Wood Memorial is the last major New
York prep race for the Kentucky Derby, and
throughout its history has been a significant springboard to success at
Churchill Downs. Beginning with Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in 1930, 11 Wood
winners have gone on to take the Run for the Roses.
among them are Triple Crown winners Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946) and
Seattle Slew (1977), as well as Twenty Grand (1931), Johnstown (1939), Hoop Jr.
(1945), Foolish Pleasure (1975), Bold Forbes (1976), Pleasant Colony (1981)
and Fusaichi Pegasus (2000).
a handful of Wood winners have gone on to run in the Derby, with 24 of them
taking the favorite’s role. The roster of Wood winners who were beaten favorites
in the Derby reads like a Who’s Who in Racing,
notably Easy Goer (1989), Damascus (1967), Bold
Ruler (1957), Nashua (1955), Native Dancer (1953) and Phalanx
The most stunning upset in Wood
Memorial history was in 1973. Secretariat proved no match for his stablemate,
Angle Light, who zipped into the lead and never looked back, leaving the wonder
horse to finish third. Hall of Fame trainer Lucien Laurin blamed an abscess in
the colt’s mouth for the loss, but many handicappers felt the race exposed
Secretariat’s distance limitations. Of course, they were proven wrong.
Secretariat was one of a number
of horses who lost the Wood but went on to win at Churchill Downs. Triple Crown
winner Omaha lost the Wood, as did Monarchos (2001) and Funny Cide (2003), both
of whom finished second but went on to win the Derby. Other runners-up who came
back to win in Louisville were Middleground, who finished second in the 1950
Wood; Carry Back, who was second in 1961; Genuine Risk, who was third in 1980
and Go for Gin, who was second in 1994.
First run in 1925, the race was
named in honor of Eugene D. Wood, a politician and racing enthusiast who was a
founder of the old Jamaica Racetrack, where the race was run until 1960.
The late Hall of Famer Eddie Arcaro holds the
record for the most victories in the Wood by a jockey with nine; trainer “Sunny”
Jim Fitzsimmons, also a Hall of Famer, holds the record for trainers with seven
Wood Memorial winners. Among contemporary trainers, Hall of Fame trainer Nick
Zito has three Wood wins on his resume, most recently with Bellamy Road, who set
a stakes record of 1:47.16 in 2005.