stable for $250,000.
Matt King Coal and Ortiz will depart from post 6.
Treadway Racing's Adventist will look to improve off a pair of third-place finishes in Kentucky Derby preps, after finishing 1 ¾ lengths behind Sunny Ridge in the Withers and two lengths behind Shagaf in the Gotham for trainer Leah Gyarmati.
By Any Given Saturday, Adventist has been installed at 10-1 and will be ridden by regular jockey Kendrick Carmouche from post 2.
Sired by 2008 Wood Memorial hero Tale of Ekati, Charles Fipke's homebred Tale of S'avall will try to follow in his father's footsteps on Saturday for trainer Barclay Tagg. Installed at 20-1, Tale of S'avall, fifth last time out in the Tampa Bay Derby, will have the services of Cornelio Velasquez from post 4.
Dalmore, notably the only Wood Memorial entrant not currently nominated to the Triple Crown series, broke his maiden by 2 ½ lengths around two turns in his seventh career start last time out and will make his stakes debut for trainer Keith Desormeaux and co-owners Big Chief Racing LLC and Rocker O Ranch LLC. At 12-1, the Florida-bred son of Colonel John will leave from post 7 with rider Junior Alvarado.
Julie Gilbert and Aaron Sones' maiden Trojan Nation, 30-1, will try his luck on the East coast for the Paddy Gallagher barn, following a pair of third-place finishes against non-winners at Santa Anita. The Street Cry colt will be ridden by Aaron Gryder from post 3.
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