04/06/2015 2:59PM

Road to the Derby analysis: Wood Memorial

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Barbara D. Livingston
Frosted wins the Wood Memorial, improving greatly from his previous race, the Gotham.

Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial, 1 1/8 miles, Aqueduct, April 4, 2015
(100 Derby qualifying points for a win, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth)

Winner: Frosted

Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Owner: Godolphin Racing LLC

Beyer Speed Figure: 103

FROSTED rebounded from his strange performance in the Fountain of Youth, in which he went from looking like a certain winner a quarter-mile out to falling apart through the lane to finish fourth. Had he won that race, he would have been viewed far differently heading into the Wood. Instead, he was one of the more inscrutable entrants. Which Frosted would show up? The good one, it turned out.

As colleague David Grening was first to report, Frosted had minor throat surgery between the Fountain of Youth and the Wood. In addition, the blinkers that he used for the first time in the Fountain of Youth were cut back for the Wood, giving him a bigger field of vision. He changed riders to Joel Rosario. He changed tactics, this time being taken back to make one run. And he returned to Aqueduct, where last fall he won a maiden race and then was a sharp second in the Remsen over a track that had an inside bias which hindered his performance.

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays

In the Wood, Frosted was wrestled back during the early going and was in front of just one horse, while three paths wide, on the first turn. He remained widest of all down the backstretch while still being restrained, and went into the far turn four paths wide, though the wide trip enabled him to avoid the severe kickback. He moved after the leaders while still not being asked for his best, set after TENCENDUR in upper stretch and went by him under a hand ride.

This was a terrific performance by Frosted, who always has hinted at potential and now might be reaching it at precisely the right time. He ran the fourth quarter-mile of the race, from the three-furlong split to the furlong pole, in about 24 seconds, then finished up well, closing strongly into a moderate pace. He will face better at the Kentucky Derby, but if he can repeat the quality of this race, he will be a major factor at Churchill Downs.

Tencendur, who finished second, turned in by far the best race of his career in his first start away from Aqueduct’s inner track. He was just off the early leaders while three paths wide entering the first turn, then moved up on the far turn while still three paths wide to engage TOASTING MASTER and DAREDEVIL. He took the lead at the quarter pole, and though he couldn’t stave off Frosted despite being asked for everything by jockey Jose Ortiz, he did  hold second over EL KABEIR. He changed leads this time, which he did not do in the Gotham or Withers. If he goes to the Derby, he likely would need a new rider, since Ortiz rides Upstart.

El Kabeir, who finished third, was fifth while racing two paths off the rail around the first turn and into the backstretch. Nearing the far turn, he could not keep up and dropped back to last. He was taken outside horses on the far turn and essentially followed Frosted around that turn, but lost ground to Frosted over the final three furlongs, and only passed tired horses. Perhaps the kickback impacted him down the backstretch, but his effort the final three furlongs was insufficient. He’s had a great winter on the inner at Aqueduct, but the waters are getting deeper now.

Longtime followers of Derby Watch know I’ve been skeptical of Daredevil’s ability to handle two turns, and he failed to change that perception here by fading to fourth after dueling through moderate fractions with 42-1 Toasting Master. Their quarter-mile and half-mile fractions were significantly slower than that carved out by the filly Condo Commando in 1 1/8-mile Gazelle two races earlier. Daredevil broke half a step slowly, but had the speed to go up and engage Toasting Master heading into the first turn while under a snug hold by jockey Javier Castellano. He was asked to pick it up with three furlongs to go when Tencendur ranged up outside him, but was backing out of it at the top of the lane and steadily retreated.

TIZ SHEA D, who finished fifth, was right behind Toasting Master while fourth along the rail around the first turn, then came off the rail down the backstretch and raced in the two path, allowing LIEUTENANT COLONEL to come up inside him, with Frosted to his outside. He was ridden along aggressively with three furlongs to go, but was simply outrun.

Toasting Master, who was sixth, was sent away from the gate to secure the lead and the rail. He had Daredevil just to his outside for the first six furlongs, then was joined by Tencendur on the far turn. He was passed by Tendencur and then Frosted in upper stretch, but remained with Daredevil until the furlong pole and then faded.

Lieutenant Colonel, who finished last of seven, broke a step slowly and then found himself near the back of the pack, along the rail, around the first turn. He made a solid mid-race move down the backstretch to enter contention while advancing inside Tiz Shea D, and was fourth with three furlongs to go while right behind Toasting Master, but was outfooted on the far turn and was already last by the time the field came into the stretch. After two straight graded stakes starts following a debut win against maidens for Lieutenant Colonel, perhaps it’s time to try a first-level allowance.