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Hot recent form lacking in Wood Memorial field
OZONE PARK, N.Y. - When War Pass finished last as the 1-20 favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby, it stood to reason that the number of starters for Saturday's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct would swell considerably.
After all, the Wood is a Grade 1 race worth $750,000 run at 1 1/8 miles over a regular dirt surface four weeks before the Kentucky Derby. The Wood has produced a bevy of Kentucky Derby winners, including Fusaichi Pegasus, Monarchos, and Funny Cide this decade alone.
And while it looks as though a field of nine will run in the Wood, the depth of the field is somewhat lacking given the recent efforts of the top contenders. Anak Nakal, a Grade 2 winner at 2 who has disappointed in his two starts this year, and Inner Light, a first-level allowance winner, joined the Wood field on Monday.
War Pass, last year's 2-year-old champion; Court Vision, last year's Remsen winner; Tale of Ekati, last fall's Belmont Futurity winner; and Texas Wildcatter, the Gotham runner-up, head the Wood field. Court Vision has run only once since the Remsen, finishing third in the Fountain of Youth. Tale of Ekati finished a well-beaten sixth in the Louisiana Derby, his only start this year.
Giant Moon, Roman Emperor, and Spurrier are expected to round out the Wood field.
Among the notable absentees from the Wood are Gotham winner Visionaire and Southwest Stakes winner Denis of Cork. Visionaire is being pointed to the Blue Grass on April 12 while Denis of Cork was entered Monday for Saturday's Illinois Derby at Hawthorne, which drew a field of seven.
Michael Matz, the trainer of Visionaire, said he already shipped his colt more than he would have preferred this winter. Based in south Florida, Visionaire shipped to Louisiana for the Risen Star and to New York for the Gotham. On Sunday, Visionaire shipped to Keeneland where the Blue Grass is run, just a one-hour van ride from Churchill Downs.
"I would have loved to have another week in between the Derby and his last race, but the biggest thing was I just wanted to get here and be in one place,'' Matz, who was also considering the Illinois Derby for Visionaire, said Monday from Keeneland.
David Carroll, the trainer of Denis of Cork, said shipping was also a consideration in deciding to run in Illinois. Denis of Cork is based at Churchill, a six-hour van ride to Hawthorne as opposed to a 17-hour van trip to Aqueduct. Carroll, speaking from Churchill, also said that War Pass's Tampa Bay performance was "too bad to be true. If he's back to himself and gets loose on the lead, he's awfully hard to run down.''
Paulo Lobo, trainer of San Felipe runner-up Gayego, said he nominated his horse to all 3-year-old preps after that race. Lobo said he chose Arkansas because it was four weeks from the colt's last race and an easy ship from Oaklawn to Churchill.
The Arkansas Derby has become a fashionable prep after producing classic winners Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, and Curlin the last few years.
"Everybody seems to follow the leader in this business and the Arkansas Derby has been good the last couple of years,'' said Andrew Byrnes, NYRA's stakes coordinator. "I still think we have a good race.''
War Pass, Anak Nakal, Court Vision, Inner Light, and Tale of Ekati are all expected to arrive in New York from south Florida on Thursday.
Anak Nakal, who like War Pass is trained by Nick Zito, worked four furlongs in 47.20 seconds Monday morning at Palm Meadows. Court Vision worked four furlongs in 49.60 seconds at Payson Park on Monday while his stablemate, Inner Light, worked five furlongs in 1:03 on Saturday. Court Vision and Inner Light are both trained by Bill Mott and are owned wholly or in part by WinStar Farm.
Chavez to ride Giant Moon
With Ramon Dominguez at Oaklawn to ride Ginger Punch in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom, Jorge Chavez has picked up the mount on Giant Moon for the Wood. Giant Moon suffered his first career loss when he finished last in the Gotham on March 10, a race that was run over a sloppy track.
Richard Schosberg, the trainer of Giant Moon, noted that Chavez rode Affirmed Success for him and owner Al Fried for the first four years of that gelding's career and won several stakes on him, including the Grade 1 Cigar Mile.
"The first time a rider rides this horse he messes with him a little bit,'' Schosberg said. "Jorge stays busy, and Al and I thought he'd be a good fit.''
Giant Moon completed his Wood preparations Sunday by working five furlongs in 1:01.09 over Belmont's training track in company with Mighty Morris. Schosberg said he likely won't run Giant Moon if the track is sloppy. Rain is in the forecast for Friday.
"Anything short of a deluge, I'm not too worried about,'' Schosberg said. "Last time was kind of extraordinary. It would be even more extraordinary if it happened twice."
Also working Sunday at Belmont were Texas Wildcatter, who went four furlongs in 48.92 seconds, and Spurrier, who went five furlongs in 1:00.03.
Spring at Last top weight in Carter
With Midnight Lute skipping the race, Spring at Last will be the starting highweight for Saturday's Gradeo1 Carter Handicap at 121 pounds. Commentator was also assigned 121, but he is not expected to start.
Spring at Last, who won the 2007 Godolphin Mile in Dubai, has raced only twice since then, but both were very good races. He won an optional claiming race on turf at Santa Anita on Dec. 26 before pulling a mild upset in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream on Feb. 2.
Spring at Last, trained by Doug O'Neill, was expected to fly here from California on Tuesday. Garrett Gomez will ride.
The Tony Dutrow-trained pair of Lord Snowdon and Premium Wine worked five furlongs in company Monday at Aqueduct. Both were timed in 1:01.58.
With Midnight Lute not coming, Richard Dutrow Jr. may run one or more of his three nominees, including Not for Money, City Attraction, and Stormin' Normandy.
Inner-track meet ends fittingly
It was only appropriate that trainers Gary Contessa and Bruce Levine won two races apiece on Sunday, the final day of racing on the inner track. The two horsemen combined to win 134 of the 708 races (18.9 percent) run over the inner track. Contessa finished with an inner-track record 82 wins, while Levine won 52 races. Richard Dutrow Jr. (30), Kiaran McLaughlin (30), and David Jacobson (27) completed the top five.
Despite not riding the final week of the meet, Ramon Dominguez was the leading rider with an inner-track record 113 wins. Alan Garcia (81), Rajiv Maragh (69), Stewart Elliott (58), and Mike Luzzi (41) and Channing Hill (41) completed the top six.
Steven Sigler's Winning Move Stable led all owners with 51 wins. Mike Repole was next with 16.