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2010 Wood Memorial: Schoolyard Dreams

Schoolyard Dreams and Odysseus slug it out to the wire in the 2010 Tampa Bay Derby

Tampa Bay Derby runner-up  Schoolyard Dreams comes into Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack carrying the, well, schoolyard dreams of owner Eric Fein.


“I grew up in Douglaston, about five minutes from Belmont Park,” explained Fein, who owns the Derek Ryan-trained son of Stephen Got Even with Anthony Mitola. “We all loved the racetrack, and after school, hundreds of us kids would hang out in the schoolyard of P.S. 187. It was a special place. I always said I’d name a horse after our youth, and this is a perfect name for him.”


 After breaking his maiden in November in his second start, Schoolyard Dreams began his sophomore campaign by winning an allowance race at Tampa, and then finished second to Rule in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis before being nosed out by Odysseus in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby.


Saturday, he will gain the services of New York’s leading rider, Ramon Dominguez, who also will ride Musket Man in the Grade 1 Carter for Fein and Mitola.


*          *          *


Nicky Boy, a maiden filly, departed Sunland Park in New Mexico Tuesday morning for the 2,800-mile journey by horse van to New York for her engagement in the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial.


“We’re planning to be there,” said trainer Arnulfo Ascencio, who trains the daughter of Anziyan Royalty for Solange Chadda. “The owner is really excited about running her in the race.”


 Nicky Boy has started twice at Sunland Park, losing a maiden race on February 5 by 39¾ lengths while trained by Jeff Mullins, and then finishing last in the Borderland Derby on February 27, beaten 81 lengths and walking off the track.


“It is very unusual,” said Ascencio of the decision to run her in the Wood.


*          *          *


Grade 3 Gotham winner Awesome Act will either breeze three furlongs Wednesday morning for the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial or gallop up to Saturday's race.


“We’ll wait and see how the track is in the morning,” said Wayne Tanner, assistant to trainer Jeremy Noseda. “If he doesn’t breeze, he’ll just gallop into the race. He’s fit and doing well. He’s feeling the joyous spring.”

Since his Gotham victory, which marked his first start on dirt, the English import has breezed twice over Belmont Park’s training track, covering a half-mile in 50.23 on March 20 and going six furlongs in 1:13.05 on March 25 with Noseda coming in from England to look on.


Noseda will arrive in New York on Friday from Kentucky, said Tanner.


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Grade 2 Fountain of Youth winner Eskendereya, the likely favorite for Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial, and stablemate Munnings, aiming for the Grade 1 Carter, are scheduled to arrive at trainer Todd Pletcher’s Belmont Park barn tomorrow.


Eskendereya, who comes into the Wood off an 8½-length victory in the 1 1/8th mile Fountain of Youth, had his final serious move for the race last Saturday at Palm Meadows, covering five furlongs in 1:00.60, handily.


“He went very well,” said Pletcher of the work.


Eskendereya, owned by Zayat Stables, is named for an Egyptian dance. According to Keti Sharif’s Bellydance Glossary of Middle Eastern Dance Terminologies, an eskendereya is a “flirty Alexandrian dance with a milaya, or heavy veil, formerly used as a fashion accessory in the 40s.”



*          *          *


Carnivore, seven-length maiden winner at Laurel on March 10, is taking a big step up in Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial but owner James McIngvale is hoping the son of Giant’s Causeway is up to the task.


“We’re all excited about the race,” said McIngvale by phone from Houston. “It’s an opportunity to see where he fits. The Wood Memorial is a race I’ve admired since I first watched Secretariat run in back in 1973. He didn’t do too well, but he made up for it in the next race. It’s a race with a wonderful history and we’re delighted to be a part of it.”


McIngvale’s only other Wood Memorial starter was the Bob Baffert-trained Consecrate, who finished ninth behind Tapit in 2004.


Purchased for $280,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale in March 2009, Carnivore was named after McIngvale’s many friends who are serving in the armed forces around the globe.


“My friends in the military are all carnivores,” he explained.

*          *          *


For Repole Stable's 6-year-old Digger, Saturday's Grade 1, $250,000 Carter will serve as something of an assessment, helping his connections to map out plans for the rest of the year.


Since arriving in trainer Bruce Brown's barn late in 2009, Digger has demonstrated his abilities, stringing together two wins, one second, and one third-place finish from four starts, three of them in stakes company.  After running third in a starter handicap at Aqueduct on October 28, the gelding won his second start for Brown in the Gravesend Handicap at the Big A on December 26.


Despite Digger’s solid record, Brown admits he's not an easy horse to handle.


"He's liable to do anything and he doesn't like to be messed with much," Brown said.  "We've got a good routine going as far as his training is concerned and he has gotten better, but he's not one where you want to change the way you do things too much."


Digger, a Maryland-bred son of Yonaguska, has had some time off since a second-place finish in the Grade 2 General George Handicap at Laurel Park on February 15, and Brown believes the break will put the gelding in the right place to move forward. 


"It looks like a very, very high quality field in the Carter.  For us, we gave him kind of a breather after the race at Laurel, so now we'll decide off this race what we're planning for the rest of the year, whether he's really going to step up his game and be a top sprinter and we stay in New York, or if we're going to have travel around and pick our spots in some of the smaller stakes.  We'll just see how he stacks up and where he should be."


Digger breezed five furlongs over the training track at Belmont Park in 1:02.42 on Sunday morning, his final tune-up for the Carter, Brown said.


*          *          *


Trainer Bruce Levine said he has a hard time figuring out how his 3-year-old colt El Rocco is doing but is happy the bay son of Vicar has shown up ready to run so far in every race he has been in. El Rocco, a Pennsylvania bred owned by Two Tone Farms, is set to go in the Grade 3, $200,000 Bay Shore at seven furlongs on Saturday, which will be possibly the toughest challenge of his young career.

"He's not a good work horse," Levine said. He leaves you hanging a little bit, so you don't know where you're at with him."

El Rocco has won two of seven starts and finished third last September in the Grade 3 Sapling as a 2-year-old at Monmouth. Levine said the colt "might have been more precocious, a little more advanced than others," but he also opened his 3-year-old season well.

Despite clipping heels with another horse in his comeback race January 19 at Philadelphia Park, El Rocco easily cleared off to win the 6 1/2-furlong allowance race in the mud by 2 1/4 lengths.

"It's a big step up from where he's coming from," Levine said of going from an entry-level allowance to the Bay Shore, "But he's doing all right." 

*          *          *

Repole Stable’s 13-year-old Cool N Collective will be officially retired on Wood Memorial Day, parading in front of the stands before the 6th race as part of a special on-track ceremony. In conjunction with his retirement, in order to raise awareness for and benefit horse rescue and retirement organizations, Mike Repole and The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) are donating a total of $30,000 to Old Friends, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and the Exceller Fund. Additionally, owner Harold Lerner has donated $1,000 to the Exceller Fund. All three organizations will be at Aqueduct Saturday, collecting donations to support their thoroughbred rescue and retirement operations.














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