Godolphin Racing’s Enticed looms as a formidable favorite in Aqueduct’s Grade 2 Wood Memorial on Saturday. The only participant who has as of yet accrued enough points to guarantee his place in the Kentucky Derby starting gate earned that coveted spot when taking command of last month’s Gotham Stakes, the top prep for the Wood. However, Enticed will be stretching out to a new distance for the first time and there are several interesting new shooters looking to usurp him.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, yet it also indicates that this field contains just one notable front-runner, Old Time Revival (#4). Horses like Heartfuloffstars (#1), Restoring Hope (#8), and even Enticed (#5) all possess tactical speed, but none need the lead in order to fire their best shots. Even though the Pace Projector forecasts a quick early tempo, likely pacesetter Old Time Revival showed in the Gotham that he’s the kind of horse that can maintain a steady early gallop over a route of ground.
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, HEARTFULLOFSTARS (20-1): He couldn’t match strides with today’s rival Restoring Hope when they last met in a Feb. 2 maiden race at Santa Anita. He was finally able to register a narrow maiden win last time out racing over a sloppy, sealed track, but the speed figure that he earned for the effort is not nearly fast enough to contend with the top choices here. These are dangerous connections, but the horse would need to take a significant step forward.
#2, FIRENZE FIRE (6-1): Last year’s Champagne winner finished a distant fourth in the Gotham, yet still his connections press on. This Poseideon’s Warrior colt clearly has ample talent, and I’d even argue that he’s capable of hanging with any of today’s rivals given ideal circumstances. Unfortunately, 1 1/8 miles around two turns is far from ideal for this stamina-challenged runner. The reality of the situation is that this isn’t the toughest Wood Memorial field we’ve ever seen, so it’s hardly inconceivable that he could underperform relative to his Champagne performance yet again and still hit the board. However, as a fan of the horse, I’d like to see him fail to make the Derby so his connections can focus on the one-turn races in which he should be running. I’ll use him underneath in some trifectas.
#3, EVALUATOR (20-1): This New York-bred is prone to surprises. With little turf pedigree to speak of, he burst onto the scene with an eye-catching last-to-first maiden score on the Spa lawn last August. After tangling with open company in a couple of stakes, he returned to the New York-bred ranks in the Sleepy Hollow, this time on dirt, and sprang yet another upset, winning at 19-1. He followed that up with a decent runner-up performance behind the talented Empire Line in January. It’s easy to like this rarely respected colt, but he’s in over his head this time. A late-running minor award would be a nice achievement here, and should propel him to New York-bred stakes like the Albany later in the year.
#4, OLD TIME REVIVAL (6-1): It would be foolish to dismiss this colt’s 35-1 runner-up finish in the Gotham as a mere fluke. He had tipped his hand one race earlier in the Miracle Wood, spurting clear on the far turn at Laurel before just getting run down in the late stages. The 87 Beyer and 109 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned for that race made him among the fastest horses in the Gotham, yet he was ignore on the tote board. Employing similar front-running tactics, Jeremy Rose let him loose on the turn and he broke the race open. Enticed reeled him in late and appeared to do so quite easily, but Old Time Revival still deserves respect for finishing well clear of talented three-year-olds Free Drop Billy and Firenze Fire. The stretch-out to two turns is obviously a question mark, but this runner has defied expectations up until this point. Furthermore, while the Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, Old Time Revival has proven that he can lay down taxing early fractions and keep going, at least racing as far as one mile.
There is some pedigree evidence to suggest that he may possess the necessary stamina to carry his speed the distance. His low-profile sire, Brethren, is a half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, and his route-winning dam is a half-sister to champion filly Awesome Feather.
#5, ENTICED (6-5): It’s always a little risky to put too much stock in a single effort, but one cannot deny that this colt’s Gotham win ticked all the boxes. It was visually impressive as Junior Alvarado merely shook the reins at him as he inhaled Old Time Revival before getting geared down in the late stages. It was also a fast race. Enticed ran just a few hundredths slower than talented older horses Divine Miss Grey and Harlan Punch on the same card, and did so in a race that featured a more taxing pace than those two aforementioned heats. All of that added up to a 95 Beyer and 116 TimeformUS Speed Figure, numbers that put him among the elite Derby contenders in this crop.
