Wicked Strong: A connection to the past

April 08, 2014 04:02am
Wicked Strong Wood Memorial 2 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Sue Kawczynski


I remember it like it was yesterday. After disappointing in a pair of races in Florida, a well-bred, long-winded colt came north to Aqueduct, and lived up to the potential promised late in his juvenile season with a powerful come from behind victory in the Wood Memorial. It was exactly the kind of performance you want to see heading to the Kentucky Derby. The grade 1 victory not only demonstrated that the colt had turned the corner, and was heading to the first Saturday in May the right way, but it also reminded us of his powerful closing kick which looks all the more imposing considering all the early speed lining up to enter the Derby.

In the case of the Centennial Farms runner, Wicked Strong, it was just yesterday, but of course I’m not only talking about him. Those same words also fit a blast from the past, named Pleasant Colony, perfectly as well. The similarities between the two Wood Memorial winners, separated by a third of century, are obvious. Or at least that is what I thought as I watched Wicked Strong kick home with a vengeance yesterday to win New York’s predominate Kentucky Derby prep.

A quick comparison of the pair’s record through the Wood Memorial points out why I thought of Pleasant Colony before the son of Hard Spun had even hit the wire yesterday.

Each colt failed in their career debut while sprinting at Belmont Park, but bounced back to win smartly while stretching out for their second career race. Pleasant Colony did have the benefit of two more races as a juvenile, but both came to the Remsen Stakes as an unproven commodity. Just like the son of His Majesty had done 33 years earlier, Wicked Strong finished the key race at Aqueduct full of run. Interestingly, both of their late runs fell a ½-length short of a Remsen victory. 

While Wicked Strong was the victim of a tedious early pace, Pleasant Colony was actually impeded by the winner and was placed first via disqualification. While the ultimate results ended a little differently, their late runs at nine furlongs were both impressive and offered great promise for the ten furlongs to be seen the following May. Both colts concluded their two-year-old seasons with the Remsen, and were sent south to be freshened and to prepare for the Kentucky Derby trail.

In Florida, the order of the two races were reversed, but very much alike. Both Pleasant Colony and Wicked Strong had one good race, and one disaster. The former ran a good race to finish second in the 1981 Fountain of Youth, but then seemingly never lifted a hoof when beaten by 13 lengths in the Florida Derby. 33 years later, Wicked Strong threw in his head-scratcher first, beaten 15 lengths in the Holy Bull, before coming back with a much better performance. Yes, all things considered, I consider his 4th place finish in the graded stakes quality allowance to have been a promising effort. While both horses ran one decent race out of two in Florida, it was nothing like we would see a little later in the spring in the Wood Memorial.

Both Pleasant Colony and Wicked Strong entered the Wood Memorial with only one career win. Each would face a highly regarded speed horse. Cure the Blues was the big favorite 33 years ago, while yesterday it was Social Inclusion who took much of the pre-race talk. Pleasant Colony was 12-1 for the Wood; Wicked Strong went off at 9-1. After the bruising early fractions set down in 1981, Pleasant Colony was able to swallow up the leaders much earlier, while Wicked Strong needed the final furlong to blow the leaders after a much more sensible early pace was set down in front of him.

Both colts hit the wire in full flight, giving me the sense that if they could not have made it all the way to Louisville on their momentum, at least they could have gone around one more time with the same winning result. Pleasant Colony won it for Buckland Farm by three lengths in 1:49 and change. Wicked Strong won by 3 ½ lengths in 1:49 and change.

Even their trainers are near carbon copies of each other. Pleasant Colony’s man, Johnny Campo was bold and brash. New York through and through, Campo was never afraid to tell you what was on his mind, nor did he ever lack confidence in his ability as a trainer. Jimmy Jerkens … OK, maybe their conditioners really aren’t alike much at all. The son of Allen Jerkens prefers to let his horses do the talking, but you can see why I believe these two colts compare so closely.

