One year after watching Uncle Mo's undefeated record go up in flames in the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial, trainer Todd Pletcher will hope for an entirely different result when undefeated Gemologist takes to the track for Aqueduct's 1 1/8-mile classic prep on Saturday. Gemologist is one of eight sophomores who'll vie for the $600,000 winner's share, which will guarantee a starting position in next month's Grade 1 Kentucky Derby.
The Wood Memorial will be just the second race of the year for Gemologist, a son of Tiznow who enters with a four-for-four mark. Unlike most Pletcher trainees, the WinStar Farm-owned colt raced exclusively in Kentucky as a juvenile, breaking his maiden at Turfway Park and then winning twice during the Churchill Downs Fall meet. The latter of those two wins came in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, a race won by WinStar's Super Saver in 2009 en route to Kentucky Derby glory.
Making a belated season debut in an open one-mile allowance at Gulfstream on March 16, Gemologist led from the start and drew off impressively to score by seven lengths over Grade 1 Hopeful winner Currency Swap. Gemologist will be ridden in the Wood Memorial by regular pilot Javier Castellano.
After declaring him from various other Derby preps, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin finally settled on the Wood as the final classic tune-up for Alpa, a son of Bernardini campaigned by Godolphin. Alpha made short work of his rivals in Aqueduct's first two major stakes for three-year-olds, the Count Fleet and the Grade 3 Withers. The odds-on choice in both inner-track tests, Alpa won by 2 1/2 lengths in the Count Fleet and 3 1/4 lengths in the Withers.
After bypassing the Grade 3 Gotham, won by champion Hansen, Alpa was considered for the Grade 1 Florida Derby and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, but McLaughlin ultimately felt the path of least resistance to Louisville was a return to New York for the Wood, where he will be guided by Ramon Dominguez.
My Adonis, third in the Grade 3 Holy Bull and second to Hansen in the Gotham, figures to get a piece of the purse with a continuation of his present form, while New York-bred The Lumber Guy will attempt to extend his brilliance around two turns for the first time. A 9 1/4-length debut winner in state-bred company, The Lumber Guy most recently went to Laurel and crushed the opposition by 4 1/4 lengths in the seven-furlong Miracle Wood.
Nick Zito, who has saddled previous Wood winners Thirty Six Red (1990), Adonis (1999) and Bellamy Road (2005), sends out Casual Trick on Saturday. A close second to eventual Florida Derby runner-up Reveron in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day, the Bernardini ridgling lost his next two starts by a combined margin of more than 50 lengths. Zito said this week that Casual Trick flipped his palate in both starts and has since had a corrective procedure to combat the problem.
Tiger Walk, third in the Withers and fourth in the Gotham, will need to quicken in order to turn the tables on Alpha and My Adonis, who have finished ahead of him this term. Street Life, a son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, enters off an overnight stakes win in the March 17 Broad Brush on the inner dirt, while Michael Matz will saddle Teeth of the Dog, a last-out maiden winner at Gulfstream over nine furlongs.