The major question for Enticed heading into the Wood is the stretch-out to 1 1/8 miles, but he also already has a leg up on his rivals in that department, having won the two-turn Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall. Kiaran McLaughlin is unconcerned about the distance, noting that he’s always thought Enticed would be best going these two-turn route distances. He’s a big, imposing colt with a relentless, high-striding action. He appears to be as well suited to this distance as any of his rivals, and his tactical speed should allow him to work out a favorable trip. Junior Alvarado should be looking to get him out into the clear early, so that he doesn’t get trapped down inside, as he did two back in the Holy Bull. As long as doesn’t encounter significant trouble, he looms as a very likely winner of this race. A short price is guaranteed, but I have not found sufficient reason to be swayed in another direction.
#6, CATCH TWENTY TWO (50-1): An overwhelming favorite to bring up the rear.
#7, KING ZACHARY (20-1): There’s a modicum of hype around this colt following his blowout maiden win at Gulfstream last month. However, the field that he defeated that day was sorely lacking in quality, the resulting speed figures suggest that the race was a relatively slow one. Dale Romans is never afraid to take a shot in major stakes, and you could argue that this colt’s best days are ahead of him. Yet this remains an awfully tall order for such an inexperienced runner.
#8, RESTORING HOPE (4-1): Among knowledgeable followers of the Southern California workouts, this colt is perhaps best known as the training mate of top Derby prospect Solomini. That Zayat-owned stablemate is notoriously lazy horse in the mornings, so Restoring Hope routinely outduels him in those drills. In the afternoons, Restoring Hope has yet to achieve anything close to the exploits of his dawn partner. However, the fact that trainer Bob Baffert is shipping across the country to contest this final round Derby prep suggests that he may be well on his way to quickly catching up.
After finishing a fast-closing second in his sprint debut, Restoring Hope was immediately stretched out around two turns. He raced very keenly in that first route attempt and had exhausted his energy by the time they reached the quarter pole. Baffert wisely removed the blinkers for his second attempt at the distance, he put forth a much more professional effort on Feb. 2. Still racing forwardly, but not overly eager, he followed Flavian Prat’s queues, taking command at the quarter pole before drawing clear in the late stages. This big, lumbering colt gives the impression that added ground should not be an issue. The main concern with him is an overall lack of seasoning. Like his stablemate West Coast at this time last year, Restoring Hope appears to be on his way to becoming a very good horse, but I don’t think he’s there quite yet. I’ll use him in exotics, but I strongly prefer Enticed on the win end.
#9, VINO ROSSO (9-2): I’ve been a fan of this colt, and he’s disappointed me. You could owe his uneven race in the Sam F. Davis to inexperience, as he appeared to get on track very late in the stretch. However, his alarmingly dull effort in the Tampa Bay Derby appears to have confirmed my fears. Ultimately, this horse may just be a bit slower than the elite three-year-olds.
I’m still mildly interested in him in this race, because I do think he wants every bit of this 1 1/8 miles distance. He’s bred to run for days, being by top stamina influence Curlin, and out of a dam that is a half-sister to Belmont Stakes runner-up Commissioner. His grinding style lends itself well to Aqueduct’s taxing 9-furlong oval, and the outside post position appears to be ideal for a horse that sometimes gets discouraged racing inside. My feeling is that we may see his best effort yet on Saturday. However, will that be good enough to take down Enticed? I’m somewhat dubious, but I do nevertheless regard him is the most likely upsetter.
I’m not spending much money trying to beat Enticed (#5) here. He just appears to be faster than his rivals and I don’t think the added distance will prove to be his undoing. I’ll play small backup trifectas with Vino Rosso (#9) on top, but I’ll be pushing Enticed in most wagers. Underneath, I want to use Old Time Revival (#4) prominently, as he should offer a bit of value in the second or third slot.
Exacta: 5 with 4,8,9
Trifecta: 5 with 4,9 with 2,3,4,8,9
Trifecta: 9 with 5 with 2,4,8