It's now or never for the eight starters entered in Saturday's $750,000 Wood Memorial (gr. I). If any hope to make it to the May 7 Kentucky Derby (gr. I), they must deliver the goods in the Wood, especially with only two of the participants – Bellamy Road and Survivalist – on the top 20 list of graded earnings, and they are ranked 17th and 20th, respectively.
Bellamy Road, a 15 1/2-length allowance winner in his only start this year, and Gotham (gr. III) winner Survivalist, join Going Wild, winner of the Sham Stakes and second in the San Felipe (gr. II), as the three likely top choices in the Wood, which was moved up a week this year and will now be run four weeks before the Kentucky Derby, instead of its customary three weeks.
Bellamy Road, one of five Kentucky Derby contenders trained by Nick Zito, should show good speed from post 3, with Javier Castellano aboard. Although Zito would like to see the son of Concerto rate off the pace, that might be more difficult being down on the inside at Aqueduct. In his lone stakes victory, he won the Miller Genuine Draft Cradle Stakes (gr. III) on the front end last year.
Zito, however, is confident Bellamy Road will rate. ""Over the years, we've done well getting our horses to relax," Zito said. "He'll go the distance and he'll relax."
D. Wayne Lukas also would like to see Going Wild rate off the pace. Breaking from post 5, under Victor Espinoza, he should be able to take back a bit, unless Galloping Grocer comes charging up to him from his outside and gets his blood boiling.
Going Wild, a son of Golden Missile
, has earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures going six furlongs and 1 1/8 miles, something you don't see too often in a young horse. He also showed the ability to rate in the San Felipe after breaking poorly and getting stuck down on the inside, which was the worst part of the track. He still ran a big race to finish second to 2-year-old champion Declan's Moon.
Another colt with good tactical speed is Pavo, who ran a remarkable race to finish second in the Gotham after jockey Alan Garcia lost his irons on the backstretch. The son of Marquetry
was subsequently disqualified and placed fourth when Garcia inadvertently hit Naughty New Yorker across the face with his whip. Not only did he run a gutsy race, under a rider with little control over him, he became involved in a shoving match with Galloping Grocer, who was moved up to second after the disqualification. Because of a commitment mixup, Garcia will not ride Pavo, who gets the services of Jerry Bailey.
Galloping Grocer, a New York-bred son of A.P. Jet
, has now had two starts this year, and could be ready to duplicate his gutsy effort in last year's Remsen Stakes (gr. II), run over the same surface and 1 1/8-mile distance as the Wood Memorial. Trained by Dominick Schettino, he will have Mike Luzzi aboard.
"Going a one-turn mile from post 3 with his running style isn't easy," Schettino said. "It looks like there should be another good pace in the Wood and I think our horse might be able to settle better going a mile and an eighth on the main track."
Scrappy T, who will break from the rail under Rafael Bejarano, is yet another who can set or press the pace, having won the Count Fleet Stakes on the front end, then finishing a strong third in the Whirlaway Stakes after breaking from post 10 and laying back in fourth. The son of Fit to Fight is trained by Robert Bailes. Not having run since the Whirlaway, he should be a fresh horse and could bust out of there from the inside post. That would give Bellamy Road an opportunity to lay off the pace. With only one easy victory behind him this year, he will need a hard race if he's to have any hope of being a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender.
If several of these five horses engage each other at some point in the race, it could set things up for Survivalist and Naughty New Yorker, who came flying together in the Gotham, with Survivalist out-closing Naughty New Yorker, who was not really suited to the mile distance, especially cutting back to one turn following three straight two-turn races.
McGaughey admits he doesn't know how far Survivalist wants to go, but he feels confident he's ready for a top effort in the Wood. "People might knock Survivalist because he was running with winter horses in the Gotham," McGaughey said. "It will all play itself out in due time. Galloping Grocer was supposed to be the second coming of Funny Cide until he lost in the Whirlaway. I'm very happy with the way he's making steady improvement."
If you're looking for a decent price in the Wood, Naughty New Yorker would be the most logical choice. Look for the son of Quiet American
to start motoring around the three-eighths pole. He's come up short in the stretch in his last three starts, but this time he could get the job done. He breaks from post 8 under Jean-Luc Samyn and should have a clean trip.
The final starter, Byanosejoe, finished a close fifth in the Gotham, closing well after being steered to the inside. He'll be ridden by Jose Santos.
Wood Memorial Field:
PP, Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Weight
1 -- Scrappy T, Robert Bailes, Rafael Bejarano, 123
2 -- Byanosejoe, Richard Dutrow, Jose Santos, 123
3 -- Bellamy Road, Nick Zito, Javier Castellano, 123
4 -- Survivalist, Shug McGaughey, Richard Migliore, 123
5 -- Going Wild, D., Wayne Lukas, Victor Espinoza, 123
6 -- Pavo, Jennifer Pedersen, Jerry Bailey, 123
7 -- Galloping Grocer, Dominick Schettino, Mike Luzzi, 123
8 -- Naughty New Yorker, Pat Kelly, Jean-Luc Samyn, 123