When the $750,000, Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes presented by NYRA Bets is held Saturday at Aqueduct, I will be inclined to take a stand against the locally based New York runners, even though they have a home-court advantage in this 1 1/8-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve prep race.
As I outlined earlier this week in using history to handicap the Wood Memorial, local runners tend to be at a disadvantage when facing high-class shippers from Florida, and I suspect that this will be the case again on Saturday.
For example, take #4 Haikal, winner of the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct last month. He’s won three straight races and produced an eye-catching rally to win the Gotham, but he also received a fantastic pace setup that day (the opening half-mile was timed in a scintillating 44.42 seconds), and the Wood Memorial will mark his first start around two turns. I’m not convinced that he’ll reproduce the same big finish under different circumstances this Saturday.
I’m less opposed to playing #1 Tax, a gallant winner of the Grade 3 Withers Stakes in February, but I felt like that race came back faster than it should have on the Beyer and Brisnet speed-figure scales, an opinion that seems increasingly sound since the next four finishers behind Tax all came back to disappoint in subsequent starts.
That’s why I’m going to focus my attention on #2 Tacitus and #10 Outshine, the one-two finishers in the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby in Florida last month. Tacitus, a well-bred son of Tapit out of champion racemare Close Hatches, broke his maiden going a mile at Aqueduct last November, while Outshine won two of his three starts prior to the Tampa Bay Derby and boasts the powerful tandem of trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez, who have teamed up to win the Wood Memorial four times since 2010.
But while Tacitus got the better of Outshine at Tampa Bay Downs, I’m tempted to side with Outshine this time around. The Tampa Bay Derby featured a quick pace that benefited the late-running, ground-saving Tacitus, and that same pace possibly hurt the chances of Outshine, who raced much closer to the lead before making an early (and wide) rally to challenge for command. In the end, he was beaten just 1 ¼ lengths by Tacitus, and with better racing luck in the Wood Memorial, Outshine might be able to turn the tables.
Others to consider in this competitive race are #5 Final Jeopardy, winner of a one-mile allowance/optional claiming race at Gulfstream last month for trainer Jason Servis, and Outshine’s Pletcher-trained stablemate #6 Overdeliver, runner-up in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in January. #3 Hoffa’s Union could be a real wildcard after winning his debut at Laurel Park by 15 ½ lengths, but he didn’t appear to beat much and benefited from setting a pace that was not particularly testing.
Here’s how I would play the race:
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget
$6 to win on #10 Outshine
$2 exacta box: 2,10 ($4)
Wagering Strategy on a $25 Budget
$10 to win on #10 Outshine
$1 exacta box: 2,10 ($2)
$1 trifecta: 10 with 1,2 with 1,2,3,5,6 ($8)
$1 trifecta: 2 with 10 with 1,3,5,6 ($4)
$1 trifecta: 2 with 1 with 10 ($1)
Good luck, and enjoy the race!