Will I Want Revenge show the same brilliance he did when romping to an 8 1/2-length victory in the Gotham (gr. III)? Is Gotham runner-up Imperial Council poised to turn the tables on his rival? Or will one of the other intriguing starters stamp themselves as a major Triple Crown contender?
These are just some of the questions that will be answered in the $750,000 Wood Memorial (gr. I) on April 4 at Aqueduct. A field of eight was drawn for the 1 1/8-mile main track test, which is the final Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands prep for 3-year-olds in New York. Post time is set for 5:19 p.m. EDT.
A Kentucky homebred of David Lanzman, I Want Revenge lost a pair of narrow decisions to top West Coast Derby contender Pioneerof the Nile in California before vaulting himself near the top of every watch list with his sensational Gotham score. Under Joe Talamo, the son of Stephen Got Even pressed the pace set by Mr. Fantasy for a half-mile, took over approaching the top of the lane and drew away for a resounding victory that earned him a lofty 114 Beyer speed figure. It was his first start on dirt after six on California synthetics.
IEAH Stables, who campaigned dual-classic winner Big Brown a year ago, was so impressed with I Want Revenge’s Gotham that they privately purchased a 50% share in the colt earlier this week. I Want Revenge will now run in IEAH silks.
Since the Gotham, I Want Revenge has posted three solid works for trainer Jeff Mullins at Hollywood Park. If they are any indication, another convincing win is certainly possible.
“All I can do is take the word of my trainer, and he says he's better now than he was when he went over for the Gotham,” said Lanzman, who bought a 25% interest in champion filly Stardom Bound from IEAH shortly after the I Want Revenge deal was finalized. “I went out on Sunday morning (March 29) to watch his work where he went :59 and change, and it was almost an open gallop. It's almost scary for us to think he's better now than he was going into the Gotham.”
I Want Revenge, who is out of the Roy mare Meguial, drew post 1 for the Wood and Talamo will ride once again. The 4-5 morning-line favorite is scheduled to arrive at Aqueduct from California on April 1. His record is 2-1-4 from seven starts with earnings of $366,000.
Sequoia Racing’s Imperial Council gave a good showing of himself in the Gotham, which was his first start in stakes action and first around two turns. The Empire Maker colt saved ground in the early going of the 1 1/16-mile test before making a big run in the final furlong. Despite being well behind Mr. Fantasy in deep stretch, he was able to get up for second place under Rajiv Maragh.
It is likely that Imperial Council (2-1) will be much closer to the pace in the Wood, as he was in his maiden victory at Belmont last October and in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance score at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 14. Edgar Prado was aboard for those two wins and will be reunited with the colt for the Wood.
“Edgar is back on him and I am happy about that,” said trainer Shug McGaughey. “Not that Rajiv did anything wrong, but I would have liked to have seen Imperial Council lay closer in the Gotham. He had to come from too far off a slow pace. The winner ran great, but sometimes, when a horse gets alone on the front like that, his heart gets real big.”
Bred in Kentucky by G. Watts Humphrey Jr., Imperial Council is out of the Thunder Gulch mare Jaramar Rain. He was a $130,000 yearling purchase. The dark bay, who shipped to New York from Florida on April 1, will break from post 6.
Though I Want Revenge and Imperial Council should receive much of the betting attention, there are several upset possibilities. One of them is Dogwood Stable’s Lime Rickey, who makes his first start on dirt after nine races on turf. A son of Lemon Drop Kid, Lime Rickey (20-1) has finished runner-up in three starts this season – all of them in stakes company. The Frank Alexander trainee was a length back in his most recent start, the 1 1/8-mile Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream.
“We don’t know how he will take to dirt in a race, but now is the time to find out, and the mile and an eighth Wood Memorial is a spot that will test him pretty keenly,” said Dogwood president Cot Campbell. “If Jupiter aligns with Mars in a precise manner, we could get to the Derby this year. Lime Rickey is a solid grass specialist, but he has a dirt pedigree and is a game colt – and if he moves up big time he might get to Churchill Downs.”
Lime Rickey, who broke his maiden on the Aqueduct turf last November, will be ridden from post 8 by Javier Castellano.
Making his first start in stakes competition will be Robert LaPenta’s Just a Coincidence. After five losses to start his career, the Forestry colt has rebounded with consecutive wins, both at one-mile on the Gulfstream dirt. Just a Coincidence (12-1), trained by Nick Zito, will likely be a part of the early pace scenario, as he has flashed early speed in his last two.
Hoping to rebound from a disappointing showing in the March 21 Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II) will be West Side Bernie. The son of Bernstein finished sixth in that race, which came on Turfway Park’s Polytrack, one start after finishing third in the Holy Bull (gr. III) at Gulfstream in his sophomore debut. Stewart Elliott will ride.
West Side Bernie’s stablemate Atomic Rain will also take his shot. The Smart Strike colt has finished runner-up in three of his six career starts, including the Remsen (gr. II) in November. Most recently, Atomic Rain was third, three-quarters of a length back, in a nine-furlong allowance race March 6 at Gulfstream. Both West Side Bernie and Atomic Rain are owned by George and Lori Hall and trained by Kelly Breen. They will run as a coupled entry.
“I have no idea why (West Side Bernie) ran the way he did in the Lane’s End,” Breen said. “That was the first race he’s ever run where he didn’t fire. Our hope was that he would win that race and have enough earnings to make the Kentucky Derby. Fortunately, we had enough time to run in the Wood Memorial. He’s by Bernstein and turf may be in his future, but for now, we’re trying to get to Churchill.
“(Atomic Rain) is a big, good-looking horse, but very immature. For as big as he is, you would think he would be a lot stronger and a lot smarter, but we have had issues with him paying attention. I hesitated to put blinkers on him because I kept hoping he would mature and figure things out on his own. We tried them on him at Tampa Bay Downs, but he never took hold of that track. We might have to move the blinkers up on him to keep his focus.”