Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Sue Kawczynski
The Wood Memorial lived up to its hype, and then some as your winner, Wicked Strong, rallied past the top two betting choices in Samraat and Social Inclusion for a very impressive score. Wicked Strong redeemed himself after a brutal winter down in Florida and validated himself as a legit 2014 Kentucky Derby contender in the process. Here’s my take on the key players and what to expect down the line…
Wicked Strong – I chased this one all winter down at Gulfstream and he repaid me for my loyalty with a very nice win. In the Wood, he broke well and was racing on the inside into the first turn. He was about four-five lengths off a strong pace stalking down the backstretch while still on the inside. While rounding the turn he tipped out and began making his move. Entering the stretch he was about four lengths off the leader and had work to do. I must admit I was not positive he was going to get there. Once in the lane, it took him a bit to get on his right lead, but as soon as he did he took off and mowed down his rivals for the victory. I was very impressed by his performance and I believe he stamped himself a major Derby contender in the process.
Social Inclusion – I was very much against him going into this, but I was scared. Before the race when he was strutting around the paddock in front of his confident connections, and although he was a bit hot I thought he looked fantastic and I was worried I made a bad decision by leaving him off my tickets. Ultimately he fell short, but he proved to me he was indeed the real deal. With a better post position he may have been your winner. He broke widest of all and had to expend some energy to get position up front. As a result of his post position, he went about four wide into the clubhouse turn while pressing the pace. Once on the backstretch he dueled for the lead through strong fractions. Rounding the far turn he put his pace foe away and entered the stretch with a two length lead. His pilot Luis Contreras took a peak back through his arms and I thought he was gone. In hindsight, maybe he looked back because he knew he was in trouble because he ultimately ran out of gas as Wicked Strong blew by him and Samraat beat him for the place and probably knocked him out of the Derby in the process. Maybe the post and pace did him in, or maybe he doesn’t want a route of ground? It’s a tough call and although he did endure a tough trip, if he makes the cut for the Derby I would be against. With that said though, I think this horse is super talented and is a very exciting prospect.
Samraat – Heading into this race I was very high on his chances of taking this down. He really grew on me over the winter as he kept grinding out those wins in New York. He finished second in here, and while on the surface that doesn’t sound bad, I do have concerns moving forward. He got a perfect ride and trip today and still came up short and I do not think he wants any part of the Derby distance of 1 ¼ miles. In the Wood, he broke very sharp and was out front in the first hundred yards, but conceded the lead entering the first turn while racing two-three wide. He went on to enjoy a very nice pressing trip down the back side and rounding the turn he was called upon for his run. It became evident pretty quickly though that he was not gaining on the leader. In the stretch he never swapped leads, and in my opinion, the fact he got up for the place had more to do with Social Inclusion running out of gas. I know this was only one race, but I do not think I want any part of him in Kentucky. I am officially off his bandwagon due to distance concerns. He ran his race and had no excuse at all.
Uncle Sigh – This Gary Contessa trained colt broke a step slow and that may have made all the difference. I am not saying he would have won, but he very well could have hit the board. Once he did break slow though, he was then caught about five wide into the first turn. He then stalked the pace down the backstretch while racing three wide and was asked to make his moving rounding the turn. He never looked like a winner, but he was passing horses late in the stretch to finish a respectable fifth considering his trouble. If he makes the cut for the Derby I would definitely consider using him underneath.
As we put the Wood Memorial behind us, I think you have to consider Wicked Strong a major player in the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Florida did not agree with him at all and I believe this victory was no fluke. He is indeed a genuine contender in Louisville. As for the other major players I want no part of Samraat at 1 ¼ miles. I was not impressed with his performance at all. His arch rival on the other hand, Uncle Sigh, had a legit excuse today and was running at the end. I do not think he is a win candidate in Kentucky, but he could definitely round out a Tri or Super. And lastly, Social Inclusion, if he were to get into the Derby field, I would be against. I thought he ran fantastic today, but having not raced as a two year old and the fact I still have distance questions with him, makes him a pass for me.