Updated on 09/16/2011 7:11AM

Wood winner Buddha reminiscent of Congaree


JAMAICA, N.Y. - Trainer James Bond has waited nearly 28 years to get to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby with a horse. Another two weeks won't matter.

While Medaglia d'Oro and Sunday Break, the second- and third-place finishers in Saturday's Wood Memorial, were scheduled to be flown Tuesday from New York to Louisville for the May 4 Kentucky Derby, Bond said he would keep Wood winner in New York for the next two weeks.

In fact, the conservative Bond is not totally committing Buddha to the race, saying if he sees anything amiss the next two weeks, he would sit the Derby out.

"I want to do what's best for the horse," said Bond, who added that he is 80-percent certain Buddha will run in the Derby. "The Travers is what I really want, but how could I say I wouldn't want to win a Kentucky Derby? And how could you deny a horse that's done everything perfect so far that chance, as long as you don't think it's going to hurt him?"

Bond said Buddha would do the bulk of his training for the Derby at Belmont Park before shipping to Louisville the week of April 29. Bond plans to work Buddha twice at Belmont, eschewing the widely held belief that a horse train over Churchill's surface leading up to the Derby.

"I don't think it's necessary he has to work over the track," Bond said. "You know it's going to be fast that day. The track that we train on five days out is probably not going to be the same track you run on the day of the race. What is the rush to get there?"

While Buddha's hard-fought victory by a head over Medaglia d'Oro in Saturday's Wood Memorial made him 3 for 3 this year, Buddha still has made only four starts in his career. One has to go back to Exterminator in 1918 to find a Derby winner who entered the race with only four lifetime starts.

Since then, 25 horses with four career starts or fewer have attempted to win the Derby. The best finish was Strodes Creek, who ran second in 1994. The last horse with four starts to attempt winning the Derby was Congaree, who finished third last year after winning the Wood Memorial.

In fact, Buddha's pre-Derby campaign virtually mirrors that of Congaree.

Both debuted in September of their juvenile seasons, in losing efforts. Both needed surgery following their debuts. Congaree had a chip taken out of a knee; Buddha had an operation to fix an entrapped epiglottis.

, who was trained by Bob Baffert, won his maiden in February and a preliminary allowance race in March in Southern California. Buddha won his maiden in February and took an entry-level allowance race in March in south Florida. Congaree, son of Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and beaten Derby favorite Arazi, won the Wood as the second choice behind Monarchos. Buddha, son of Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and beaten Derby favorite Unbridled's Song, won the Wood as the second choice behind San Felipe winner Medaglia d'Oro.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Congaree and Buddha was that Congaree had an easy race in the Wood while Buddha was in a dogfight. Congaree ran a fantastic race in the Derby, and possibly the ease with which he had won his three previous races worked against him in the final furlong of the Derby.

Bond said he was happy to see Buddha have a tough race in the Wood, though he knows every horse reacts differently. Bond recalled the 1996 Jim Dandy, when his Will's Way was defeated by Louis Quatorze in a gut-wrenching effort. Will's Way came back three weeks later to win the Travers.

"I thought it was a really hard race, but actually I think he got better for it, and he won the Travers," said Bond, who took out his trainer's license in 1973 at age 16. "I lay awake thinking about that [Saturday] night, hoping that this race wasn't too much, that it was just a learning race. One thing that encouraged me was talking to Pat [Day]. He said when Medaglia d'Oro came to him and looked him in the eye he dug in again, and that's a sign of a really good horse to do that in his third start basically."