03/30/2010 11:00PM

Jackson Bend will try to close gap in Wood

Email

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Jackson Bend was beaten 8 1/2 lengths by Eskendereya when the two met in the Fountain of Youth in February at Gulfstream Park. Trainer Nick Zito is simply hoping Jackson Bend can cut the gap when the two meet again in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

"Let's see if he can beat us two lengths,'' Zito said Thursday, before Jackson Bend drew post 5 in a field of six set to run 1 1/8 miles in the Wood. "Our deal has always been if we can get closer to the big horse, someday I'll beat him.''

In 1994, the Zito-trained Go for Gin was beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Irgun in the Wood Memorial, but came back three weeks later to win the Kentucky Derby. Jackson Bend would likely need a first- or second-place finish in the Wood to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, a field limited to 20 starters and based on graded stakes earnings if the field oversubscribes.

Calvin Borel, who won last year's Kentucky Derby aboard 50-1 shot Mine That Bird, has the call on Jackson Bend. Eskendereya, among the top Kentucky Derby contenders, drew post 3 and was installed as the 4-5 morning line favorite by Eric Donovan for the Wood, which will be televised live on NBC from 5-6 p.m. Eastern.

Though only six horses entered, the field includes impressive Gotham winner Awesome Act and Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Schoolyard Dreams. The connections of Awesome Act canceled a scheduled three-furlong blowout on Wednesday due to the wet condition of Belmont Park's training track.

The New York Racing Association avoided a potential embarrassing situation when it denied entry into the Wood to the maiden filly Nicky Boy, who had been defeated 120 3/4 lengths in two starts at Sunland Park. That decision was made easier due to the late entry of Most Happy Fella, whose presence in the field made for six runners, enabling trifecta wagering to be offered on the race.

"It's our right to not accept the entry,'' said P.J. Campo, NYRA's director of racing.

Jackson Bend was among the leading 2-year-olds in south Florida last year before Robert LaPenta purchased part interest in the colt prior to his 3-year-old season. After finishing second to Winslow Homer with trouble in the Holy Bull, Jackson Bend was one of many left in Eskendereya's wake in the Fountain of Youth, though he did finish second.

Jackson Bend does not have the physical build of a classic two-turn horse, but Zito said the horse has developed some physically over the winter.

"Everybody knows how small he is, but he looks very, very strong,'' Zito said. "His coat is fantastic. He's a gem of consistency which is his strength. He'll run his normal race; if some of the big horses don't fire he's right there.''