Gary and Mary West's Buddha dueled though the Aqueduct stretch with Medaglia d'Oro and Sunday Break en route to a head-length win in Saturday's exciting renewal of the $750,000 Wood Memorial (gr. I). Under Pat Day, the gray son of Unbridled's Song completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.61 on a fast track.
Medaglia d'Oro was sent to the early lead under Laffit Pincay Jr. before Pat Day moved up approaching the first turn to maintain his inside position. Medaglia d'Oro set fractions of :46.98 and 1:10.14 while being pressed from the inside by Buddha. Sunday Break moved up on the outside to challenge on the second turn and the three leaders headed into the stretch lined up across the track, with Saarland moving closer to the lead, just behind Blue Burner. In the stretch, Buddha claimed a slim lead and fought a game Medaglia d'Oro to the wire to claim the win, with Sunday Break dropping back slightly as they approached the wire.
"This horse really ran big," said Day. "He sat calm down inside the whole way. He got squeezed a bit on the first turn, but hung in there and secured the inside position. He really fought hard to the wire. The other horse (Medaglia d'Oro) was alongside him the whole way, and when the other horse came back on him at the end, my horse wasn't giving up anything. It was a super effort."
Medaglia d'Oro finished a half-length ahead of Sunday Break. Saarland came home fourth after racing in last place through the early going. Blue Burner, Iwin, and Nokoma completed the order of finish. Laissezaller was pulled up on the backstretch with a broken right-hind leg. He was later euthanized.
Buddha returned $8.20, $4.20, and $3.60 and led a $23.60 exacta. 2-1 favorite Medaglia d'Oro paid $3.60 and $3.20. Japanese-bred Sunday Break returned $4.70.
"I am usually optimistic about my horses, but this one I really had a good feeling about," said winning trainer H. James Bond. "He's lightly raced, but he is so intelligent. If you could measure a horse's intelligence, he would measure out very high.
"As for going to the Kentucky Derby, I would love to run a horse in that race, believe me. You go to cocktail parties and meet people who know nothing about racing and they will ask me, `Did you ever win the Kentucky Derby?' I would answer, `No, I never ever ran in it' -- and five minutes later, I'm standing by myself. But I have to make sure this horse is doing okay. This was a tough race; don't make any mistake about that. Will it season him more? That's a possibility. Will it hurt him? With young horses, that is also a possibility. We'll see what happens over the next few days. To tell you the truth, I made no plans beyond this race."
Buddha earned $450,000 for the win, his third in four career starts. He was making his first start in stakes company. Buddha was bred in Kentucky by Farfellow Farms and sold for $250,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale.
"He won those two races down in Florida very easily, but he had never run against this caliber of horses," said Gary West. "He ran fast times in both of his wins and got high speed figures, but he never faced graded-stakes kind of horses. Those were our two dilemmas: we knew the horse had a lot of talent, but we didn't know how much class he had until today. He looked the other horse in the eye and out-gutted him to the wire. That means a lot to me because I think the other horse is a very nice horse. Any of those three horses probably could have won the Wood Memorial in most years.
"Last year, he was just an average horse. He had a breathing problem and hadn't shown very much. Up until two months ago, we would have never dreamed of being in the Wood Memorial and we would have certainly not given even a minor thought to the Kentucky Derby. That's the beautiful thing about this game -- every once in awhile, you get a pleasant surprise."
The Wood has produced the last two Derby winners -- Monarchos last year and Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.
Medaglia d'Oro's trainer Bobby Frankel said his colt will be pointed toward the Derby.
Neil Drysdale said Sunday Break will try the 1 1/4-mile classic.
"This is the first time he's had to work like that," Drysdale said. "I'm delighted with his effort. He got a little tired in the end, but this is a race he can move forward off of. We'll go on to the Kentucky Derby. I just hope he has enough earnings to get in."
Saarland's trainer Claude "Shug" McGaughey also seemed inclined to try the Derby.
"I thought it was a great race for him," McGaughey said. "We were asked to do the impossible -- close into a paceless race. The horses that finished ahead of us were 1-2-3 all the way around. We made our run and beat the horse (Blue Burner) that was second in the Florida Derby (to Harlan's Holiday, winner of Saturday's Blue Grass at Keeneland). If he comes out of this race okay and Cynthia (Phipps, owner), wants to go the Kentucky Derby, I have no problem with that."
Blue Burner's performance, however, wasn't enough to convince trainer Bill Mott to head to Louisville.
"There is not much to say about this race," Mott said. "He had his chance to run, and it never happened. The lack of pace didn't help us, but he never put in a run, anyway. It was not an encouraging performance and we would have to sleep on it pretty well (about going to the Kentucky Derby)." (Chart, Equibase