ESKENDEREYA (Giant's Causeway), a smashing 8 1/2-length winner of Fountain of Youth S. (G2), will bypass Saturday's Florida Derby (G1) in favor of the April 3 Wood Memorial S. (G1) at Aqueduct.
"I wasn't comfortable with the six weeks to the Kentucky Derby (G1), and more important, I want to give him a tough race to see what he's made of," owner Ahmed Zayat told The Blood-Horse. "I know it's unorthodox to pass on a Grade 1 race where we'd be the big favorite, but I'm trying to achieve a goal with him, which is getting to the Derby, and I want to have the right prep for him."
The Wood Memorial provides a four-week layoff to the Kentucky Derby instead of the six-week break from the Florida Derby. No horse since Needles in 1956 has won the 1 1/4-mile Derby off a six-week freshening.
The Wood is shaping up to be the deepest of Derby preps. Other prospects include Rebel S. (G2) winner LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike), Gotham S. (G3) victor AWESOME ACT (Awesome Again) and Tampa Bay Derby (G3) hero ODYSSEUS (Malibu Moon).
"I think it could be the toughest race," Zayat said. "If I want to get him to the real dance, let's give him the toughest assignment and the right timing."
Trainer Todd Pletcher will redirect Eskendereya to New York, but he still has the likely Florida Derby favorite in RULE (Roman Ruler). The well-regarded colt owns a four-race win streak, including the Sam F. Davis S. (G3) and Delta Jackpot S. (G3), and will retain the services of John Velazquez in the 1 1/8-mile event.
FIRST DUDE (Stephen Got Even), GAME ON DUDE (Awesome Again), PLEASANT PRINCE (Indy King), PULSION (Include), RADIOHEAD (Johannesburg) and SOARING EMPIRE (Empire Maker) are also confirmed for the Florida Derby.