The “Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by TwinSpires.com” continues Saturday with the 89th running of the $1 million Wood Memorial (Grade I) and the 76th running of the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (GI).
As part of the Second Leg of the Championship Series, the Top 4 finishers in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park will be awarded points on a scale of 100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth.
The Wood Memorial, a race that has produced 20 winners of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), is headlined by the undefeated Verrazano (ranked No. 9 on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by TwinSpires.com” Leaderboard), the heavy morning line favorite at odds of 4-5.
Verrazano, the individual favorite in all three pools of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, carries a perfect record of 3-for-3 and enters the Wood off a three-length victory in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII), a race that earned him 50 points as part of the First Leg of the Championship Series and secured him a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
A half-brother to 2012 Derby starter El Padrino, Verrazano is trained by Todd Pletcher, who won the Wood last year with Gemologist, a colt who also entered the race undefeated. Pletcher also won the 2010 Wood with Eskendereya.
The main competition for Verrazano could be the undefeated Vyjack (No. 6), who enters the Wood off victories in the Jerome (GII) and Gotham (GIII) on the inner dirt track at Aqueduct. A gelded son of Into Mischief, Vyjack was awarded 50 points for his Gotham victory and assured himself a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
Other top contenders in the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial include Remsen (GII) runner-up Normandy Invasion, Elnaawi (No. 32), a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and most recently third in the Gotham, and Mr Palmer, impressive 3 ½-length winner of the Private Terms in his last start.
Normandy Invasion and Mr Palmer likely will need a Top 2 finish in the Wood to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby. While Elnaawi also would earn a spot in the “Run for the Roses” with a Top 2 finish, a third-place effort likely will put him “on the bubble” with a total of 30 points.
The Wood Memorial is scheduled to go off at 6:28 p.m. (all times Eastern) and will be televised live on NBC Sports Network.
The most recent Kentucky Derby winner to exit the Wood Memorial was Funny Cide in 2003. Fusaichi Pegasus won the Derby in 2000 and is the last to complete the Wood-Derby double.
The Santa Anita Derby features a rematch of the Top 2 finishers in the San Felipe (GII) where Hear the Ghost (No. 10) rallied down the stretch to pass the favored Flashback (No. 14) and win by half a length.
Despite losing the San Felipe, Flashback, favored in all three of his career starts, is likely to go favored in the Santa Anita Derby and is the 9-5 morning line favorite. One of three entrants trained by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, Flashback, on the bubble with 30 points, should secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby with a Top 4 finish.
Hear the Ghost, conditioned by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby with his 50-point win in the San Felipe under Corey Nakatani. Despite being the only jockey with at least 16 Kentucky Derby mounts without a win, Nakatani has experienced some success with Hollendorfer in Louisville. The two teamed to win the Kentucky Oaks (GI) in 1991 with Lite Light and 1996 with Pike Place Dancer.
Other top contenders in the Santa Anita Derby include Goldencents (No. 15) and Baffert’s other two entrants: Super Ninety Nine (No. 26) and Power Broker (No. 27).
Goldencents, winner of the Delta Jackpot (GIII) and Sham (GIII) during the Prep Season, most recently finished fourth in the San Felipe (GII) after battling Flashback for the lead. He currently sits on the bubble with 29 points and will earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby with a Top 3 finish and could still make it in the Derby field with a fourth-place finish Saturday.
Goldencents could be a part of a memorable Saturday for University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino, who co-owns the colt with W. C. Racing and Dave Kenney. When the gates open for the Santa Anita Derby at 7 p.m., Louisville will be in the midst of their Final Four matchup against Wichita State, which is scheduled to tip-off in Atlanta at 6:09 p.m.
Super Ninety Nine and Power Broker would be on the bubble with a Top 3 finish in the Santa Anita Derby, but a Top 2 effort will put them safely in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
Power Broker will make his 3-year-old debut in the Santa Anita Derby. A 6 ½-length winner of the FrontRunner (GI), Power Broker ended his juvenile campaign with a fifth-place finish in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). He is owned by Gary and Mary West, who also own Flashback.
Super Ninety Nine scored an 11 ¼-length victory in the Southwest (GIII) at Oaklawn Park, but then disappointed in his following start and finished fifth in the Rebel (GII) as the 6-5 favorite.
Baffert used the Santa Anita Derby as a prep for Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998. The Santa Anita Derby has produced 16 winners of the Kentucky Derby, including I’ll Have Another, who won both races in 2012.
10 THINGS TO KNOW THIS WEEKEND
1. Live coverage of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by TwinSpires.com” continues Saturday from 6-7:30 p.m. EDT on NBC Sports Network with the Wood Memorial from Aqueduct and the Santa Anita Derby from Santa Anita Park.
