(EAST (Maryland, New York) / UNBEATEN UNCLE MO IS ODDS-ON CHOICE IN WOOD MEMORIAL – Unbeaten Uncle Mo, the strong favorite to win the 137th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) at Churchill Downs on May 7, is an overwhelming favorite to dispose of nine rivals in his final prep for the Run for the Roses in Saturday’s $1 million Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial (GI) at New York’s Aqueduct.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, bidding for a second consecutive Kentucky Derby victory following his 2010 win with WinStar Farm’s Super Saver, will saddle Repole Stable’s reigning 2-year-old champion in a bid to win the Wood for a second consecutive year. Pletcher won last year’s renewal with Eskendereya, who was a strong favorite for the 2010 Derby until an injury ended his racing career.
John Velazquez will ride Uncle Mo, who has been installed as the 1-5 favorite after winning his four career starts by a combined margin of 27 ¼ lengths. The son of Indian Charlie will break from post five in his second start of 2011. He scored an easy 3 ¼-length victory in the $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes at a mile at Gulfstream Park on March 12.
The Wood will be Uncle Mo’s first start at 1 1/8 miles and only his second at a two-turn distance. He won the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) at 1 1/16 miles in November at Churchill Downs.
“He’s never given me any concerns about distance limitations in any of his races or any of his training,” Pletcher said, “so we’re looking forward to it.”
Others in the 87th running of the Wood Memorial include Toby’s Corner, the Graham Motion-trained winner of Aqueduct’s Whirlawa. He ran third last time out in Aqueduct’s Gotham (GIII) to Stay Thirsty, a stablemate of Uncle Mo who also races for owner Mike Repole and is trained by Pletcher.
Eddie Castro will ride Toby’s Corner, an 8-1 shot who will break from post two.
Norman Asbjornson, a late nominee to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown who finished second in the Gotham at odds of 47-1, returns for the Wood. The son of 1998 Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet is trained by Christopher Grove and will be ridden by Julian Pimental. He is a 15-1 risk this time around.
Others in the Wood Memorial field include Arthur’s Tale, Duca, Preachintothedevil, Starship Caesar, Full of Scoundrels, Duca, Isn’t He Perfect and Son of Posse.
Post time for the Wood Memorial is scheduled for 5:48 p.m. (EDT).
Wood Memorial Odds & Ends: Received a $250,000 purse boost to $1 million last month … Inaugurated in 1925, the race has produced 20 Kentucky Derby winners, including 11 who won both races: Gallant Fox (1st in 1930 Wood Memorial), Twenty Grand (1st in 1931), Omaha (3rd in 1935), Johnstown (1st in 1939), Count Fleet (1st in 1943), Hoop Jr. (1st in 1945), Assault (1st in 1946), Middleground (2nd in 1950), Count Turf (5th in 1951), Carry Back (2nd in 1961), Secretariat (3rd in 1973), Foolish Pleasure (1st in 1975), Bold Forbes (1st in 1976), Seattle Slew (1st in 1977), the filly Genuine Risk (3rd in 1980), Pleasant Colony (1st in 1981), Go for Gin (2nd in 1994), Fusaichi Pegasus (1st in 2000), Monarchos (2nd in 2001) and Funny Cide (2nd in 2003) … Two horses exited the race last year to run in the Derby: runner-up Jackson Bend (12th in the Derby) and third Awesome Act (19th in the Derby) … Last year’s runaway winner Eskendereya, trained by Todd Pletcher, was declared from the Kentucky Derby six days before the race due to a soft-tissue injury to his left foreleg … Record of starters in the Derby since 1985: 61-4-4-2 … Bellamy Road (2005) holds the stakes record of 1:47.16 … Bellamy Road (2005) posted the highest winning Beyer Speed Figure (120, the record high for any Derby starter); Tale of Ekati (2008) recorded the lowest (93).
Earlier on Saturday’s Wood Memorial card, Buffum, J J’s Lucky Train and Smoke It Right head a field of eight in the $200,000 Bay Shore (GIII) for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs.
Godolphin’s Buffum is the morning line favorite at 5-2 after finishing fifth Dubai’s UAE 2000 Guineas over the all-weather course at Meydan Race Course on Feb. 10. J J’s Lucky Train, the 3-1 second choice, won Laurel Park’s Miracle Wood after finishing second to Toby’s Corner in the Whirlaway.
Trainer and co-owner Benard Chatters will saddle Smoke It Right, a late nominee to the Triple Crown who enters the Bay Shore off a win in the Mountain Valley Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Bay Shore Odds and Ends: Even though this race, inaugurated in 1960, is widely considered a graded stakes for sprinters, it has produced two Kentucky Derby winners: Bold Forbes (1st in 1976 Bay Shore) and Spend a Buck (3rd in 1985) … Record of starters in the Derby since 1985: 8-1-0-0 … Last horse to run in both races: 1989 Bay Shore winner Houston, who finished eighth in the Derby … Limit Out (1998) holds the stakes record of 1:20.54 … Limit Out (1998) posted the highest winning Beyer Speed Figure (116); Perfect Score (1999) recorded the lowest (88).
