The Jimmy Jerkens trained Wicked Strong powered over his rivals in the stretch to win the $1,000,000 Twinspires.com Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct Racetrack in Jamaica, NY Saturday and stamped his ticket to the May 3 Kentucky Derby.
Sent off as the fifth choice at odds of 9-1 in a field of 10 3-year-olds, Wicked Strong had not won a race since he broke his maiden last October. Although he showed up for the big races—Remsen (G2) and Holy Bull (G2)—he had a hard time making the grade, finishing third and ninth, respectively. In his last start, an allowance race won by eventual Florida Derby (G1) winner Constitution, he finished fourth, beaten 6 ½ lengths. On paper, Wicked Strong didn’t appear as strong as did in the stretch run of his Wood Memorial (G1) win when he passed frontrunners Social Inclusion and Samraat.
Favored Social Inclusion took the lead from the gate, along with longshot Schivarelli, and set sharp fractions of 23:68 and 23:69 for the first two quarters in the 1 1/8 mile race. Second-choice Samraat settled in behind the leaders while Wicked Strong settled into sixth. Third-choice Uncle Sigh, who generally runs close to or on the lead, was well back in eighth.
The horses held their positions until they reached the top of the stretch and Social Inclusion took the lead definitively over Schivarelli. Samraat began to make his move as well, but Schivarelli wasn’t going to make it easy for them and dug in on the rail. As the top three closed down the lane, Wicked Strong and jockey Rajiv Maragh were closing strongly on the outside. The pair finished 3 ½ lengths in front of Samraat and Social Inclusion who hit the wire noses apart. Schivarelli held on for fourth, 1 ½ lengths behind.
"I thought he was training well enough in Florida, but he didn't show up in the afternoon for some reason," said Jerkens. "I felt good seeing all the Palm Meadows horses running well today. When I saw him laying five lengths off the lead, just galloping, I really felt we had a big shot. He was really comfortable laying relatively close behind a pretty fast pace."
As a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun and out of a Charismatic (1999 Kentucky Derby winner) mare, Wicked Strong has the breeding for the Kentucky Derby. He picked up 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard for his Wood Memorial win and now sits third on the points leaderboard. The $590,000 paycheck for the Wood win brings Wicked Strong’s earnings to $640,000.