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Alpha and Gemologist set to clash in the Wood Memorial

Seeing Union Rags finish third in the Florida Derby (G1) made me think of the 1973 Wood Memorial (video), which was one of the greatest Derby prep upsets in history. Secretariat had been riding a 10 race win streak, that did include the much disputed disqualification in the 1972 Champagne Stakes. Big Red, who was suffering from a large abscess in his bottom lip, was never in contention in the Wood Memorial as he finished a lackluster third behind Sham and his stable mate Angle Light who won the race.
 
Secretariat entered the 1973 Wood having won the Bay Shore on March 17, the Gotham on April 7, and the Wood itself was run on April 21.  Today the seven furlong Bay Shore is on the Wood undercard. Then the Wood was run a mere two weeks before the Kentucky Derby. Sham won the Santa Anita Derby on March 31, just three weeks before the Wood and also went on to the Derby.
 
Secretariat and eight other horses went from losing the Wood Memorial to victory in the Derby. Omaha not only won the Derby but also swept the Triple Crown in 1935. That group includes the filly Genuine Risk (1980), Monarchos (2001), and Funny Cide (2003).
 
Eleven winners of the Wood Memorial have won the Derby with the first one being Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in 1930. There were four other Triple Crown winners: Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Secretariat (1973), and Seattle Slew (1977).  Fusaichi Pegasus was the most recent to win the Derby in 2000.
 
Twenty Wood Memorial winners were named champions.  The list begins with Gallant Fox in 1930, and ends with Easy Goer in 1989. Five other Wood runners also went on to be champions.  Hall of Famers lead the victor’s list with jockey Eddie Arcaro hitting the winner’s circle nine times and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons training seven. Amongst active trainers Nick Zito has won the Wood three times, most recently with Bellamy Road in 2005.
 
Almost all of the Wood Memorial winners have gone on to run in the Kentucky Derby with 23 of them ending up as the Run to the Roses favorite. Native Dancer (1953), Bold Ruler (1957), Damascus (1967), and Easy Goer (1987) make an illustrious list of beaten Derby favorites that won this Aqueduct race as their final prep.
 
Here is the field for the 88th running of the Wood Memorial:
 
Alpha has won both of his Aqueduct inner track stakes starts in 2012.  In both the Count Fleet and the Withers (G3) the Bernardini colt has won from off the pace in impressive fashion.  Alpha currently has $180,000 in graded earnings, which is 20th ranked.  Jockey Ramon Dominguez plans to be back riding for the Wood.  At Tuesday’s NTRA teleconference Dominguez said that, “Alpha has a high cruising speed that will help him get the distance and his gallop outs have been strong.”
 
Trainer Nick Zito will send out Casual Trick in the Wood, a race which Zito has won three times. Casual Trick is a $450,000 Bernardini colt that has only won his maiden race. He has finished second in the Gulfstream Park Derby behind Reveron, the Florida Derby (G1) place horse. Since then he has two very poor races at Gulfstream.  Zito said, “This one has been an up and down deal.” Casual Trick had some minor surgery to correct some breathing problems caused by a flipped palate.
 
My Adonis enters the Wood as another horse in need of earnings. The Kelly Breen runner currently has $130,000 in graded stakes purses, which at this time ranks him in 26th place.  His last two races have been very determined efforts with a third in the Holy Bull (G3) and a second behind Hansen in the Gotham (G3).  The Pleasantly Perfect colt zipped four furlongs in 47.12, fastest of 17 at the distance.  “The horse worked great, and he came out of it great,” said trainer Kelly Breen. “He’ll tell us his story in the Wood. If he jumps up and runs a big race, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
 
Teeth of the Dog enters this grade one race off of a maiden victory at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4.  This son of Bluegrass Cat, who is trained by Michael Matz, has been working steadily at Palm Meadows in Florida.
 
Street Life is a late developing colt who has won his last two starts on the Aqueduct inner track.  Trained by Chad Brown his most recent victory came from off the pace in the Broad Brush Stakes. That win came on the heels of a maiden special weight at a distance of ground. The Street Sense colt recently breezed a half-mile in 48.10, which was the second fastest of 43 at the distance over Belmont Park's training track.
 
Undefeated Gemologist runs for the WinStar Farm team and trainer Todd Pletcher.  Those are the same connections of Super Saver that won the 2010 Kentucky Derby. Gemologist, a son of Tiznow, won all three of his starts in 2011 including the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs.  He came back this year with an impressive allowance win at Gulfstream. Gemologist is currently ranked 4th in AndyScoggin's Derby Top 10
 
“We came in with high hopes this winter, as he was undefeated as a 2-year-old with two wins at Churchill Downs,” said Pletcher. “Because his return was delayed, he might have been a little under the radar for some, but certainly not for us. From a conditioning standpoint, I thought he got exactly what he needed. Hopefully, he continues moving forwardly.”
 
Gemologist needs a big performance in the Wood to make the Derby field as he is currently ranked 37th in graded stakes earnings according to Horse Racing Nation with $103,855.
 
The new Sagamore Farms has entered Tiger Walk in the hopes of getting another Wood victory for the Maryland farm. The old Sagamore won with Native Dancer (#1 in HRN’s Top 10 Gray Horses) . In the Withers and the Gotham Tiger Walk had competitive third and fourth place finishes.
 
The Lumber Guy has only run two times but both have resulted in dominating victories.  He won his maiden race at Aqueduct by over nine lengths and then went to Laurel to win the Miracle Wood Stakes by four. He is clearly the hunch bet with Lumber in his name and a Wood win already.  Trainer Michael Hushion says, “He’s just a man, kind of at the level where you’d like them to be: strong, a little bit of a bully, and he eats real good. That’s the way you want a horse like that to be, but he’s not over the top either. He’s a nice horse to train.”
  

 

What the Nation is saying about Alpha and Gemologist set to clash in the Wood Memorial...

Gemologist and Alpha...both get the job done. Alpha--rough trip only to lose to a very tough and talented Gemologist. Both the real deal!
My Adonis has run the single fastest race in this groups but there is some doubt he can repeat it
the undefeated one will have to improve substantially to get a phtograph here
Life Street covers a lot of ground fast. if they set a fast pace , watch out.
The Wood Will answer alot of Questios for me ?
Not ready to abandon Alpha, even breaking from the one spot.
going for My Adonis..again.
Out of the rest of the field, Casual Trick looks to return to old form after having surgery to correct his breathing issues, and My Adonis keeps getting better. Those are my two picks under Gemologist.
I like Gemologist, too, but the rest of field are hard to separate.
Alpha's times were very slow. Lumber Guy should have the lead at the half with Gemologist sitting 2nd or 3rd waiting to make his move! Alpha and Tiger walk could be coming late. play Gemologist over these 3 horses and then reverse it just in case Gemologist doesn't win.C Ya at the window!!!!!!!!
Great info here on the history of the Wood, Matt ... Looking forward to seeing if either Street Life or The Lumber Guy can step up into this type of class. I agree with you that Gemologist is the one to beat.
Alpha has proven to be an Aqueduct monster, but I do not think he'll find the winner's circle this time. He faces some tough, new competition.

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Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing.

 

Matt’s articles and tweets frequently appear in the America’s Best Racing weekly Notebook. In 2012 he became a voter in the NTRA weekly polls for the Top Thoroughbred and Top Three-Year-Old.

 

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