Either Withers (gr. III) winner Alpha or the undefeated Gemologist could lay claim to the top spot if they were to impressively win on Saturday, and those two will lead a field of eight in the 1 1/8-mile race. Also included are the Gotham (gr. III) runner-up and fourth-place finisher My Adonis and Tiger Walk, respectively, as well as recent overnight stakes winner Street Life.
Post time is set for 5:15 p.m. EDT. The Wood Memorial is one of four graded stakes on the Aqueduct program.
After wavering back and forth about where he would land in his final prep race, Alpha’s connections—Godolphin Racing and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin—decided the Wood was the right spot. The son of Bernardini has won both of his starts this year on the Aqueduct inner track, the Jan. 7 Count Fleet Stakes and the Feb. 4 Withers. The Wood will be run on the main track.
Alpha, who was also runner-up in the Champagne (gr. I) at Belmont as a juvenile, has trained at Palm Meadows in South Florida for the Wood. He will be entering the race off more than a two-month layoff. Ramon Dominguez, who injured his collarbone in a March 18 spill, has recovered in time and will ride Alpha in the Wood. They will break from post 1.
Alpha, bred by Darley and out of the Nijinsky II mare Munnaya, currently has $180,000 of graded earnings, so will probably need at least a third-place finish to make it into the Kentucky Derby top 20. He was listed as the 5-2 second choice on the morning line.
“We couldn’t be happier with him, he’s such a professional,” said Art Magnuson, assistant to McLaughlin. “Distance-wise, the longer the better for him. He’s got kind of a medium build, and in the two two-turn races over the inner track he ran well, (although he might have been) have been a little wide. I think he’ll appreciate the outer track.”
The 8-5 morning-line favorite is WinStar Farm’s Gemologist, a son of Tiznow who will try to stay undefeated in five career starts under regular rider Javier Castellano. Gemologist began his season with a seven-length allowance victory at Gulfstream Park March 16 going one mile for trainer Todd Pletcher, a race with a short field but that included Illinois Derby (gr. III) favorite Currency Swap.
As a juvenile, Gemologist won all three of his starts including the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) at Churchill Downs. He collected $103,855 for his only try in stakes company, and may need a top two finish in the Wood to qualify for the Derby. He will break from post 6.
"I feel like he's had an outstanding winter and spring," Pletcher said. "Knock on wood, everything has really gone according to plan. The horse physically has blossomed and he's just been a pleasure to train all spring. He's willing in his works, he's not overzealous, and he's got a great temperament, and we've just been really fortunate that everything's gone according to plan to this point.
"The one situation or position that we're in is there's not a lot of margin for error for his Wood Memorial performance; he could really finish third and that's going to put him on the bubble of graded earnings. It's important for him to run first or second and give us a good effort."
George and Lori Hall’s My Adonis has hit the board in both of his starts this year, finishing a distant third in the Jan. 29 Holy Bull (gr. III) at Gulfstream and then second, beaten three lengths by Hansen, in the March 3 Gotham. The son of Pleasantly Perfect has worked twice at Belmont for trainer Kelly Breen since the Gotham, including a bullet four-furlong move in :47 on March 30. Elvis Trujillo will be aboard once again.
My Adonis has only finished out of the money once in nine lifetime tries. He won twice as a juvenile, including the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs.
“He’s a strong, good-looking horse, and he’s still maturing,” said Lori Hall. “I felt really good about running back against Hansen and I don’t think anyone has a better shot to win the Wood than we do. It’s our home court.”
Sagamore Farm’s Tiger Walk was third in the Withers and fourth in the Gotham in his two starts in 2012. A winner on the Laurel Park turf and dirt to end his 2-year-old season, he will be saddled by Ignacio Correas, with John Velazquez getting the call.
Lightly-raced but a clearly improving 3-year-old is Magnolia Racing Stable and Hidden Brook Farm’s Street Life. The son of Street Sense did not start as a juvenile, but has won two of his three starts this year—both on the Aqueduct inner track. Trained by Chad Brown, the colt broke his maiden in his second try in February, then returned to score the listed Broad Brush Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 7.
Street Life has come from off the pace in both of his wins, and will likely try that strategy once again under Junior Alvarado.
“The longer the better, but whether he’s good enough to face this caliber of horses yet, we’ll have to see,” said Brown. “I know the talent is there. We’re trying to develop the horse to get ready for some of these nice races. This will be a good test for him. I’m optimistic he’ll give a good account of himself.”
Completing the field are the Nick Zito-trained Casual Trick, who was seventh in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II); recent Gulfstream maiden winner Teeth of the Dog; and The Lumber Guy, a Belmont-based colt who has won a pair of sprints this year in front-running fashion.
$1 million Wood Memorial (gr. I, Race 9, 5:15 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Alpha (KY), R A Dominguez, 123, K P McLaughlin, 5-2
2. Casual Trick (KY), C S Nakatani, 123, N P Zito, 20-1
3. My Adonis (KY), E Trujillo, 123, K J Breen, 8-1
4. Teeth of the Dog (KY), J Bravo, 123, M R Matz, 15-1
5. Street Life (KY), J Alvarado, 123, C C Brown, 4-1
6. Gemologist (KY), J Castellano, 123, T A Pletcher, 8-5
7. Tiger Walk (KY), J R Velazquez, 123, I Correas IV, 15-1
8. The Lumber Guy (NY), C H Velasquez, 123, M E Hushion, 8-1