The Wood Memorial
Aqueduct's signature race, the $1,000,000 Wood Memorial, hasn't had a winner come back to win the Kentucky Derby since Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. I'm not liking the chances of that changing this year. The classic New York bred duo of the undefeated #8 Samraat and second-fiddle #10 Uncle Sigh return here with a new foe in the form of the ultra-impressive #11 Social Inclusion. A quick rundown on these horses: Samraat is undefeated and has won the last two local preps, the Withers and the Gotham, with Uncle Sigh finishing second to him resiliantly in both of those races. Social Inclusion comes up from Gulfstream, exiting a romp in what was supposed to be Honor Code's easy allowance return. His 111 Beyer and track record performance in that race has made him a big hype horse. They're certainly a talented bunch. Social Inclusion will likely be the favourite. From the far outside post, they have two options: go the lead, take pressure and hope he's good enough, or try to rate a bit and grab a stalking position. Either way, he's likely wide around the first turn. Uncle Sigh will be going for the lead as he has in all of his route starts, while Samraat will definitely try to stalk. The frontrunners will be accompanied by #6 Kristo, who ships in from Cali off of a well beaten third behind California Chrome. That was a failed attempt to take him off the front. I doubt they'll be doing that again. #3 Noble Moon comes back from his win in the Jerome back on January 4th. He has some early speed, maybe not as much as the top contenders but from an inside post they may try and get out quickly as well. So there's a potential pace duel with Samraat getting a beautiful set up. But how well will Samraat progress? In his last race he got everything set up perfectly: Uncle Sigh and In Trouble dueled in fairly decent fractions, he sat off of them a bit, made a move and won. However, Uncle Sigh made a great re-rally and was only a neck behind and coming. That makes me question how well Samraat will do with more distance. It also makes me respect Uncle Sigh more than I did before. Not enough for me to pick Uncle Sigh to win, the speed he'll have to contend with here is more serious than In Trouble, but it gives me more respect. Of all the others, there's only one I like: #4 Harpoon. He was my Gotham pick and I will stay loyal. In the Gotham he drew post 10, got a ridiculously stupid wide trip, and eventually started making a run. He's definitely got some talent, his runner up finish in the Sam F. Davis shows something. With a better draw and some added distance, he should be able to run a much more competitive race.
The Santa Anita Derby
SoCal's big one, the $1,000,000 Santa Anita Derby features another State-bred superstar, #5 California Chrome. The Cal bred wasn't nearly as impressive to me as many people thought he was in his last race. The San Felipe really wasn't that tough, the high Beyer doesn't do anything for me. Assuming he uses the same frontrunning style he did in that race, we can assume that he'll be taking pace pressure from the maiden duo of #1 Rprettyboyfloyd and #8 Dublin Up. The idea of a 6-5 favourite being worn down in the middle part of a speed duel is pretty exciting for me: it gives me a reason to toss him. This race really comes down to #3 Hoppertunity and #6 Candy Boy. Hoppertunity has been the most impressive prep winner so far in my eyes. The bumping he took at Oaklawn showed that he can handle things not going totally his way. Candy Boy was second in the Cash Call Futurity, then took some time off and returned in the Robert B. Lewis, where he made a great run to beat eventual Sunland Derby winner Chitu. His gallop out was fantastic. Both of these horses have similar stalking styles, so it comes down to a) who you think is better or b) where you'll get more value. For me, Hoppertunity is both the better horse and the better value. I really liked his Oaklawn race and I like how he has more recency than Candy Boy. Hopefully the maidens can wear down California Chrome. If Chrome gets a loose lead, he most likely will not be caught. But Hoppertunity will be my official pick.
Good luck to everybody playing today!