The Kentucky Derby is just four weeks away, which means there are just a few prep races left to turn Kentucky Derby hopefuls into Kentucky Derby contenders. Saturday sees two of the top final preps—the Santa Anita Derby (G1) at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Cal. and the Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct Racetrack in Jamaica, NY. With the ongoing rivalry between the top New York-bred 3-year-olds on the line, this week’s analysis will focus on the Wood Memorial and the showdown between the undefeated Samraat and his persistent rival, Uncle Sigh.
The 1 1/8 mile Wood Memorial offers a purse of $1,000,000 and a total of 170 points to the top four finishers in Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby points system, with 100 of those points going to the winner. A win in this race would lock-in any horse currently holding points on the leaderboard or take a maiden winner to the top five of the points leaderboard.
Under the Kentucky Derby points system, the top four finishers in the 19-race “Kentucky Derby Prep Season” schedule of races are awarded 10-4-2-1 points, respectively. This “prep” portion of the schedule began in late September and concluded with the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18. The two-leg Kentucky Derby Championship Series began Feb. 23 and awards the top four finishers in the listed races 50-20-10-5 points, respectively for the first leg of eight races and 100-40-20-10 points accordingly for the second leg of seven races. A wild card, which includes the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington at Keeneland (Apr. 20) and the Grade 3 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs (Apr. 27) awards points of 20-8-4-2, respectively.
Up to now, trainer Rick Violette’s undefeated Samraat has won Aqueduct’s major stakes races for 3-year-olds—the Withers (G3) and the Gotham (G3)—and has had to battle trainer Gary Contessa’s Uncle Sigh in both. The pair finished a length apart in the Withers and only a neck apart in the Gotham. Just as the rivalry between Wildcat Red and General A Rod (second and third place finishers in last week’s Florida Derby) grew after they finished heads apart in the Fountain of Youth (G2), the rivalry of Samraat and Uncle Sigh, both New York-breds, has grown as the two have continued to plot the same path to the Kentucky Derby.
Samraat has been installed as the second choice on the morning-line at odds of 7-2 and retains regular rider Jose Ortiz. At odds of 5-1, Uncle Sigh is the third choice on the morning-line and will get his second ride with jockey Corey Nakatani.
Uncle Sigh and Samraat both like to run on the front-end and, with their sharp speed, have tended to race more as if they were in a match race than in a large field. However, they’ll face another speedy runner that likes to have the lead on Saturday, Manuel Azpurua’s Social Inclusion. After a 7 ½-length maiden victory followed by a 10-length allowance win, Social Inclusion, with not a single point on the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system, has quickly become a Kentucky Derby hopeful trying to transform into a Kentucky Derby contender.
Although Social Inclusion enters the big leagues with his first stakes appearance Saturday, he’s been installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite. He earned a Brisnet speed figure of 106 in his allowance win, which is seven points higher than his top competitor in the field. Luis Contreras will be in the irons.
An interesting longshot play in the field is 15-1 Schivarelli. Trained by Eddie Kenneally, he comes in off a 12-length win over the Aqueduct inner track and has three straight bullet works. Whether or not he can sneak into the exotics for Saturday’s Wood, he looks like he has the potential to become a horse we’re discussing by the end of the Triple Crown trail.
The field of 11 from the rail out, with odds, is Kid Cruz 20-1, Wicked Strong 15-1, Noble Moon 12-1, Harpoon 8-1, Los Borrachos 30-1, Kristo 6-1, Schivarelli 15-1, Samraat 7-2, Effinex 50-1, Uncle Sigh 5-1, and Social Inclusion 2-1. It was announced Friday morning that Kid Cruz will scratch.
The Wood Memorial is the 10th race on Aqueduct’s Saturday’s card with a scheduled post time of 5:40 p.m. EST. It can be seen on NBC Sports Network (programming runs 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. and includes the Santa Anita Derby), HRTV, and TVG. Free PPs  provided by Brisnet.
Photo: Courtesy NYRA.com