04/05/2012 11:33AM

Weekend Warrior for April 7: Picks for Wood Memorial, Illinois Derby, Santa Anita Derby

Barbara D. Livingston
My Adonis is the only member of the Wood Memorial field to have paired up Beyer Speed Figures of 90 or higher.

There are important cards Saturday at Aqueduct and Santa Anita, but without question, the main focus of the day concerns major final Kentucky Derby preps.

The Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial is the headliner at Aqueduct. Three other graded stakes races also will be decided there, the biggest of those being the Grade 1, $400,000 Carter Handicap.

The Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby is the main event at Santa Anita, where two Grade 2 events will be run on the undercard.

The third potential Kentucky Derby prep is the Grade 3, $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne. Keeneland, meanwhile, has the day’s other Grade 1 race, the $500,000 Ashland.

Wood Memorial

The undefeated Gemologist will be the favorite, and the good news for him is when he won his recent 3-year-old debut at Gulfstream, he did so easily while also earning a 95 Beyer Speed Figure that was significantly better than the three numbers he received last year. On the other hand, horses often earn breakthrough Beyers when they encounter optimal conditions, and the conditions for Gemologist last time out were certainly optimal. He cruised on an easy early lead and was in with horses who were simply incapable of challenging him. Gemologist will be a low price again Saturday, but faces much tougher company this time. No one would be surprised if he won, but he’s not a great bet.

[WOOD MEMORIAL: LIVE Video, handicapping analysis, news updates, contender replays]

Alpha and Street Life also will be well backed. Alpha dominated two Aqueduct inner track stakes with Lasix added in his first two starts this year, but he also meets stronger company now while coming into this off a two-month layoff that is ostensibly designed to have him at his peak on Derby Day. Street Life created a buzz winning his last two on the inner track with visually impressive late runs, but he beat little in those races and is taking a massive class jump Saturday.

I like My Adonis, who is liable to be an overlay even if he ran creditably against better in his last two starts. My Adonis was easily second best most recently in the Gotham to Hansen and was game in that race, if no match for last year’s champion 2-year-old male. But when third two starts back in the Holy Bull to Algorithms, who might have been the best 3-year-old around before he was knocked off the Triple Crown trail by injury, My Adonis ran every bit as well as Hansen. My Adonis inexplicably lost contact with the Holy Bull field down the backstretch (an aberration – he never did that before or since going a middle distance), but gained ground late to fall just short of taking second money from Hansen. My Adonis has worked well since the Gotham, and he is the only member of this field to have paired up Beyers of 90 or higher.

As for the Carter, it features a rematch between Calibrachoa and Caleb’s Posse as well as a rare sprint start for last year’s Preakness winner Shackleford. Many, myself included, thought that when Caleb’s Posse fell one jump short of catching Calibrachoa in last month’s shorter Tom Fool in his first start of the year, there was no way he wouldn’t turn the tables in the Carter. Now, I’m not so sure. There is little serious speed in the Carter to assist Caleb’s Posse’s late run, and, as he did in last time, Calibrachoa might capitalize by getting first run.

Illinois Derby

Currency Swap, winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful last year and second to Gemologist in his first start this year, will be well bet here, but I’m standing against him. The big 98 Beyer that Currency Swap got in his debut win last summer has always been in question as he and the five who followed him home in that race never ran back to the figures they were given that day. Currency Swap’s Hopeful was painfully slow, and now he goes two turns for the first time.

[ILLINOIS DERBY: LIVE Video, handicapping analysis, news updates, contender replays]

I’m less against Our Entourage, because even though his two career wins came on turf, he actually ran okay in his two attempts on dirt. The problem I have with Our Entourage is, more than really fitting this race, he is in here in a last-ditch try to make the gate for the Kentucky Derby.

I’m taking a shot here with Morgan’s Guerilla. Yes, Morgan’s Guerilla comes into this off only a maiden win on the inner track at Aqueduct (which followed a second in his debut at Gulfstream), but that was a deceptively strong effort. The first two fractions Morgan’s Guerilla set in that route were the fastest first two route fractions of the entire day, and that includes a couple of stakes run later in the card, one being the Gotham, that were run over a surface that actually got faster as it dried out. Morgan’s Guerilla might be the controlling speed.

Santa Anita Derby

I have come to like almost everything about Creative Cause. I like his strong foundation and his success as a 2-year-old. I like the sprint-before-stretch-out move that preceded his victory most recently in the San Felipe, the race I think was the strongest Kentucky Derby prep so far this year. I like the three-prep plan for the Derby. And I even like that with his connections inclined to try him without blinkers, they are doing it Saturday instead of in the Derby. The only thing I don’t care for regarding Creative Cause is that he is experimenting by going without blinkers and doing so at around even money. And this is happening with a colt who was gawking at the stands through the stretch of the San Felipe as much as he was tending to business.

[SANTA ANITA DERBY: LIVE Video, handicapping analysis, news updates, contender replays]

I’m going to try Midnight Transfer here. Midnight Transfer did not stay on late when a game third in the San Felipe. However, that was Midnight Transfer’s first try around two turns, it also was his first start in almost two months, and he was much farther off the early pace than expected. A step forward and a better trip, combined with Creative Cause maybe looking around too much, could give Midnight Transfer a puncher’s chance.

◗ Let’s briefly mention the Ashland, which marks the 3-year-old bow of Stephanie’s Kitten, winner last fall of the Alcibiades over the track and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Stephanie’s Kitten has been away five months. My pick is Heart of Destiny, second in the Alcibiades, who has the advantage of a good recent prep.