Mark Henning knows he has a talented horse in Eddington for Saturday's $750,000 Wood Memorial (gr. I), and after the colt's learning experience in the Gotham (gr. III), he's confident he will put it all together in the Wood and accumulate enough earnings to get in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) field.
The son of Unbridled won two straight races at Gulfstream in brilliant fashion before finishing third in the Gotham as the 6-5 favorite. After being bumped hard coming out of the gate, he sat back about three to five lengths off scorching fractions, with a strong tailwind down the backstretch, then closed well late.
"We knew going in he was a two-turn horse, and we felt like we were taking our horse's best assets away from him," Hennig said on a national teleconference. "But we did it for educational reasons, and hopefully he's going to move forward off of that race. He's given us every indication he's going to progress.
"It's never good for a horse to get whacked around like that, but in hindsight I would have been afraid where he might have been laying, pace-wise, if he hadn't gotten bothered. He ended being a lot closer than I would have anticipated in a :43 and change half and three-quarters in 1:08. The bumping didn't hurt him physically, and mentally, it put him in a position of stalking and that's what we were trying to do."
One of Hennig's concerns has been Eddington's late lead changes, and not changing at all in the Gotham.
"Not changing leads certainly is a concern," Hennig said. "We've worked with him in the morning and he's done well. I think it's been more of a lack of experience than anything. He worked well on Sunday and he switched leads right on the money. Jerry (Bailey) has always been able to help him through that lead change, so we're confident he'll be fine on Saturday. For Jerry to be committed to our horse and think so much of him certainly is a confidence booster."
Another concern has to be Eddington's low amount of graded stakes earnings, and Hennig realizes the colt must be right there in the Wood to have any chance of getting in the Derby.
"It's so wide open and it's one of those years when it's going to come down to earnings," Hennig said. "A horse can finish third, beaten a half-length, in the Wood and not get into the Kentucky Derby. So, there's an outside chance that the best 3-year-old might be sitting on the sidelines on Derby Day just because of the way things have unfolded. But there's nothing we can do about that. Obviously, he needs graded earnings, and you would feel a lot more confident of him getting in if he finished first or second on Saturday."
Hennig has always been high on Eddington, and feels he can stack up against against any of the top 3-year-olds.
"His biggest attributes are his strength and stamina, and his ability to let it all go when he walks off the track," Hennig said. "He trains aggressively, he feels good and bucks and plays, but when he walks off the track he drops his head and handles himself with all the class in the world. And he has an amazing lung capacity. He can gallop a strong mile and a half, and he'll take one breath and walk off the track and you wouldn't be able tell whether he was on his to the track or on his way back."
Also scheduled to run in the Wood are Value Plus, Master David, Tapit, Consecrate, Swingforthefences, Sinister G, Little Matth Man, Royal Assault, and Cuba. Possible starters include Hornshope and Birdie's Best Boy.
Sinister G, upset winner of the Lane's End Stakes (gr. II, put in his final Wood Memorial prep Tuesday at Belmont Park, breezing a half-mile in :48 under 150-pound exercise rider Luis Chiari. He galloped out in 1:00.
"What I was looking for is just what we got," said trainer John Toscano Jr. "He'll work real quick if you want him to, but I didn't want him to leave his race on the track. A :49 would have been ideal, but this was okay because he was well within himself."
Toscano has great confidence in his horse; however, he is concerned about racing luck.
"My main concern is the post-position draw," Toscano said. "It looks like we're going to have a big field, and if you draw an outside post, you will be at a big disadvantage. If this race were at Belmont, it's not a problem. Here, there is no run to the first turn. An outside post will leave you with a lot to overcome."
John Sullivan's Bride's Best Boy, who is also nominated to Saturday's Bay Shore, breezed a half-mile over Belmont Park's training track in :48 1/5 with assistant trainer/exercise rider Robin Smullen aboard this morning. Smullen was pleased with the move, but said the colt's trainer, Barclay Tagg, was still undecided as to where he was going to enter.
Hornshope breezed a half-mile in :48 1/5 over Belmont's training track this morning. Trainer Mike Daggett has yet to commit the colt to the Wood and said he is going to talk things over with the horse's owner, Timothy Ahern. If Hornshope does run in the Wood, jockey Mike Luzzi will have the call.
"He went out at about 6:30 this morning," Daggett said. "He went very well."
Hornshope last ran on March 12th and was a game winner of a nine-furlong entry-level allowance race over the main track. The horse he outfought, Cuba, is running in the Wood.
"It was a good race, very workmanlike," Daggett said. "Some horses hate going out there, but this one truly loves his work. He's good in the paddock, good in the gate and he enjoys running. He's a pleasure to train."