Today’s feature race in New York is the real deal: Aqueduct’s 83rd running of the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, a storied Kentucky Derby prep and a prize worth winning on the merits alone.
So, Todd Pletcher pulled a fast one, reserving Circular Quay and substituting with Any Given Saturday. As usual, his reasoning was excellent. It’s one thing to have very good horses. It’s another knowing how to manage and spot them correctly.
Any Given Saturday comes off a head-bobbing nose defeat to champion juvenile Street Sense in the recent Tampa Bay Derby. He’s a talented colt and truly a “now” horse. If that tough race does for him what the Preakness did for Easy Goer back in ’89, he’ll move forward and looms a most probable winner.
At the beginning of year, I was a big fan of Nobiz Like Shobiz. The only reservation I’ve had since is his apparent lack of development, and that’s a problem. Adding blinkers in the hope of correcting his stretch-running greenness--or whatever makes him do what he does in the straight--Barclay Tagg will attempt to focus the colt’s attention. It is hoped, too, that the cotton added to his ears for a recent workout and likely again today, will help further in muffling the crowd noise. (Might take a bale of that stuff at Churchill Downs)!
In this context, the Wood, which propelled Tagg’s Funny Cide from Wood runnerup to Derby winner in 2003, is as important as the Derby. The colt must move forward and must do it now. He won the nine-furlong Remsen very impressively on this track last fall. That will help. He’s well drawn, too, inside for the short run to the first turn. Absolutely no excuses today.
And that’s the way we’re playing it. Nobiz Like Shobiz to win; exacta box with Any Given Saturday.
Since that play lacks imagination, we’ll provide on that doesn’t. In all probability, early line favorite Octave (2-1) is very likely to move forward in today’s Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. Her recent Fair Grounds Oak conqueror, Mistical Plan (7-2) may regress some but belongs in the conversation because trainer Doug O’Neill saddles her.
The interesting filly is Hucking Hot, going from turf to dirt for a trainer 21% efficient and profitable with that move, Paddy Gallagher.
Hucking Hot’s recent turf figure was competitive with the aforementioned Oaks. Her lone dirt effort came on the artificial Cushion Track last year in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet, earning a better rating than she did in her previous turf races. Now she’s back on another artificial surface, Polytrack, and there’s been plenty of empirical evidence suggesting of a strong relationship between turf specialization and artificial dirt success. And that’s the way we’re playing it: A trifecta box of these three fillies. An exacta box with Octave. And, of course, a win play on Hucking Hot, at 6-1 or greater.