04/04/2009 12:00AM

I Want Revenge can coast into Derby

Email
Barbara D. Livingston
I Want Revenge (above) was the runaway winner of the Gotham on the inner track under Joe Talamo.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - With more than sufficient graded stakes earnings and an eye-catching victory in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes on his resume, I Want Revenge has already established his credentials for next month's Kentucky Derby.

So while I Want Revenge will certainly be a short-priced favorite for Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the focus is more on dealing with the race than dominating it.

"I don't think winning's everything in this race," Jeff Mullins, the trainer of I Want Revenge, said Thursday morning after watching his sleek-looking colt jog once around Aqueduct's main track. "You'd love to win - you always love to win - but as long as the horse is moving forward, all we need is for him to get something out of this race and for him to stay healthy for another four weeks."

The needs of I Want Revenge's seven rivals are much greater. With the exception of West Side Bernie, all of the other horses would need a first- or second-place finish to qualify for the Derby. If the Derby overfills with more than 20 entries - as is expected - the top 20 get in based on earnings in graded stakes. That drops to 19 if Mafaaz runs. Mafaaz earned an automatic Derby berth with his victory in the Kentucky Derby Challenge last month at Kempton.

"It's comforting knowing we have enough money to get in," Mullins said. "As long as we don't regress here, I think we'll be all right."

I Want Revenge may simply be better than his Wood opponents. In the Gotham, he pressed the pacesetting Mr. Fantasy, took control turning for home, and drew clear impressively under Joe Talamo, winning by 8 1/2 lengths.

Imperial Council, making his two-turn and stakes debut, rallied to get second after racing farther back than he had in his career.

The Wood could have more speed in it than the Gotham. Lord Justice, a front-running allowance winner here on March 6, is certain to go from post 2 under Chuck Lopez. Just a Coincidence, who has been up close in a pair of one-turn mile victories at Gulfstream, is likely to show speed, as is Atomic Rain, part of a coupled entry with West Side Bernie.

Mullins, who is not thrilled with his horse having drawn the rail, says I Want Revenge is versatile enough to run however the pace dictates.

"It's nice to have a horse that's tactical, but he will rate," Mullins said.

Shug McGaughey, the trainer of Imperial Council, said his horse will be closer to the pace in the Wood than he was in the Gotham. Imperial Council showed good speed in his three starts previous to the Gotham, which were all run around one turn. Edgar Prado, aboard for those first three races, will be back aboard Imperial Council on Saturday.

"I think we'll be within striking distance," said McGaughey, a two-time Wood winner.

McGaughey also believes switching from Aqueduct's inner track - the surface over which the Gotham was run - to the outer track will make "a big difference."

"I look forward to getting him on there," McGaughey said. "Big turns; not as much of a go-cart track as the other one."

West Side Bernie has enough earnings to make the Derby field, but his connections couldn't consider going off his dismal sixth-place finish in the Lane's End two weeks ago. A bounce-back effort here likely lands the colt in Louisville.

West Side Bernie will be coupled with Atomic Rain, who finished second to Old Fashioned in last year's Grade 2 Remsen Stakes over the main track.

Just a Coincidence and Lime Rickey are wild cards. Just a Coincidence, trained by Nick Zito, has won his last two at Gulfstream, but attempts stakes company as well as 1 1/8 miles for the first time. John Velazquez rides.

Lime Rickey, third in a trio of turf stakes at Gulfstream, tries dirt for the first time. He is by the Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid.

Cellar Dweller scratched out of a Friday allowance race to run in the Wood, his connections believing a third- or fourth-place finish would be "a home run," according to trainer John Campo Jr.

The Wood is the centerpiece of an 11-race card that includes the Gradeo1 Carter, the Grade 2 Bay Shore, and the Grade 2 Excelsior. Those races make up an all-stakes pick four with a guaranteed pool of $400,000.

The Wood and Carter will be shown live on MSG-Plus beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.

::