WEST (Arizona, California, New Mexico) / PREMIER PEGASUS INJURED, OUT OF THE SANTA ANITA DERBY AND OFF TRIPLE CROWN TRAIL – Owner-trainer Myung Kwon Cho’s Premier Pegasus, who made a dazzling entrance onto the Kentucky Derby trail with a victory in the San Felipe (GII), has suffered an injury that has knocked the son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus out of Saturday’s $1 mlllion Santa Anita Derby (GI) and off the road to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown.
Premier Pegasus, originally listed as the 8-5 morning line favorite for the Santa Anita Derby, suffered a hairline fracture of the cannon bone of his left foreleg. Daily Racing Form reported that Maria Ayala, Cho’s assistant, had said the injury was discovered in an X-ray taken after a Thursday gallop at Santa Anita.
“The doctor said he had a hairline fracture of the cannon bone,” Ayala told DRF. “Not good. The horse is okay. He ate good. Mr. Cho, said, ‘Maria, relax. It’s not your fault.’”
Premier Pegasus became a major contender for the Kentucky Derby with his 7 ¾-length victory in the
1 1/16-mile San Felipe on March 12. It was his fourth win in five races and pushed his earnings to $293,400. Following the defection of Premier Pegasus, oddsmaker Jon White adjusted his morning line odds for the Santa Anita Derby. White listed San Felipe runner-up Jaycito as the morning line choice among the 10 horses that remained in the field in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race.
The son of Victory Gallop will make his second start for three-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert. He will break from the outside post with jockey Martin Garcia in the saddle.
“Very sad for Mr. Cho and Maria,” Baffert said in a text message to the Courier-Journal’s Jennie Rees. “You never know what can happen to you. That’s why my hair is white. We’re all on pins and needles this time of year.”
The Steve Asmussen-trained Silver Medallion, winner of the El Camino Real Derby (GIII) over a synthetic course at Golden Gate Fields, is the 7-2 second choice in the adjusted morning line.
The rest of the field includes Robert B. Lewis (GII) winner Anthony’s Cross, CashCall Futurity (GI) winner Comma to the Top, San Pedro winner Indian Winter, California-bred stakes winner Bench Points, Mr. Commons, Midnight Interlude, Offlee Wild Boys and Quail Hill.
Post time for the Santa Anita Derby is 4:37 p.m. (PDT).
Santa Anita Derby Odds and Ends: The 1 1/8-mile race, which returns to dirt after a three-year experiment on a synthetic surface, received a $250,000 purse boost to $1 million for the first time since 2000 … Inaugurated in 1935, the race has produced 15 Kentucky Derby winners, including eight who won both races: Gallahadion (13th in 1940 Santa Anita Derby), Hill Gail (1st in 1952), Determine (1st in 1954), Swaps (1st in 1955), Lucky Debonair (1st in 1965), Majestic Prince (1st in 1969), Affirmed (1st in 1978), Gato Del Sol (4th in 1982), Ferdinand (3rd in 1986), the filly Winning Colors (1st in 1988), Sunday Silence (1st in 1989), Silver Charm (2nd in 1997), Real Quiet (2nd in 1998), Charismatic (4th in 1999) and Giacomo (4th in 2005) … Two horses exited the race last year to run in the Derby: winner Sidney’s Candy (17th in the Derby) and third Lookin At Lucky (6th in the Derby) … Record of starters in the Derby since 1985: 83-7-6-6 … Lucky Debonair (1965), Sham (1973) and Indian Charlie (1998) share the stakes record on dirt of 1:47 … Indian Charlie (1998) posted the highest winning Beyer Speed Figure (111); A.P. Indy (1992) and Colonel John (2008) recorded the lowest (95).
MIDWEST (Illinois, Kentucky) / WATCH ME GO FAVORED AGAINST 11 INEXPERIENCED RIVALS IN ILLINOIS DERBY – He was a 47-1 surprise when he shocked heavily favored Brethren in the Tampa Bay Derby (GIII), but Gilbert Campbell’s homebred Watch Me Go is now the morning line favorite as he prepares to face 11 foes in Saturday’s $300,000 Illinois Derby (GIII).
Watch Me Go is the 7-2 favorite in the 1 1/8-mile race at Hawthorne Race Course. Regular rider Luis Garcia will be aboard trainer Kathleen O’Connell’s son of West Acre, who will break from post four.
The Florida-bred Watch Me Go, who will race outside his home state for the first time, has won three of four starts in 2011 and has earned $311,345.
