04/11/2016 3:07PM

Road to the Derby: Wood Memorial

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Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial; 1 1/8 miles; Aqueduct; April 9, 2016
(100 Derby qualifying points for a win, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth)

Winner: Outwork, by Uncle Mo

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: John Velazquez

Owner: Repole Stable

Beyer Speed Figure: 93

On paper, this was an intriguing edition of the Wood, with horses shipping in from Florida and California to take on good group of locals, including SHAGAF, winner of the Gotham, as well as the late-developing MATT KING COAL.

But the result was disappointing for most of the runners. The final time of 1:52.92 was the slowest Wood at the current 1 1/8 miles, and did not compare favorably with the final time recorded by the 3-year-old filly Lewis Bay two races earlier in the Gazelle. The off track certainly contributed to the time, and the Beyer Figures reflect a belief that the track was worsening as the day progressed, but the runners crawled home, with the final three furlongs taking 40.61 seconds.

OUTWORK gets extra credit for being part of a hot pace and lasting to win. I find fewer excuses for the runners who had an advantageous race shape – like Shagaf and ADVENTIST – and couldn’t make more of an impact. But the biggest indictment is that TROJAN NATION, a maiden who was well beaten by the likes of Cupid and Hoffenheim at Santa Anita and came into the Wood with a career-best Beyer of 74, very nearly won.

Other than perhaps Outwork, who had the race shape against him and still prevailed, there’s no one out of this race I’m interested in for the Derby.

Outwork, a giant colt, benefited by drawing an outside post, so he had a clear run into the first turn. He and Matt King Coal went into the turn together, with Outwork on the outside. He stayed in that spot all the way down the backstretch and into the far turn,  edged to the front midway on the turn without being asked, drifted toward the inside after clearing Matt King Coal, and was all out to hold off Trojan Nation, who rallied along the rail.

Trojan Nation, who was second, had no early speed and was last along the inside into the first turn. He closed on the leaders on the far turn while continuing to hug the rail, squeezed through a narrow opening between the rail and Matt King Coal a furlong out, was on Outwork’s hip with a sixteenth to go, inched closer in the final yards, but couldn’t quite get by in time.

Adventist, who was third, broke well but tossed his head about heading into the first turn when TALE OF S’AVALL crossed over in front of him, raced in the clear in sixth around the first turn and down the backstretch, was angled four paths wide on the far turn, was outrun in upper stretch, then closed anew late, but I think that was far more a function of Outwork and Matt King Coal slowing down than Adventist finishing.

Matt King Coal, who was fourth, broke half a step slowly but then was sent between horses to make the top around the first turn, with Outwork shadowing him. He led narrowly down the backstretch and into the far turn, tried to stay with Outwork as the field neared the top of the stretch while appearing to want to slightly drift out, looked spent when Outwork tightened things up on him in midstretch, but only lost third in the closing yards.

Shagaf, who finished fifth, broke a bit slowly, checked slightly behind the erratic Adventist into the first turn, then settled into seventh as the leaders sped away. He closed a big gap into the far turn while inside, had to await room ever so slightly midway on the turn before a clear path opened right in front of him, bumped with Tale of S’Avall in upper stretch while securing room, but was outrun by Trojan Nation and Adventist in the closing yards while unable to get past Matt King Coal. He also switched to his wrong lead near the finish, but that might have been from shying from the tire tracks where the starting gate had been placed. He had a few minor incidents in the race, but he just doesn’t seem to be progressing.

Tale of S’Avall, who was sixth, was guided toward the rail during the run into the first turn and was mid-pack, along the rail, around the first turn. He followed Matt King Coal down the backstretch, started to be niggled at with a half-mile to go, drifted a bit off the rail nearing upper stretch to get a clear run at the leaders, bumped with Shagaf in upper stretch, and was outrun through the lane.

FLEXIBILITY, who was seventh, raced between and just in front of Tale of S’Avall and DALMORE around the first turn and down the backstretch, started to be asked to hold his position into the far turn, but had no response and yielded without a fight.

Dalmore, who finished last of eight, looked a bit uncomfortable when Outwork crossed over in front of him going into the first turn, took up a position three paths wide, outside of Tale of S’Avall and Flexibility, around the first turn and up the backstretch, entered the far turn three paths wide, was outrun midway on the turn and faded.