George Steinbrenner's Bellamy Road
became a serious contender for next month's Kentucky Derby (Gr. I) with a stunning 17 1/2-length victory over a half dozen overmatched rivals in Saturday's $750,000 Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct.
The front-running victory for the Florida-bred was as effortless as it was breathtaking, stopping the clock in a track record-equaling 1:47.
At the sixteenth pole, jockey Javier Castellano glanced over at the infield television, saw his margin widening, and turned to wave at the grandstand in celebration. Past the wire, the lightly-raced Bellamy Road continued to run on strong until an outrider helped Castellano pull him up more than a quarter mile past the finish. It never looked as if Bellamy Road was running full out.
"Boy, he was unbelievable today," said trainer Nick Zito. "He just kept going. I hope he stays that way for four weeks, and he'll have a good shot (in the Kentucky Derby), too."
Gotham (gr. III) winner Survivalist finished second, with Scrappy T third. But they will be remembered as little more than footnotes to one of most extraordinary spring victories by a 3-year old in recent memory.
Bellamy Road has now started two times for Zito. His first start was a 15 3/4-length allowance win at Gulfstream Park last month. Overall, the son of Concerto is once beaten in five starts. The loss came in last year's Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland in October when he was seventh, 12 lengths behind the winning Consolidator when he was trained by Michael Dickinson.
He will join Zito-trained Sun King, who won the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) as well as High Fly and Noble Causeway, who made the exacta in the Florida Derby (gr. I), as probable Derby entrants May 7.
"I'm just happy to be in the game with this many horses at this time," Zito said after his third Wood Memorial win (Thirty Six Red, 1990, and Adonis, 1999). "This is pretty impressive today, there's no question. He might be a special horse. This is tremendous, his last two races."
Bellamy Road could start as the Kentucky Derby favorite. If he wins, he will be the first since Sonny's Halo in 1983 to do so with the benefit of only two prior races as a 3-year old.
Castellano, who won his first Wood Memorial, is now in position to ride in the Kentucky Derby for the first time. He nearly gave up the mount on Bellamy Road in order to ride Ghostzapper in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II), but a brief illness canceled that start for the reigning Horse of the Year.
"He wants to go longer, no question about it," Castellano said of the best 3-year old he has crossed paths with. "I'll keep my fingers crossed and pray that everything works out good."
Bellamy Road's presence at the Derby will add a trace of star quality to the event. He is owned by Kinsman Stable, nom de course for the racing operation of New York Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner.
"(He) was back in Tampa watching the race with my brother Hank," said George's daughter Jessica, who represented the family at the Wood Memorial. "He is ecstatic, absolutely ecstatic. If you compare it to the World Series, his emotions were right up there with that."
The Derby won't be new for the Boss. He's been there four times before, but never with one of the favorites. His first starter, Steve's Friend, was fifth in 1977. Diligence, in 1996, and Concerto, in 1997, finished ninth, and Blue Burner was 11th in 2002.
Bellamy Road earned $450,000 to boost his career earnings to $611,400.
Galloping Grocer, the New York-bred that wintered at Aqueduct with his eye on the classics, was rated far off the pace by Mike Luzzi and never threatened, finishing fourth. e was beaten more than 26 lengths. Naughty New Yorker, Pavo, and Going Wild completed the order of finish.
Bellamy Road, the narrow favorite over last place finisher Going Wild, paid $7.10, $4.90, and $4.10. Survivalist returned $6.10 and $5. Show bets on Scrappy T were good for $5.90.