Other major players in the Illinois Derby include a pair of 3-year-olds with experience in graded stakes races. El Grayling, the 9-2 second choice, failed to finish in the Fountain of Youth (GII) won by Soldat at Gulfstream Park. but earlier finished third to Florida Derby (GI) runner-up Shackleford in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park. The Fed Eased, the 5-1 third choice, invades from New York’s Aqueduct following a fifth-place finish behind Stay Thirsty in the Gotham.
The field also includes the Todd Pletcher-trained Joe Vann, who is coming off a pair of wins at Laurel Park, and Lagoon of Diamonds, a late nominee to the Triple Crown with back-to-back wins to his credit at West Virginia’s Mountaineer Park.
Others Illinois Derby entrants include Smarter Than Ever, Vouch for Victory, Sour, Zoebear, Roman Flame, Southern Sculptor and Future Empire.
Post time for the Illinois Derby is 4:37 p.m. (CDT).
Illinois Derby Odds and Ends: A $500,000 race for several years, the purse for this year’s race was reduced to $250,000 but recently got a $50,000 bump so it could be worth $300,000 … Inaugurated in 1923,
the race was repositioned in 2001 to become a Derby prep … Record of starters in the Derby: 16-1-0-2 …
The lone winner was War Emblem, who won both races in 2002 … Two horses exited the race last year to run in the Kentucky Derby: winner American Lion (11th in the Derby) and third Backtalk (20th in the Derby) … Wild Rush (1997) holds the stakes record of 1:47.51 … Wild Rush (1997) posted the highest winning Beyer Speed Figure (114); Antrim Rd. (1993) and Distilled (2001) recorded the lowest (93).
PLUCK SEEKS REBOUND IN KEENELAND’S TRANSYLVANIA – After a disappointing run in his 2011 debut at Tampa Bay Downs, Team Valor International and Vinery Stables’ Pluck will look to rebound with a strong run in the $100,000 Transylvania Stakes (GIII), the featured event on the opening day of the spring meet at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.
Ten 3-year-olds were entered in the 1 1/16-mile contest on turf and Pluck, a son of More Than Ready and the winner of last fall’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs, drew the outside post. Garrett Gomez will ride the Todd Pletcher-trained Pluck, who ran fourth as a heavy favorite in his 3-year-old debut in a March 12 allowance race on grass at Tampa Bay Downs. Pluck is not nominated to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown.
Other Transylvania contenders include Air Support, a two-time stakes winner at two, and Adirondack Summer, winner of the Dania Beach in January at Gulfstream Park.
Transylvania Odds and Ends: Julien Leparoux has ridden the last two winners: Stormalory (2009) and Nordic Truce (2010) … The opening day fixture at Keeneland hasn’t produced a Kentucky Derby winner, but has yielded three starters since its first running in 1989: inaugural winner Shy Tom (10th in Derby), 1991 seventh Paulrus (7th in Derby) and 2007 fourth Sedgefield (5th in Derby) … The distance of the turf race is changed in 2011 from one mile to 1 1/16 miles … More Royal (1996) and Flying Dash-GER (2002) posted the highest winning Beyer Speed Figures (103); Chin High (2006) recorded the lowest (76).
SOUTH (Arkansas, Louisiana) – THE FACTOR SET FOR ARKANSAS DERBY; OAKLAWN HOPES SHARP IN DERBY WORKS – Three-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert says his speedy 3-year-old star The Factor is “locked in” for a return trip to Oaklawn Park for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI) on April 16.
George Bolton and Fog City Stables’ son of hot sire War Front scored a 6 ¼-length win in his previous visit to the Hot Springs, Ark. track for the 1 1/16-mile Rebel (GIII). It was the first victory at a two-turn distance for The Factor.
Baffert confirmed the return trip to Oaklawn after The Factor worked six furlongs on Monday in 1:11.40 at Santa Anita. When he returns for the Arkansas Derby, Baffert’s front-running star will probably face several horses in defeated in the Rebel in what is expected to be a full starting gate.
“I’m not too worried about that,” Baffert said. “He just goes and does his thing. He’s one dimensional, for sure. That only thing that could be a problem with a full field would be if he didn’t break well, but that’s the situation with pretty much any horse.”
The Arkansas Derby will be the first race at 1 1/8 miles for The Factor, who is named in honor of Fox News television host Bill O’Reilly. The Kentucky Derby distance in 1 ¼ miles.
While The Factor prepared on the West Coast, several of his potential Arkansas Derby rivals have trained sharply at Oaklawn Park in preparation of next Saturday’s showndown.
Sway Away, the runner-up to The Factor in the seven-furlong San Vicente (GII) at Santa Anita and a disappointing sixth in the Rebel, worked six furlongs in 1:12.60 on Thursday under jockey Luis Quinonez. Jockey Patrick Valenzuela will replace Garrett Gomez aboard Sway Away in the Arkansas Derby.
Elite Alex, fourth in the Louisiana Derby (GIII) last time out, donned blinkers in a sharp six-furlong work in 1:11.60 under Calvin Borel on Wednesday. He will wear that equipment in the Arkansas Derby.