12/09/2010 3:51PM

As usual, Wood highlights Aqueduct winter meet

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. − The Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial and the return of the Tom Fool and Jerome highlight Aqueduct’s 2011 winter/spring stakes schedule, released Thursday by the New York Racing Association.

Aqueduct will offer 29 stakes worth $3.59 million over 80 days of racing from Jan. 1 through April 23.

The highlight of the meet will be the Wood Memorial on April 9. A key prep for the Kentucky Derby, the Wood could feature likely 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo, whose owner, Mike Repole, is a native New Yorker who has expressed an interest in running Uncle Mo in the Wood as his final prep for the Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs.

The Wood tops a card that includes the Grade 1 Carter, the Grade 3 Bay Shore, and the Grade 3 Comely. The Comely, for 3-year-old fillies, was moved to the Wood card and received a $50,000 increase to $150,000. Previously, it had been run a week after the Wood.

The Grade 3 Excelsior, previously run on Wood Day, was moved to the April 2 card after its purse was cut from $200,000 to $100,000 because it lost its Breeders’ Cup purse enhancement.

In 2010, NYRA cut the Tom Fool and Jerome from its schedule. In order to maintain their status as graded events, both were brought back. The Tom Fool, formerly run during the Belmont spring meet, will be run March 5 as a Grade 2, $150,000 event. That represents a $50,000 purse increase from 2009. The Grade 3, $100,000 Toboggan has been moved from the first weekend of March to Jan. 22, replacing the $65,000 Paumonok, which has been eliminated from the schedule.

The Jerome, a race for 3-year-olds previously run during the Belmont fall meet, was moved to April 23, replacing the Withers, which will be jettisoned for 2011. Run as a one-turn mile, the Jerome will be the closing-day feature at Aqueduct as the following day is Easter when there is no racing.

Belmont Park will open April 29.

While NYRA did not release the Belmont stakes schedule for the 2011 spring/summer meet, NYRA’s president, Charles Hayward, did say there could be a couple of four-day race weeks before the July 22 opening of Saratoga. Purses on those weeks could be on par with Saratoga so that horsemen aren’t inclined to wait for Saratoga to run their horses.

Hayward also said there would be twilight racing on Fridays on July 1, 8, and 15 as well as Monday on July 4.