WinStar Farm's Gemologist exited Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct with his undefeated record intact and will head to Churchill Downs as one of the favorites for the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 5.
Avoiding the trouble that hindered some of his rivals, Gemologist enjoyed an ideal trip in the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial, tracking in third to the far turn when he commenced his bid. Grabbing the lead with three-sixteenths to go, Gemologist was challenged in the final eighth by second choice Alpha. Once he looked that rival in the eye, Gemologist found more and held off that one by a neck at the wire. He returned $4.40, $3 and $2.40 as the 6-5 favorite after completing the course in 1:50 4/5 over a fast track.
"I had a great trip," Castellano said. "Turning for home, he was looking around at horses. When I asked him, he took off again. I like that. I was concerned (when I saw Alpha closing) because my horse was still looking around at the crowd. When he saw the horse coming, he took off again."
"It looked like he got the trip we wanted. Javier said he waited a little bit when he made the lead, and that he was proud of him for finding more when Alpha loomed up on him," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "When he came back, he wasn't blowing like an exhausted horse. I think his fitness level is pretty good. I think he can (get better). He's still waiting a little bit. Javier said he was still looking around a little bit. He's still learning."
The pace of the Wood Memorial was set by The Lumber Guy, who, after a bit of reluctance to take the initiative, made a bold three-wide bid for the lead into the clubhouse turn. As he was attempting to make the lead, others were encountering trouble. Chief among them was Alpha, the 2-1 second choice who was forced to steady entering the turn while racing at the rail.
"The only unfortunate thing that happened was going into the first turn, there was a lot of pressure coming from the outside. I had to take up because I was almost on the rail, they were kind of bouncing into me and it cost me some position going into the first turn," jockey Ramon Dominguez said.
"It didn't take long after that to get him into gear. From there I had a great trip. Turning for home I got excited. I thought I was going to run down the winner. It seemed like the closer I got to him, the other horse was kind of looking around somewhere. When he felt my pressure, he went on again. I'm very happy with my horse, I thought he took a step forward from his last race. Today he got tested, he was towards the inside getting kickback, had trouble on the first turn and despite all that it was a very solid performance."
Despite being a bit rank approaching the backstretch, The Lumber Gut eventually settled and set fractions of :23, :47 2/5 and 1:12 2/5. My Adonis and Gemologist tracked in right behind, with Alpha covered up in fourth.
Turning for home, Gemologist made a three-wide bid for the lead, with The Lumber Guy beginning to weaken toward the rail and My Adonis doing the same between those two. The race eventually developed into a two-horse affair, as Alpha rallied from the outside and cut into Gemologist's 1 1/2-length lead in the final yards. However, Gemologist repelled that challenge to prove slightly best.
The top pair had three lengths on 53-1 chance The Teeth of the Dog, who rallied from sixth to be a clear third by 1 3/4 lengths over 17-1 chance Tiger Walk. The Lumber Guy, Street Life and My Adonis were the last to cross the wire. Casual Trick, who had flipped his palate in his two previous starts, dropped back rapidly on the far turn, was pulled up and vanned off the track.
The graded money earned by Gemologist, a son of Tiznow, and Alpha ensured each of them a position in the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby in four weeks.
A debut winner by five lengths at Turfway Park on September 24, Gemologist concluded his juvenile campaign with a two-length allowance win and a 1 3/4-length score in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, both at Churchill Downs over 1 1/16 miles. He preceded this victory in the Wood Memorial with a seven-length romp over Grade 1 Hopeful winner Currency Swap in a Gulfstream Park allowance on March 16. His career earnings are now $784,855.
Bred by G. Watts Humphrey and the Louise Ireland Humphrey Revocable Trust in Kentucky, Gemologist was a $310,000 Keeneland November weanling purchase. Produced by the unraced Mr. Prospecter mare Crystal Shard, he is a half-brother to the stakes-winning Clear Destiny and the stakes-placed Perfect Cut.
Produced by the Grade 3 winner Sulemeif, Crystal Shard is a full sister to multiple Grade 2 winner Withallprobability and a half-sister to multiple Grade 3 winner With Ability. This is the extended family of Grade 1 winners Summer Colony and One of a Klein.