Derby Preps: Wood Memorial, Illinois and Santa Anita Derby

April 03, 2010 | Gary Quill

With less than 28 days until the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 1st, there are now just six (6) major graded stakes races remaining for 3 year old Derby hopefuls to prove they deserve a shot to Run For The Roses


This weekend there are three (3) Derby prep races. All take place on Saturday (Apr. 3rd) and are run at a distance of 1 1/8 miles. The $750,000 Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct (NY), the $500,000 Grade 3 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Park and the $750,000 Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita (CA). Both the Wood and the Santa Anita Derby will be broadcast live on NBC-TV, from 5-6pm EDT. Coincidentally, the top 2 Derby prospects, Lookin At Lucky and Eskendereya will be showcased in these races. 


In the Wood Memorial Stakes, Race 9 on the Aqueduct card, #3 – Eskendereya  is the 4-5 Morning Line favorite and for good reason. He destroyed a field of 10 by 8 ½ lengths in the Gr. 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park in his most recent race, earning him the highest Beyer Speed Figure among his peers going a distance. His primary foe will be #2 – Awesome Act (9-2) whose 2010 debut was awesome, winning the Gr. 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct despite traffic troubles. There are only four (4) other 3 years olds willing to face these two “monsters”. They are #1 – Most Happy Fella  (15-1) an overmatched NY-bred who will be the pace-setter, #4 – Schoolyard Dreams (5-1) hard-luck runner-up by a head-bob in the Tampa Bay Derby, # 5 – Jackson Bend (4-1) bridesmaid to Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth, and #6 – Carnivore (20-1)who exits an impressive maiden victory at Laurel in his third lifetime start going 1 1/16 miles.


In such a short field, that will be void of a fast pace, go with Eskendereya. He has both the speed and stamina to hold off all challengers. Use Awesome Act, Schoolyard Dreams and longshot Carnivore in the 2nd and 3rd hole to complete your exotics, in hopes of spicing up paltry exacta and trifecta payoffs.   


In the Santa Anita Derby, Race 6 on their card, the heavy 4-5 Morning Line favorite is 2 year old Champion, #7 – Lookin At Lucky. He already has plenty of Graded Stakes Earnings to assure him a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, but needs another race before then to keep sharp. His trainer (Bob Baffert) simply wants Lookin At Lucky to run a clean, trouble free race and come out of it sound. Wise-guys would read into this as an opportunity for one of the other 9 runners to beat the champ, but I’m not buying it. Thoroughbreds are trained to run. They know race day versus a workout, and outside of jockey Garrett Gomez putting a strangle hold on him for 1 1/8 miles, there is no one in this field who comes close to Lookin At Lucky. That’s saying a lot going against the likes of Grade 2 winners #4 – Sidney’s Candy (4-1) and #6 – Caracortado (9-2); Grade 3 winners #3 – Who’s Up (20-1) and  #10 – Alphie’s Bet (6-1);  and Graded Stakes Placed #1 – Posse Power  (20-1), #5 – Setsuko (8-1) and #8 – Cardiff Giant (12-1).


Regular readers of my blogs know that I’m not one to go with the “Chalk”, but this one sets up perfectly for the favorite Lookin At Lucky. He’ll be able to sit about 5 lengths behind the early pace-setters (Who’s Up, Sidney’s Candy and #9 – Skipshot) and well clear of the deep closers (Posse Power, #2 – Thomas Baines, Setsuko and Alphie’s Bet). Lookin At Lucky will prevail in deep stretch, holding off Setsuko, Posse Power and Cardiff Giant.


Squeezed in between the live telecast of the Wood and Santa Anita Derby is the Illinois Derby, Race 7 on the Hawthorne Park card. NBC may provide viewers the results and possibly show it on tape delay. This race will be the most competitive one as the lukewarm 3-1 Morning Line favorite is #7 – Backtalk whose final workout for this race was at 6 furlongs in 1:09.6 at Fair Grounds! Horses just don’t workout in that time…that’s a very good race time. In fact, that time would have been the second fastest 6 furlong race time for the entire Fair Grounds meet which just concluded. Others of interest are CA invaders #1 – American Lion (7-2) 4th behind Sidney’s Candy in last outing; #3 – Boulder Creek (10-1) 5th in the Grade 3 Sham and #6 – Dave In Dixie (9-2) who lost to Lookin At Lucky  last October by 2 ½ lengths in the Grade 1 Norfolk. Then there’s #4 – Yawanna Twist runner-up to Awesome Act in the Gotham and #5 – Turf Melody (6-1) making his 10th career start at a 10th different track. 


Go with #5 – Turf Melody because his speed figures have been improving over his last 3 races, and his tactical speed running style fits nicely to the way the Hawthorne Park dirt oval plays. Complete your exotics by including #1 – American Lion, #4 – Yawanna Twist and #6 – Dave In Dixie.



Reminder: Pimlico opens for Live Racing on Saturday, April 17th! Enjoy a great day of thoroughbred horse racing. Share the fun with a friend.