Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Sue Kawczynski
New York has not seen a state-bred win the Kentucky Derby since Funny Cide took home the roses in 2003. This Saturday at New York's city track, the state's two best shots in more than a decade will take center stage. That is when Aqueduct Racetrack will host the $1,000,000 Twinspires.com Wood Memorial and round three between Samraat and Uncle Sigh.
The first two rounds went to Samraat and trainer Rick Violette. First in the Withers and then again in the Gotham, Samraat held off Uncle Sigh in a pair of thrilling stretch runs.
"Only somebody that has a personal bias would not acknowledge the kind of performances we've seen from Samraat and Uncle Sigh" said New York Racing Association Handicapper Andy Serling.
With the Kentucky Derby picture getting cloudier by the day, both Samraat and Uncle Sigh have been able to stay consistent. Consistently good. Some naysayers might argue that the talent in those two New York prep races has not been on par with races in Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas or California. That may very well be true. But come Saturday the two New York rivals will have their chance to prove them wrong with a starting gate full of top horses.
"The Wood is going to be much tougher" Serling points out. "Social Inclusion is a freakishly good horse. How he will do in a more competitive environment with more speed in the race remains to be seen, but he is obviously a very talented horse."
Social Inclusion ran away from the field and one-time Derby front-runner Honor Code in an Allowance race last month at Gulfstream Park. The lightly raced three-year-old set a track record in a 1 1/16-mile race finishing in 1:40.97. That was just the second career start for Social Inclusion. Honor Code has since been taken off the Kentucky Derby trail following an injury in March.
In the Withers it was Samraat, Uncle Sigh and then everyone else. In the Gotham the pair was pushed by In Trouble who delivered a game effort finishing third. He then came back to finish fourth in the Louisiana Derby before a disqualification pushed him back to fifth. The duo is expected to face a stiffer challenge this Saturday, but if the previous two races are any indication, the New York-breds will be ready.
Serling, known for his on-air personality, is not afraid to share his opinion. Take it or leave it, he thinks these two colts rank right up there with the others grabbing the most attention.
"These performances by them have been every bit as good, if not better than virtually every three-year-old prep we have seen" the outspoken handicapper said confidently.
Serling, continuing his praise of Samraat and Uncle Sigh, said "to deny that these horses have run two of the better prep races run in this country is just foolish."
If rounds one and two are any indication, Samraat will take more money on Saturday than Uncle Sigh. But that is not to say the former is better than the latter.
"My horse is still very young," trainer Gary Contessa said after Uncle Sigh's place finish in the Gotham. "He was intimidated and he got bumped, and he might have been a little bit cautious down in there, but we're getting better" Contessa continued.
Suggesting we still have not seen the full potential of Uncle Sigh, the handicapper with a good eye agrees.
"(Uncle Sigh) was never in a comfortable position" Serling said. "In (the Withers) he was on the inside and being pursued. In a fairly run race and you have two horses you always like to be on the outside unencumbered."
In the Gotham, Uncle Sigh found himself between two horses, Samraat on the outside and In Trouble on the inside.
"It is far from conclusive who ran the better races between Uncle Sigh and Samraat," the Saratoga Springs native said with a smile.
It is no secret Andy Serling takes pride in the current and future state of racing in New York and is pulling for the two big stars.
"I will be rooting for them but I am also realistic. Having said that, I do believe these horses are extremely legitimate racehorses and they will prove that over time."
Saturday's 1 1/8 mile trip around The Big A oval will be broadcast live for a national audience on NBC Sports Network. That should give someone with a personal bias the chance to change their opinion. An in-the-money finish for either colt should leave them with enough points to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby on May 3rd. A place in the gate gives Samraat and Uncle the chance to become the first NY-bred to take home the roses since 2003. And, well wouldn't that just be 'Funny'.
~Written by Jim Gazzale of The Chalk Twitter - @TheChalkBlog