April showers may bring May flowers, but it’s the April stakes that in May a Kentucky Derby winner does make. The 89th running of the Grade I $1 million Wood Memorial will take place on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack in Jamaica, NY.
A field of 10 is set to compete in the 1 1/8 mile route on the main track with the undefeated pair of Vyjack and Verrazano headlining the field.
Todd Pletcher’s Verrazano has been installed as the morning line favorite at odds of 4-5. In his last start, the lightly-raced son of More Than Ready won the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) by three lengths in his first attempt going two turns. In his second start, he won an allowance race by an impressive 16 ¼ lengths. His only other start was a maiden in which he bested the field by nearly eight lengths. Although he’s light on experience, Verrazano is heavy on raw talent.
“He’s been a rare horse who’s been able to go from a maiden on January 1 to the Derby favorite on the first of April, which you don’t see very often,” said Pletcher. “He’s been able to handle everything we’ve thrown at him so far and now we have another step to go. We’re optimistic as he continues to develop he’ll be able to continue to handle his assignments.”
Waiting to take on the undefeated Verrazano is Rudy Rodriguez’s undefeated Vyjack, with a morning line of 4-1. This son of Into Mischief has only one more race under his belt than Verrazano, but three of those are stakes and two of the stakes were graded—the Jerome (G2) and the Gotham (G3). Vyjack hasn’t hit but one three-digit Brisnet speed figure, but Aqueduct is his home track where he’s been waiting patiently since winning the 1 1/16 mile Gotham Mar. 2.
“I go into every race with the expectation that we can win,” said owner David Wilkenfeld of Pick Six Racing. “This race is no different. The horse is very fit. I’m not looking at this really as a prep race. He’s a very durable horse. We gave him time between the Jerome and the Gotham. I think the Gotham was a really good learning experience for the horse. He’s worked terrifically in between since that race and we’re expecting him to run well. I don’t think the distance is going to be a problem, and we really have—if we don’t win, we have no excuse except that we’re beaten by a horse than ran faster than us.”
Normandy Invasion, at odds of 5-1, is back for his second start of the year. This Chad Brown runner was hyped early in the year, but floundered in his debut in the Risen Star Stakes Feb. 23. One might excuse the fifth-place finish for the poor start and traffic issues and note that he only lost by 1 ½ lengths. However, two of those that beat him—Code West and Palace Malice—returned in last week’s Louisiana Derby and finished sixth and seventh, respectively. Normandy Invasion may turn out to be a nice horse, but until he comes back to his two-year-old form, he’s not beating this field.
A couple of longshots to throw into the exotics are Chrisandthecapper and Go Get the Basil. Neither of these two runners is Triple Crown nominated, so you’d have to think that the only reason they’re in this race is for the $1 million prize and the only reason to take on the year’s top three-year-olds is if their connections think they have a shot at hitting the board.
Chrisandthecapper broke his maiden in his last start, his first race of the year, by 11 ½ lengths under a hand-ride. Although he’s never attempted a route distance, this son of First Samurai out of a Seeking the Gold mare has distance in his pedigree.
Go Get the Basil was on a three-win streak before coming up a nose short in his last start. He earned a Brisnet speed figure of 101 for the loss. He has three wins and a second in six career starts. His grandsire Fusaichi Pegasus won the Wood Memorial in 2000 for trainer Neil Drysdale.
The complete field from the rail out, with odds, is: Chrisandthcapper 30-1, Normandy Invasion 5-1, Quinzieme Monarque 30-1, Elnaawi 12-1, Vyjack 4-1, Mr Palmer 12-1, Always in a Tiz 15-1, Verrazano 4-5, Go Get the Basil 30-1, Freedom Child 30-1.
The Wood Memorial has produced 20 Kentucky Derby winners and could give the winner an automatic berth in this year’s edition. As one of the seven races in the second leg of the Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, the Wood Memorial offers 100 points to the winner, 40 to the second-place finisher, 20 to the third-place finisher, and 10 points to the fourth-place finisher.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby points system replaced graded earnings as the determiner for Kentucky Derby entries. After the running of last week’s three of the seven races in the second leg of the series, Orb, the Florida Derby winner, sits atop the leaderboard with 150 points.
The race is the 11th on the Aqueduct card with a scheduled post time of 6:28 p.m. EDT. It can be seen on NBC Sports Network, HRTV, and TVG.
Photo: NYRA.com Photo/Courtney Heeney