Updated on 09/16/2011 7:10AM

Start Big 3 Pick 3 with Saarland

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The best of this weekend's three Kentucky Derby prep races -- the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass, and Arkansas Derby -- looks like it will be the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, which features an eight-horse field made up of accomplished winners and promising up-and-comers. In addition to being a great betting race in its own right, the Wood also kicks off the very interesting Big 3 Pick 3 which combines all three Derby preps into one $1 minimum-bet wager.

The likely Wood Memorial favorite will be Medaglia d'Oro, who comes to Aqueduct off of an impressive win in the San Felipe-G2 at Santa Anita in his last start. However, Medaglia d'Oro does not look quite as good as he did before last weekend when San Felipe runner-up USS Tinosa ran up the track in the Santa Anita Derby.

With Medaglia d'Oro no longer looking unbeatable, the best option in the Wood Memorial now looks like Saarland. Saarland returned from a layoff last time out in the one-mile Gotham-G3, and ran a good second behind Mayakovsky in what amounted to a prep race. Saarland should show improvement at today's added distance (he won the Remsen Stakes-G2 at this track and distance last fall), and will benefit from his Gotham outing which was his first race in almost four months. John Velazquez will again have the mount for trainer Shug McGaughey.

The most interesting up-and-comer in the Wood looks like Buddha, who is making his stakes debut but obviously has talent based on his nine-length allowance win at Gulfstream on Florida Derby day. Buddha earned a 106 Beyer in that two-turn debut, and he should continue to only get better as he gets more experienced. Pat Day takes over the mount for the first time for trainer H. James Bond.

Medaglia d'Oro may not look as golden as he once did, but it certainly wouldn't be a surprise to see him win this race or at least hit the board for trainer Bobby Frankel. Medaglia d'Oro earned a 107 Beyer in the San Felipe where he gamely came again in the stretch to turn back the challenge of USS Tinosa. Medaglia d'Oro should get to the lead in the Wood, and he could be a threat to go all the way if not sufficiently pressured by either Buddha or Neil Drysdale's Sunday Break.

SELECTIONS:

WOOD MEMORIAL

Aqueduct, Saturday - Race 8

Grade 1, 1 1/8 miles, purse: $750,000

1) 7-Saarland

2) 1-Buddha

3) 4-Medaglia d'Oro


BIG 3 PICK 3 LEG TWO:

BLUE GRASS STAKES

Keeneland, Saturday - Race 9

Grade 1, 1 1/8 miles, purse: $750,000

1) 6-Booklet

2) 3-Harlan's Holiday

3) 5-Azillion

Was Harlan's Holiday's Florida Derby win a case of him being good, or everyone else in the race being bad? Booklet got KO'd in a speed duel in the Florida Derby and set the race up for a closer, which just happened to be Harlan's Holiday. Booklet did a good job to hold on for fourth after disouting a suicidal pace, and should do much better in the Blue Grass if able to get the lead over Ocean Sound and Bob's Image as expected. Also, Keeneland often favors early speed horses which should help Booklet hold off Harlan's Holiday and the rest in the lane. Be careful not to bet your Kentucky Derby preference in the Blue Grass stakes. This is a different race, and the best horse in the Blue Grass may not necessarily be the best Derby prospect.

BIG 3 PICK 3 LEG THREE:

ARKANSAS DERBY

Oaklawn, Saturday - Race 11

Grade 2, 1 1/8 miles, purse: $500,000

1) 11-Private Emblem

2) 8-Windward Passage

3) 10-Mr. Mellon

Trainer Steve Asmussen has an excellent chance to run 1-2 here with the winners of both of Oaklawn Park's Arkansas Derby preps, the Southwest Stakes (Private Emblem), and the Rebel-G3 (Windward Passage). Both horses are improving, both have good tactical speed, and both are already proven over the track. The slight edge goes to Private Emblem, who earned a 98 Beyer in the Southwest Stakes (faster division) and comes into the Arkansas Derby with six weeks between races. Chris McCarron comes in from California for the mount on Windward Passage. Other top contenders in the race include the 1-2 finishers in the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway, Mr. Mellon and Wild Horses.


$100 PLAY

Play No. 7 Saarland to win in the Wood Memorial and box him in exactas and trifectas with No. 1 Buddha and No. 4 Medaglia d'Oro. Leave yourself plenty of money for the Big 3 Pick 3. Use all three Wood selections with the three Blue Grass picks (No. 3 Harlan's Holiday, No. 5 Azillion, and No. 6 Booklet) and four horses from the Arkansas Derby (No. 6 Wild Horses, No. 8 Windward Passage, no. 10 Mr. Mellon, and No. 11 Private Emblem).

$2 exacta box 1-Buddha/4-Medaglia d'Oro/7-Saarland ($12 bet)

$1 trifecta box 1-Buddha/4-Medaglia d'Oro/7-Saarland ($6 bet)

$10 to win on 7-Saarland

$2 Big 3 Pick 3 box 1,4,7 / 3,5,6 / 6,8,10,11