04/05/2012 3:39PM

Wood Memorial: Gemologist gives Pletcher another shot

Barbara D. Livingston
Gemologist will most likely need a top-two finish in Saturday’s $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct to make it into the field for this year’s Kentucky Derby.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Trainer Todd Pletcher comes to the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct with an undefeated horse who ended his 2-year-old season with a graded stakes win at Churchill Downs and began his 3-year-old campaign with a visually impressive victory in a one-turn mile race at Gulfstream Park.

That’s where Pletcher hopes the similarities between Gemologist and Uncle Mo end.

Whereas Uncle Mo finished third as the 1-10 favorite in last year’s Wood Memorial – and missed the Kentucky Derby because of illness – Gemologist will most likely need a top-two finish in Saturday’s $1 million Wood to make it into the field for this year’s Kentucky Derby on May 5.

[WOOD MEMORIAL: News updates, contender replays, watch the race live]

Earnings in graded stakes is the criteria used to determine the field for the Kentucky Derby if more than 24 horses – 20 for the body and four also-eligibles – enter the field. It could take more than $225,000 to get into this year’s Derby field, and none of the eight horses in the Wood has more than $180,000 entering the race.

Gemologist has $103,855 in graded earnings, all accrued by virtue of his victory in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill last Nov. 27.

After unsatisfactory travel arrangements prompted Pletcher and WinStar Farm, owners of Gemologist, to scrap a trip to Arkansas for the Rebel Stakes, Gemologist won a March 16 allowance race at Gulfstream by seven lengths over Grade 1 Hopeful winner Currency Swap. Gemologist ran a mile in 1:35.95 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95.

“The figures that he got for his stakes win at Churchill suggested he was in the top percentile of his crop,” Pletcher said. “His first figure this year was exactly where you’d want it to be for his first start. Anyone that saw the race knows how easily he did that. You would certainly think there is more there.”

While Gemologist won the allowance race on the lead, he demonstrated in the Kentucky Jockey Club the ability to come from off the pace.

“We were happy to see that, because the time before he was on the inside and was a bit on the bridle going into the first turn,” Pletcher said, referring to an Oct. 30 allowance win at Churchill. “I think he has options.”

Gemologist will break from post 6 under Javier Castellano. He figures to be stalking The Lumber Guy, a New York-bred who is 2 for 2 sprinting and who will break from the outside post.

“I think it would be hard to keep him off the lead going a mile and an eighth,” Mike Hushion, the trainer of The Lumber Guy, said.

Teeth of the Dog, a maiden winner at Gulfstream for trainer Michael Matz, also figures to be forwardly placed.

After spending some time in south Florida, Alpha has returned to New York, where he won the Grade 3 Withers and the Count Fleet, both over the inner track.

This race is stiffer, so Alpha will likely have to step up his game in order to win. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin thinks he’s ready to do just that.

“He’s really training great, he’s been great in the gate, hopefully all goes well,” McLaughlin said.

Alpha has had some issues at the gate, but he was perfect the last time he ran. Ramon Dominguez has the call on Alpha from the rail.

My Adonis finished second to champion Hansen in the Grade 3 Gotham. My Adonis, who shipped from south Florida for the Gotham, has remained in New York since then and has trained forwardly since, according to trainer Kelly Breen.

“Going by the conversations I’ve had with Cornelio Velasquez, who’s been working him, he thinks the horse has been a little bit more mature and a little more on the muscle,” said Breen, who has Elvis Trujillo to ride. “It seems like he’s going in the right direction.”

Street Life, a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, has won two straight races since being stretched out around two turns. He takes a step up in class, but should relish the 1 1/8 miles.

“I’m excited about the added distance. I hope I get some pace to run at, I hope he has a fair chance with pace and trip,” trainer Chad Brown said.

Junior Alvarado will ride Street Life from post 5.

Casual Trick, runner-up in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day, will be making his first start since undergoing throat surgery to correct a breathing problem that compromised him in his last two starts.

“He’s a picture of health. He galloped tremendous today. Hopefully he can get his air,” said trainer Nick Zito, a three-time winner of the Wood. “If he shows what he did in the Gulfstream Park Derby and he gets back in the game, then we’re back in business.”

Corey Nakatani rides from post 2.

Tiger Walk finished third to Alpha in the Withers and was fourth to Hansen in the Gotham when he had to break from post 13. Trainer Ignacio Correas IV doesn’t believe his horse handled the inner track very well and is hoping the switch to the outer track will benefit his horse, a son of Tale of the Cat. John Velazquez has the call from post 7.

The Wood goes as race 9 on an 11-race card and will be shown live on NBC Sports in a 90-minute telecast that begins at 4:30 p.m. Eastern and includes the Santa Anita Derby. HRTV will also provide on-site coverage of Aqueduct’s 11-race program.

The Wood is the third leg of an all-stakes pick-four that includes the Comely, Bay Shore, and Carter and has a guaranteed pool of $500,000.

Wood Memorial (G1), Post Time: 5:15 ET Saturday

Purse: $1,000,000; 1 1/8 miles





ML Odds



K. McLaughlin

R. Dominguez



Casual Trick

N. Zito

C. Nakatani



My Adonis

K. Breen

E. Trujillo



Teeth of the Dog

M. Matz

J. Bravo



Street Life

C. Brown

J. Alvarado




T. Pletcher

J. Castellano



Tiger Walk

I. Correas, IV

J. Velazquez



The Lumber Guy

M. Hushion

C. Velasquez