03/29/2009 11:00PM

Imperial Council tunes up for Wood


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Imperial Council will be given the best chance by most handicappers to upset probable odds-on favorite I Want Revenge in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. On Sunday, trainer Shug McGaughey did his best to have Imperial Council ready for the challenge by having the colt work a sharp half-mile at the Payson Park training center in Florida.

Imperial Council, beaten 8 1/2 lengths by I Want Revenge when second in the Grade 3 Gotham here March 7, worked four furlongs in 48 seconds, equaling the fastest time of 24 works at the distance. According to McGaughey, Imperial Council galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.40.

"We wanted a fairly sharp work yesterday, hopefully just to get him in the ballgame when the time comes, and I think we accomplished that," McGaughey said Monday morning by phone from Florida. "He seemed to come out of it fine."

It was only the second work Imperial Council has had since the Gotham, but McGaughey said that was on purpose. The deeper dirt surface at Payson Park is designed to get a horse fit without having a lot of works.

"They're not half-mile works then pulling him up," McGaughey said. "He's galloping out good and strong over a deeper track. I think he's done everything we wanted him to do; I got no qualms."

Imperial Council was scheduled to fly to New York on Wednesday and he will be vanned right to Aqueduct, as will Gone Astray, a 3-year-old McGaughey hopes to run in an allowance race on Wood Day. Wednesday is the same day that I Want Revenge is expected to arrive at Aqueduct from Southern California. Atomic Rain and West Side Bernie are already at Aqueduct. Lime Rickey and Just a Coincidence are expected in from Florida on Wednesday, though they'll be based at Belmont.

The Wood lost one player on Monday as the connections of Danger to Society have opted to run in the $1 million Arkansas Derby. The Wood might pick up one starter as Lord Justice is now "50-50" to run, according to trainer Todd Pletcher. Lord Justice, who won a first-level allowance race here March 6, was entered in Saturday's Illinois Derby.

It will more than likely take a top-two finish in the Wood for Imperial Council to make it into the Kentucky Derby field. Otherwise, he won't accrue enough graded stakes earnings to get in the race. That's fine with McGaughey, who doesn't want to be in the Derby unless he has a "serious, serious" chance of winning it.

McGaughey said the Wood should give him an idea how serious a horse Imperial Council is.

"I think all his races have been very solid races," McGaughey said. "We'll see if he's got the substance of what it takes to be able to handle all this, and that's one of the reasons that you run is to evaluate those things. If he shows that he's not ready for those pressure-cooker-type races that the Kentucky Derby is, we'll elect to miss it. If he goes over there and handles the Wood and the mile and an eighth the right way, then we'll push on.

"Everybody wants to win the Derby, and I'm no exception, but I don't want to be wrong."

On Monday, Just a Coincidence drilled four furlongs in 46.80 seconds at Gulfstream Park, the fastest of 28 drills at the distance. Trainer Nick Zito called the work sensational.

"He's a bull right now," Zito said.

Zito said John Velazquez, and not Paco Lopez, would ride Just a Coincidence in the Wood.

On Sunday, I Want Revenge worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds at Hollywood Park.

Danger to Society to Ark. Derby

When Danger to Society scratched out of Saturday's Florida Derby, the belief was that he was headed to the Wood Memorial. But with zero graded stakes earnings, Danger to Society will make his next start in the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 11. A top-two finish in that race should guarantee a berth in the Kentucky Derby, something that would not be the case were Danger to Society to finish second in the Wood.

"He wants to take his best chance that he can run in the Derby," trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said, referring to Lansdon Robbins, owner of Danger to Society. "If he finished second in the Wood, that doesn't help him much."

Second in Arkansas is worth $200,000, whereas second in the Wood is $150,000. Last year, the 20th starter in the Kentucky Derby, Denis of Cork, had graded stakes earnings of $164,700. The first horse excluded from the Derby was Halo Najib, who had graded earnings of $157,996.

Dutrow believes the Arkansas Derby is a more wide-open race than the Wood Memorial. In the Wood, Dutrow said, I Want Revenge "is pretty much in control of things. The Arkansas Derby, there is a question mark around a few horses that looked good before."

On Monday, Danger to Society worked six furlongs in 1:13.40 at Gulfstream. He is scheduled to ship to Arkansas on Wednesday.

Understatement sharp for Carter

Understatement readied for his stakes debut in Saturday's Grade 1 Carter with a sharp four-furlong drill in 46.64 seconds Sunday over a sloppy, sealed Belmont training track. Understatement, a son of Distorted Humor, went 2 for 2 over Aqueduct's inner track this winter, with both races at 1 1/16 miles. The Carter is run at seven furlongs.

"Understatement worked fantastic yesterday," Jonathan Thomas, a Pletcher assistant, said Monday. "He had to work over a sealed track, but he handled it very well. He's a horse that we feel has a lot of ability and we're all very excited about running him."

Trainer King Leatherbury said he wasn't that pleased with Toboggan Stakes winner Ah Day's workout over the weekend at Laurel, and he wanted to see how the horse trained Tuesday before deciding whether or not to enter the Carter.

Others pointing to the Carter are Biker Boy, Driven by Success, Eternal Star, Fabulous Strike, Kodiak Kowboy, Tale of Ekati, and True Quality.