As you know, Pleasant Colony was able to build on his Wood Memorial victory with wins in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. In the Derby, he was bet down to 7-2 and defeated a field of 21. Wicked Strong will have one less to beat at Churchill Downs, but I’m expecting his odds to be a whole lot closer to 8-1, and I’m excited about that prospect. I do believe history will repeat itself. I finally have my Kentucky Derby horse, and his name is Wicked Strong. 


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Older Comments about Wicked Strong: A connection to the past...

Is Wicked Strong hanging fire at the top of the straight seems awkward. You could argue it means he has more to come or that he won't cope with CD.
Jerkens is a really top horsemen. He probably got help from his daddy ALLAN (the Giant Killer). If he cant figure a horse out NO ONE can!!!
Comparisons to the past with other great horses makes for great print. Wicked Strong won the Wood Memorial,the one thing that can't be taken away from him. But let us not be so quick at the trigger to blame the big bad Speedway in Fla. for all of his Winter woes on the Racetrack.You see people,just like the so called juiced up tracks help the pace horses. Do not for one second think that Aqueduct on Saturday was an even track. If you watched all of the races,you would of seen a very severe closers bias(if i remember correctly W.S. CAME FROM OFF THE PACE). This bias was not the doing of the Track Superintendant,Mother Nature can take a bow and credit for it. You see on Saturday in NYC there were strong 25 -30 mile an hour winds from the North West. For those lucky enough to of never been to the big Seedy Palace, it is magnified there. Reason being it is located right off of the Bay and adjacent to JFK Airport. That being said,the NW wind direction hits horses smack in the face traveling the backstretch. the same wind when they turn for home in the stretch. This serves as a tremendous tail wind. If you don't believe me,have you ever flown and the pilot announces a tail wind will quicken the flight. 30 MPH winds are very strong in horse racing terms. Although W.S. ran and won,lets not forget he was aided,just like some are giving him a pass for his So. Fla. trip. I am not knocking W.S.,he still ran a very good race and seems to be going in the right direction. But if you analyze the race in its correct context. The much the best horse on this day was Social Inclusion. He not only battled pre race nerves that had Jerry Baily mention it was a bad sign to wash outso badly in the cold weather. He also broke tardilly from the extreme outside post. If that was not enough,he encountered pressure on the front end going into the stiff wind. With all those troubles,he still only lost by 3 lengths. A tip to those betting in the future,any horse that ran on this day on the front end,and did not fade badly. Bet them back. So it is not always a BIASED SPEED TRACK. The edge works both ways.
yes Hard Spun was ....a sprinter masquerading as a distance colt
I did read that Chitu was going into a strong headwind his last out and his time was almost identical to CC so Chitu could be chasing the lead as well!
I like the Charismatic connection. Hard Spuun was no chump either! Go Wicked Strong! I also like Candy Boy too and I think both will be chasing those leader horses Cc and Hop and Vicar perhaps coming around the bend at Churchill to the top of the stretch. I see a Victory Gallop effort from the chasers!
California Chome easy win faster track competition factor 1:47...Wicked Strong 1:49 on slower track against maybe a little better competition make performances pretty even Then u have Constituants
If Wicked Strong wins the Derby, he will be the first Wood winner to do so since I believe Fusaichi Pegasus. Prior to that I think you have to go back to Pleasant Colony for a Wood - Derby double.
Jpinkertoncook,Sullivan is not talking about the running styles in the race itself. He is talking about the common denominators of the 2 horses.
Rather than taking a bullet for Brian, you could think about it. Wicked Strong and Pleasant Colony both ran well in the Remsen for New York trainers and both showed they wanted to go long. Go out on a limb and write something there. Then they both fail to run well down in Florida. You could write something there. You could even write something like this prior to the Wood Memorial, considering all of those similar events had occurred,
How can you compare two horses' performance in the Wood Memorial before one of them ran? Comment makes zero sense.
Where was the pleasant colony reference preWood memorial? Cool that they match up, but would be more impressive if you stuck your neck out and said these things when the horses weren't doing well.
You have an amazing memory, Brian. I hope your comparison points to a big Derby for Wicked Strong. I liked him after the Remsen, it was great to see him rebound and help make a sweet Pick 4 payout!

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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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