2. The $1 million Wood Memorial features a Top 10 matchup between Verrazano (No. 9) and Vyjack (No. 6). Both Kentucky Derby contenders enter the Wood with perfect records and have secured spots in the starting gate for Kentucky Derby 139.
3. Normandy Invasion, Elnaawi and Mr Palmer will seek to improve their point totals in the Wood Memorial. All three colts would earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby with a Top 2 finish and Elnaawi will be “on the bubble” should he finish third.
4. Flashback (No. 14) seeks to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby with a Top 4 finish in the Santa Anita Derby. He currently sits “on the bubble” with 30 points.
5. The Top 4 finishers in the San Felipe will rematch in the Santa Anita Derby. Hear the Ghost came out on top in the San Felipe and earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
6. Prep Season race winners Super Ninety Nine (No. 26) and Power Broker (No. 27) will try to earn their way to the Kentucky Derby in the Santa Anita Derby. A Top 2 finish will get them in and a third-place effort would put them “on the bubble.”
7. Goldencents’ co-owner Rick Pitino will be coaching the Louisville men’s basketball team in the Final Four (tip at 6:09 p.m.) when the gates open for the Santa Anita Derby (post time at 7:00 p.m.). Goldencents will earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby with a Top 3 finish and could still make the race should he finish fourth.
8. An overflow field of 16 fillies hoping to earn their way to the Kentucky Oaks is entered for Saturday’s Central Bank Ashland at Keeneland. The Ashland most recently produced Kentucky Oaks winners Proud Spell (2008), Summerly (2005) and Ashado (2004).
9. Champion juvenile filly Beholder headlines Saturday’s Santa Anita Oaks (GI), which most recently produced Kentucky Oaks winners Blind Luck (2010) and Rags to Riches (2007).
10. Multiple stakes winners Princess of Sylmar and Walkwithapurpose and undefeated Close Hatches top the 1 1/8-mile Gazelle at Aqueduct on the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks.”
OAKS AT A GLANCE
“The Road to the Kentucky Oaks” continues Saturday with the Central Bank Ashland (GI) at Keeneland, Santa Anita Oaks (GI) at Santa Anita Park and Gazelle (GII) at Aqueduct. The Top 4 finishers in each race will be awarded points on a 100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth scale.
The Ashland, which has produced recent Kentucky Oaks (GI) winners Proud Spell (2008), Summerly (2005) and Ashado (2004), drew an overflow field of 16 fillies that includes recent Herecomesthebride (GIII) winner Kitten’s Point and the Mark Casse-trained duo of Darley Alcibiades (GI) winner Spring in the Air (No. 20 on the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” Leaderboard) and multiple graded stakes winner Spring Venture (No. 21).
Spring in the Air will attempt to become just the fifth filly to complete the Alcibiades – Ashland double. Two of the fillies to accomplish the feat, Optimistic Gal (1976) and Silverbulletday (1999), went on to capture the Kentucky Oaks.
Headlining the Santa Anita Oaks is champion juvenile filly Beholder (No. 4). After finishing second in the Santa Ynez (GII) in her 3-year-old debut as the 2-5 favorite, Beholder returned to championship form and won the Las Virgenes (GI) by 3 ¾ lengths.
Finishing second in the Las Virgenes was Fiftyshadesofhay (No. 11) and she will look to turn the tables on Beholder in the Santa Anita Oaks. Fiftyshadesofhay is trained by Bob Baffert and co-owned by Mike Pegram. The two teamed to win the 1999 Kentucky Oaks with Silverbulletday.
Recent Kentucky Oaks winners to exit the Santa Anita Oaks include Blind Luck (2010) and Rags to Riches (2007).
The field for the Gazelle (GII) at Aqueduct is topped by multiple stakes winners Princess of Sylmar (No. 23) and Walkwithapurpose and the undefeated Close Hatches.
Princess of Sylmar enters the Gazelle after winning the Busanda and Busher by a combined 14 ½ lengths. Prior to those stakes victories, she won a first-level allowance by 5 ¼ and broke her maiden by 19 lengths.
Walkwithapurpose also carries an impressive win streak into the Gazelle and has won her last five starts. Her last two wins, the Wide Country and Caesar’s Wish at Laurel, were won by a combined 14 ¼ lengths.
Close Hatches makes her stakes debut in the Gazelle after breaking her maiden by seven lengths and winning an allowance at Gulfstream Park by 1 ¼ lengths. Close Hatches is owned by Juddmonte Farms, who won the 2001 Kentucky Oaks with Flute.