The $750,000, Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct is the first of three “Road to the Kentucky Derby” prep races within the span of one hour on Saturday, April 3. These three races, which include the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, offer the respective winners a guaranteed spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May by granting 100 qualifying points to each of them. The runners-up in each race will receive 40 qualifying points, which may also be enough to get them in the starting gate for “the greatest two minutes in sports.”
The Wood Memorial drew a field of nine, led by the one-two finishers in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes last month in Weyburn and Crowded Trade, respectively. Another stakes winner entered is Risk Taking, who won the Grade 3 Withers Stakes in February at Aqueduct but who skipped the Gotham. Brooklyn Strong won the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes over the track at the distance of the Wood Memorial, but it may be a tall order to pick up where he left off following four months on the bench and versus horses which all ran much more recently. Candy Man Rocket won the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in February before an 11th out of 12 finish in the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, and it may be a stretch to go from next-to-last in that recent race to being a top competitor in the Wood Memorial. Market Maven and Bourbonic finished first and second, respectively, in an allowance race at Parx Racing in Pennsylvania but appear overmatched, as does recent maiden winner Dynamic One. Then there’s Prevalence, a strong winner of both starts in his career at Gulfstream Park. Prevalence is shipping in to New York from Florida for Godolphin, which already has a significant presence on the “Road to the Derby” with Rebel’s Romance (winner of the United Arab Emirates Derby Sponsored by Emirates NBD last weekend), Essential Quality (running in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes) and Proxy.
Analysis and main win contenders:
Weyburn was disregarded by bettors at 46.75-1 odds one month ago in the Gotham Stakes but proved to be an exceptionally tough competitor when winning by a nose. After attending the pace only a half-length behind the leader for the first half-mile, Weyburn engaged for the lead for the rest of the race, first battling with Freedom Fighter and then battling nose to nose the entire last eighth of a mile with Crowded Trade. That effort occurring one month ago leads me to believe he will not regress and will move forward to run even better in the Wood Memorial. Considering Weyburn earned a career-best 105 Equibase Speed Figure, tied for best in the field with Crowded Trade, it would take significant improvement by any other runner except Crowded Trade to run faster than Weyburn if he demonstrates logical improvement in his second start following three months off. As such, Weyburn gets slight preference between the two horses I feel stand out as leading win contenders.
Crowded Trade has no knocks, having won in his career debut at the end of January before stepping into stakes company in the Gotham Stakes last month and giving it his all. Third-place Gotham finisher Highly Motivated is looking for different scenery this weekend and will run in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. With no other horse aside from Weyburn having run as fast as Crowded Trade, who also earned a 105 figure in the Gotham, this lightly raced colt making his third career start has significant improving he can do and he must be considered a strong contender to win. As to whether he has the breeding to run this 1 1/8-mile distance, there’s no doubt that as a son of More Than Ready it’s not an issue. More Than Ready’s son Catholic Boy the Runhappy Travers Stakes at 1 ¼ miles. Trained by Chad Brown and ridden by red-hot jockey Eric Cancel, Crowded Trade has every right to turn the tables on Weyburn in their second meeting and move on to the Kentucky Derby in fine form.
Prevalence, like Crowded Trade, has only run twice, and likewise his second race was a one-turn mile in which he ran impressively. After winning his debut by 8 ½ lengths in handy fashion with a 99 figure, Prevalence won his second start just as easily by three lengths with a 98 figure but likely could have gone faster. Perhaps more importantly, after he crossed the finish line it was noted by the astute chart caller for Equibase that Prevalence was “urged past the wire for an eighth of a mile or so past the finish.” This is significant, as it shows a plan beforehand between jockey Tyler Gaffalione (who rides in the Wood) and trainer Brendan Walsh (who trained top 3-year-old Maxfield last year) to give the colt experience at running the distance of his next scheduled race. He’s a son of Medaglia d’Oro, who sired tremendous stakes winners like Songbird and Wonder Gadot, and if Prevalence got the foundation in his last start for this race as intended, improving enough to win the Wood Memorial is not out of the question.
In case readers are wondering, the reason I’m not considering Risk Taking a win contender has to do with the fact he comes back from two months off after winning the Withers Stakes in February. Although the 102 figure earned in that race may be competitive with the top horses in the Wood if he improves on it, the fact that he skipped the Gotham and most of his opponents ran more recently gives me pause.
The rest of the field, with each horse's best Equibase Speed Figures, is Bourbonic (88), Brooklyn Strong (99), Candy Man Rocket (94), Dynamic One (103) and Market Maven (94).