All Eyes on Eskendereya in Wood Memorial

Headed by Eskendereya, the foremost member of the formidable Todd Squad, and Awesome Act, the English import whose impressive victory in the Gotham put him firmly on the Triple Crown trail, a field of six will assemble at Aqueduct Racetrack Saturday for the 86th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial, the last stop in New York for 3-year-olds hoping to make the Kentucky Derby.


All but a handful of Wood Memorial winners have gone on to run in the Kentucky Derby, with 23 of them claiming the favorite’s role. In all, 11 winners of the 1 1/8th mile Wood have taken the Run for the Roses, including Triple Crown champions Gallant Fox (1930), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946) and Seattle Slew (1977).


Along with Eskendereya, an 8½-length winner of the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on February 20, and Awesome Act, whose eye-catching win in the March 6 Gotham was his first start on dirt, the Wood attracted Fountain of Youth runner-up Jackson Bend; Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Schoolyard Dreams; recent maiden winner Carnivore, and Most Happy Fella, a front-running winner in two of his last three starts at Aqueduct.


All carry 123 pounds.


The Wood Memorial (race 9, post time approximately 5:15 p.m. EDT) will be the third leg of a $500,000 Guaranteed All-Graded stakes Pick 4 at Aqueduct that begins with the Grade 3 Bay Shore in race 7 (4:08 p.m.), continues with the Grade 3 Excelsior Breeders’ Cup in race 8 (4:40 p.m.), the Wood Memorial, and concludes in race 10 with the Grade 1 Carter (5:45 p.m.) The 11-race card begins with a first race post time of 1 p.m.


The Wood will be telecast live on NBC from 5:00-6:00 p.m. EDT.


Owned by Zayat Stables, Eskendereya began his career in New York, finishing second in a maiden race on the turf at Saratoga last September before running off to a 7¼-length win in the off-the-turf Pilgrim Stakes on October 4. Based on that performance, trainer Todd Pletcher knew it would be a long time before the son of Giant’s Causeway ran on grass again.


Ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after a troubled trip in his final start as a 2-year-old, Eskendereya captured his sophomore debut at Gulfstream Park in January before turning in a powerhouse performance  in the 1 1/8th mile Fountain of Youth, an effort that earned him a 106 Beyer Speed Figure.


"I think the most impressive performance this year was Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth," said Pletcher, whose other Triple Crown contenders include Aikenite, Discreetly Mine, Interactif, Mission Impazible, Rule, and Super Saver.


"He has all the tools that you would like to see,” added Pletcher. “The one thing we’ve been very confident in all along is that he wants to run the distance of the classic races.”

Eskendereya, who arrived at Pletcher’s Belmont Park barn Wednesday afternoon, will be ridden by John Velazquez from post No. 3 as the 4/5 favorite.


Hoping to move further along the road to Kentucky is Mrs. Susan Roy’s Awesome Act, who traveled from England after winning one of his five starts to run a credible fourth, beaten less than two lengths, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, returned to trainer Jeremy Noseda’s base at Newmarket over the winter, and crossed the pond again last month for his impressive Gotham score.


“The performance in the Gotham confirmed what we believed, that he would handle the dirt and hopefully be a better horse on the dirt,” said Noseda of the Awesome Again colt. “It’s put him in the firing line, but we need a good performance on Saturday to keep moving forward and to believe that we are realistic about our dream of being in Kentucky.”


With reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey Julien Leparoux in the irons, Awesome Act was made 9-2 on the morning line and will leave from post No. 2.


Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, scored a major upset when Ice Box took the Grade 1 Florida Derby to stamp himself a leading contender for the Run for the Roses. Saturday, he hopes to have another one emerge in Jackson Bend, who in addition to his second in the Fountain of Youth was runner-up to Winslow Homer in the Grade 3 Holy Bull in January, his first start for Zito.


With Jackson Bend, who is owned by Robert V. LaPenta and Jacks or Better Farm, Zito will be bidding for his fourth Wood Memorial, a race he won in 1990 with Thirty Six Red, in 1999 with Adonis, and in 2005 with Bellamy Road.


The son of Hear No Evil will be ridden Saturday for the first time by Calvin Borel as he breaks from post No. 5.  Jackson Bend was the second choice on the morning line at 4-1.


Schoolyard Dreams has done little wrong since his debut at Philadelphia Park last Halloween, compiling a record of 2-2-1 from five starts including a second to Rule in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis and the narrowest of losses to Odysseus in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby on March 13.


