03/29/2012 3:57PM

Aqueduct: Alpha heading back to New York for Wood Memorial

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Tom Keyser
Alpha is to fly to New York on Friday afternoon for the Wood Memorial on April 7 at Aqueduct.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – From week to week, Alpha seemingly had a different destination. At one point, he was headed to the Louisiana Derby. Then the Florida Derby was in play.

With the dust finally settled, Alpha will run in the spot trainer Kiaran McLaughlin circled long ago on his calendar: the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 7.

The Grade 1 Wood tops the biggest card of the winter/spring season at the Big A. The supporting program also includes the Grade 1, $400,000 Carter for sprinters and a pair of Grade 3, $250,000 stakes for 3-year-olds: the Bay Shore at seven furlongs and the Comely for fillies.

Alpha easily won a pair of stakes over the winter at Aqueduct: the Count Fleet in January and the Grade 3 Withers in early February.

Following the Withers victory, McLaughlin returned the colt to the Palm Meadows training center in Florida. After ruling out the Gotham at Aqueduct on March 3, McLaughlin and Simon Crisford, the racing manager for Godolphin Racing, focused on the Wood while keeping their options open.

“When we decided to not run back in the Gotham, we were pointing for the Wood Memorial back then,” McLaughlin said.

Situations and circumstances almost pushed Alpha in a different direction.

“The Louisiana Derby came up and that looked like an easier spot, and we wouldn’t have Ramon Dominguez in the Wood because he was going to ride Hansen,” McLaughlin said. “Then Hansen decided to go to the Blue Grass, so we’ve got Ramon for the Wood.”

The Gulfstream Park racing office called Wednesday, checking to see if McLaughlin was interested in Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby.

“I asked if Union Rags was entered or if he had decided to go to the Blue Grass,” McLaughlin said. “They said he was running with them, so I said ‘great.’ We were never going to run in the Florida Derby, but we were here in Florida, and we looked at it in case Union Rags went somewhere else.”

As the chips fell into place, Alpha remained on course for the Wood.

“The press was talking about it a little bit, but nothing really changed for me or the horse,” McLaughlin said.

Alpha was put in his final Wood workout Friday morning at Palm Meadows and then fly to New York that afternoon. He should be bedded down in McLaughlin’s Belmont Park barn by Friday evening.

Alpha will be one of the top contenders in the 1 1/8-mile Wood, along with Gemologist, who is a perfect 4 for 4 for trainer Todd Pletcher following a blow-out allowance win at Gulfstream.

“He’s undefeated and he was very impressive down here last time,” McLaughlin said of Gemologist. “He’s the horse to beat on Wood Day.”

Other likely Wood runners, according to the Aqueduct race office, include Casual Trick, Gotham runner-up My Adonis, Street Life, The Lumber Guy, and Tiger Walk.

Carter shaping up with deep field

While the Wood is the richest event next Saturday, the seven-furlong Carter is loaded with talent and looks like the race of the day.

The prospective lineup includes Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Caleb’s Posse; Calibrachoa, winner of three of his last four including the Tom Fool here earlier this month; last year’s Preakness winner Shackleford; Grade 1 winner Jackson Bend; and Emcee, third in the Tom Fool as the 6-5 favorite.

“It was a tough Tom Fool, and this looks like an even tougher Carter,” said McLaughlin, Emcee’s trainer. “Like Alpha, we were trying to find the best spot for a win, but here, you can’t get away from them. We have a nice horse, but everyone in there is tough.”

Agave Kiss undecided on Comely

Agave Kiss, undefeated in four starts, will be a major player in the one-mile Comely, if she runs. All four victories have come at six furlongs, including the Grade 3 Cicada here March 10.

Trainer Rudy Rodriguez is concerned about the stretch out on a quick turnaround.

“Timing wise, it’s not too good,” Rodriguez said. “It comes back a little quick for us. I’m not too crazy about it. We gave her almost eight weeks before the last race, and she looked like she needed it. Then to come back and run a mile, we’ll see.”