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Gemologist, Alpha eye Derby rematch

  • Gemologist turned back Alpha in the Wood (NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)

Undefeated Grade 1 Wood Memorial hero Gemologist departed Belmont Park at the crack of dawn Sunday morning and was expected to arrive at Palm Meadows Training Center by mid-afternoon to begin preparations for the May 5 Kentucky Derby. Trainer Todd Pletcher said the three-year-old Tiznow colt would remain in Florida until May 1, when he would leave for Churchill Downs.

"He came out of the race really well," Pletcher said from Florida. "The tentative schedule is for him to breeze twice between now and the Derby, then fly to Kentucky on May 1. We'll leave the option to call an audible if we so chose, but as long as we're happy with the conditions down here, that's the plan."

Gemologist completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.96, for which he earned a 102 BRIS Speed Figure, best of three Derby preps run on Saturday. Owned by WinStar Farm, for whom Pletcher won the 2010 Derby with Super Saver, Gemologist also boosted his graded stakes earnings to $703,855, placing him a solid sixth on the list of Derby hopefuls. The field is limited to 20 three-year-olds based on graded stakes earnings. Another of Pletcher's three-year-olds, El Padrino, is 23rd with $250,000.

Accompanying Gemologist on the flight to Florida was Broadway's Alibi, winner of Saturday's Grade 3 Comely.

"She also came out of her race well," Pletcher said. "I have to talk with Mrs. Robsham and Anna Ford; we haven't made a decision about the (May 4 Grade 1) Kentucky Oaks. Right now, we're keeping an eye on everything."

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had logistics on the brain Easter Sunday morning as he pondered next steps on Wood runner-up Alpha's path to the Kentucky Derby.

"With Alpha we're thinking about where we go, what we do, and how we get there, but we're pointing for May 5," McLaughlin said. "He came out of the race great. He did everything right."

Godolphin Racing's Alpha broke from the rail and finished a neck behind undefeated Gemologist in the Wood, and McLaughlin believes the Bernardini colt got a valuable education in the process.

"We went with no man in the gate with him," McLaughlin said. "We decided probably the day before after talking to Roy (Williamson, head starter for NYRA).

"Roy brought it up, which was good, and (jockey) Ramon (Dominguez) had said the first time he rode him that he wants to fight the handler. We kind of hadn't gotten on the same page to do it until we (drew) the one hole.  Next to number one there's an open gate, so the starter stood in there in case he needed some help.

"But he stood great, and he broke great. He almost broke on the lead. And then he checked hard in the first turn, but quickly recovered. Everything went great except the photo. Had we won, it would have been perfect, but we did pass many tests. Good in the gate, took dirt, ran great, belongs in the Derby. It was a real, true, great prep. "

After Alpha's strong showing in the Wood, McLaughlin's only question was when to send him to Churchill Downs for the Derby.

"We might go to Kentucky a little bit earlier -- for the gate, because he had a bad experience there (when 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs last November)," McLaughlin said.

Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito had a less profitable Wood experience with Casual Trick, who dropped back abruptly because of breathing problems. He did not finish the race and was vanned off the track.

Zito reported that Casual Trick will be examined by a veterinarian who specializes in diagnosing breathing problems at some point within the next week.

"He's feeling so good, his coat is perfect, his blood work was fabulous, but unfortunately he has some breathing problems," Zito said. "We are going to bring in a special vet that will watch him breathe with a Dynamic Respiratory Scope. We need to correct the situation."

Owned by Robert LaPenta, the three-year-old son of Bernardini displayed talent earlier in his career and went into an allowance race on January 29 at Gulfstream Park favored over two horses that have experienced recent graded success. He finished eighth in that race.

"He went into the allowance race with Take Charge Indy and El Padrino as the favorite," Zito said. "Those two horses went on to win the (Grade 1) Florida Derby (Take Charge Indy) and (Grade 2) Risen Star (El Padrino). We have a really nice horse and he is perfectly sound."

Zito added that his vets had given him clearance to race Casual Trick in the Wood Memorial after he scoped well and looked great after his most recent work.

"Why would I want to put him on the plane and run him (if he wasn't sound)?" Zito said. "This is a really good, talented horse. We have to get to the bottom of this."

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