“I still can’t believe he lost that race,” said Derek Ryan, who trains the Stephen Got Even colt for Eric Fein and Anthony Mitola. “But he’s a horse that is going in the right direction. He was never going to be the kind of horse who won a two-year-old stakes at Saratoga; but right now, he’s training very well and I’m pleased with where he is.”


With New York’s leading rider, Ramon Dominguez aboard, Schoolyard Dreams, 5-1 on the morning line, will leave from the No. 4 post.

Completing the field for the Wood Memorial are James McIngvale’s Carnivore, who broke his maiden by seven lengths at Laurel Park at third asking on March 10, and Robert J. Quigley’s Most Happy Fella, who broke his maiden over the main track at Aqueduct last fall and is 2-1-0 in three subsequent starts in allowance company and optional claimers.


Carnivore, who drew post No. 6 and was 20-1 on the morning line, will be ridden by Justin Shepherd, while Most Happy Fella, 15-1 on the morning line, has Rosie Napravnik aboard from the rail.


The field for the 86th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial:








Most Happy Fella (NY)

A R Napravnik


W Badgett, Jr.



Awesome Act (KY)

J R Leparoux


J Noseda



Eskendereya (KY)

J R Velazquez


T A Pletcher



Schoolyard Dreams (KY)

R A Dominguez


D S Ryan



Jackson Bend (FL)

C H Borel


N P Zito



Carnivore (KY)

J Shepherd


J W Delozier, III








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Older Comments about All Eyes on Eskendereya in Wood Memorial...

Jackson Bend will need his A+ game to get close to Eskendereya!
Looks like Jackson Bend is the forgotten horse. Might be a cut below and/or distance challenged but never count out consistent, hard knocking types.
Two colt race Eskedereya and Awesome Act while Schoolyard tries to hold on with them late.
I gotta agree w/ qrich3 that Schoolyard Dreams is the one whos gonna be taking my money in this race. This colt has an explosive turn of foot and if the rider waited another 8th of a mile you wouldnt be saying the Tampa Bay Derby wasn't visually impressive mdracing. Also, don't forget that the Oldsmar Oval got hammered with 2 inches of rain the night before the Tampa Derby, so theres no reason to look into the slow times for the final 16th of the race. Finally, on the Tampa Derby undercard, the filly race, the Florida Oaks (g3) was finished in 1:47:2...almost 3 full seconds difference...going with Schoolyard and playing him hard off his 5-1 ML
Wood looks like a match race between Awesome Act and Eskendereya. I am sure Pletcher would be happy with a solid 1-2 finish from his FOY winner. No reason to be fully cranked. Awesome Act has only raced once this year and needs a stiff test. He's the value play. The Tampa Bay Derby was an ugly race visually, so I cannot back Schoolyard Dreams.
Count me in. Another looking for a huge race from Schoolyard Dreams. Eskendereya is overrated. He may win by 2 lengths at 3-5, but he won't win by 6 lengths.
Bold statements! I think he's live, but Eskendereya is very talented...
Schoolyard cannot lose he's fit and ready for this rave this is gonna be his breakout performance and the. The connection will win the cart with musket man bet the daily double hard!!!
I think Eskendereya is definitely one of the more talented 3yr.old prospects for the 2010 Kentucky Derby. But, IMO, I'm not sure that he rates any higher on the front end than his stablemate Rule does. And like Rule in the Florida Derby, the Wood Memorial should set up to tell us if Eskendereya has more staying power in the stretch than Rule. If he's got staying power, he should win the Wood Memorial. If he fades in the stretch, like Rule did in the Florida Derby, it won't surprise me at all to see Awesome Act sweep right on by him to the wire. Just like he swept by the Gotham Stakes field at Aqueduct earlier in the year. TJMO.
Eskendereya needs earnings, and he can rate. I think he wins for fun.
I think most people are expecting Eskendereya to waltz over the Wood field. But let's keep in mind that this is a prep for the Derby, and although Pletcher would like to have the favorite, he's got a barn full of frontrunners and doesn't need one more. Just like they rated Discreetly Mine last week in the Louisiana Derby, I would expect them to rate big "E". Most Happy Fella should grab the lead, and depending on what Jackson Bend and Schoolyard Dreams throw at Eskendereya, it could be a bit of a dogfight and it could certainly set up for Awesome Act.

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