The New York path to the Kentucky Derby makes its final stop in Queens this Saturday, where eight three-year-olds will contest the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Half of the field got a race in over the inner track this winter, while the other runners are all shipping in from other venues. While most of the runners in this race are considered to be a cut below a top Kentucky Derby contender such as Nyquist, it takes only one breakout performance for any of these horses to position himself as one to fear on the firstSaturday in May.
There is not an overabundance of speed in this Wood Memorial. While the Pace Projector is not predicting a slow pace, it does illustrate that only #6 Matt King Coal and #8 Outwork possess the speed to try for the lead in the early going. However, it’s not as if the other major contenders are deep closers, so we’re likely to see a fairly run race.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, Shagaf (2/1):
It’s hard to find too many faults with this undefeated colt. While he has gotten very good trips in all of his starts, he’s done exactly what has been asked of him and comes into this race as the horse to beat. There’s still some debate about how much he was helped by racing on the rail in the Gotham. That day on the inner track featured one of the strongest gold rails of the meet, and Shagaf was glued to the inside fence until the field reached the quarter pole. Irad Ortiz then swung him to the center of the track and he gradually wore down the leaders. He won the race, but did he run much better than Adventist, who sustained a two- to three-wide trip? Probably not. However, unlike that colt, Shagaf is very professional for a lightly raced colt, and you basically know what you’re going to get. He’s reliable but not exactly exciting at a short price.
#2, Adventist (10/1): We do believe that he ran a better race than Shagaf in the Gotham. However, this colt has been plagued by inexperience in his two stakes tries. He bore out heading into the first turn of the Withers two back, and then was once again green through the stretch of the Gotham last time. He’s bred to get the distance, but we wonder if his connections are asking too much of him in such a short time period. We won’t be surprised if he turns out to be one of the best runners in this bunch later in the year, but for now we prefer others.
#3, Trojan Nation (30/1): He’s never won a race and has never run fast enough to be a factor here. Moving on.
#4, Tale of S’avall (20/1): We thought he was interesting at a big price in the Tampa Bay Derby and he wasn’t completely disgraced. There was a ton of speed signed on for that race, so you cannot blame Joe Bravo for adopting closing tactics. However, when that pace never materialized, Tale of S’avall was compromised by dynamics. He did make a middle move before flattening out and still beat Brody’s Cause, one of the favorites in the Blue Grass. We think this colt has talent, but we also get the sense that Barclay Tagg is being rushed to try and make the Derby with him. He may need more time.
#5, Flexibility (8/1): This could be the forgotten horse in the Wood Memorial. Once considered the inevitable favorite for this race, he’s been largely written off since his off-the-board finish at 1/2 in the Withers last time. While it’s unconventional for a horse to get a layoff in the middle of the Derby prep season, maybe this colt needed it after squeezing in five races in the span of three-and-a-half months. He showed that he could handle the distance in the Remsen last year, and he possesses the tactical speed to place himself in a good position right in behind the leaders. He hasn’t missed a beat in his workouts since late February, and Chad Brown knows how to have a horse ready off this type of layoff (he gets a 100 trainer rating). Don’t ignore this one.
#6, Matt King Coal (3/1):
While Shagaf garnered all of the headlines coming out of New York for his performance on March 5, we feel that on the following day, this colt turned in the performance of the weekend. Linda Rice is not known for winning off layoffs and candidly admitted that Matt King Coal might be a little short for the race. Nevertheless, he flashed his speed, carving out solid fractions before spurting away in the stretch and gamely holding off the late charge of My Man Sam. We believe that My Man Sam is one of the primary players in the Blue Grass later today. Since that race, Matt King Coal has come back with two strong stamina-building workouts over the Belmont training track. He’s drawn to the inside of fellow speed Outwork, so Jose Ortiz is likely to send him to the front rather than mess with his preferred style. Linda Rice gets a 90 trainer rating with horses making their second starts off a layoff, and a 95 trainer rating with runners moving from allowance to stakes company. We get the feeling that he’s sitting on a big race.
#7, Dalmore (12/1): He finally earned his maiden diploma last time, but he’s going to have to do significantly better than that to even crack the trifecta here.
#8, Outwork (5/2):
If there’s one horse going off at a relatively short price that we’re against in this Wood Memorial, it’s Outwork. This son of Uncle is undoubtedly very talented. However, we wouldn’t be so quick to erase any concerns about distance limitations based on his one two-turn performance. That Tampa Bay Derby was a race that appeared to have a ton of speed signed on, but many of them did not try for the lead, allowing Outwork to easily make the front through moderate fractions. The closers were up against it, especially after he and stablemate Destin quickened around the far turn. This time, he’s likely to be chasing Matt King Coal early, in which case he must put away that speedy colt and still hold off the stalkers. It’s not impossible, but we believe he’s going to be an underlay.
MATT KING COAL (#6) is our pick to wire the Wood Memorial. We believe he would offer value at or above his morning line odds of 3/1. While we respect likely favorite Shagaf (#1) and will use him on our tickets, we also want to have coverage to Adventist (#2) and, especially, Flexibility (#5).
Win: #6, Matt King Coal
Exacta Key Box: 6 with 1,2,5