Wednesday, April 01, 2009


At this point in the Thoroughbred racing season, with just over four weeks until the Kentucky Derby on May 2, time has become even more precious. Horses that have flashed ability have to put it together and get enough graded stakes earnings to qualify for the Derby’s 20-horse field or miss the once-in-a-lifetime chance to “Run for the Roses” at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

For I Want Revenge, the impressive winner of the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on March 7, Saturday’s 85th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial is another opportunity to show that his progress is far from complete. If he can deliver a similar effort in New York’s last major Kentucky Derby prep to his 8 ½-length Gotham romp, I Want Revenge will convince many that he will be the horse to beat in Kentucky.

The nine-furlong Wood Memorial (race 9; 5:19 p.m.), New York’s first Grade 1 of the year, will be the third leg of a guaranteed $400,000 all-stakes Pick 4 that will begin in race 7 with the 49th running of the Bay Shore for three-year-olds at seven furlongs (4:13 p.m.); continue to race 8 with the 97th running of the Excelsior (4:46 p.m.); the featured Wood Memorial and the 109th running of the Grade 1, $300,000 Carter Handicap for three-year-olds and up at seven furlongs (10th race, 5:51 p.m.)

The 11-race card, which will conclude at 6:24 p.m., begins with a first-race post time of 1 p.m. All overnight races on the card will receive a $10,000 purse increase.

MSG Plus will televise the Wood Memorial as part of its one-hour telecast that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern.

On March 30, it was announced that owner David J. Lanzman had sold a 50-percent interest in I Want Revenge to IEAH Stable, which won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Florida Derby and Haskell Invitational last year with Big Brown. It was also announced that the colt would stay with trainer Jeff Mullins. Mullins has done right by the colt so far, and his decision to make the Gotham I Want Revenge’s first start on dirt was handsomely rewarded.

“Pedigree was the main reason we tried the Gotham,” Mullins said, shortly before boarding a flight from California on Wednesday morning that was following I Want Revenge to New York. “There is a feeling that synthetic surfaces are like turf, and I Want Revenge’s dam (Meguial) loved turf but couldn’t stand up on dirt. His sire (Stephen Got Even) loved dirt, and that convinced us to try the Gotham.”

Mullins also put blinkers on I Want Revenge for the first time when he ran third in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita on February 9 to Pioneerof the Nile. They were on again for the Gotham.

“He got beat a nose in the Cash Call (Futurity, Grade 1, Hollywood Park, December 27) because he seemed to lose focus on the backstretch,” Mullins said. “Horses came to him and he shied away and then came running again.

“He got everything right in the Gotham, and all I want from the Wood Memorial is to see him keep moving forward, even if it is just a little bit. I definitely don’t want to take any steps backward.”

Jockey Joe Talamo returns to ride I Want Revenge in the Wood Memorial.

To get Sequoia Stable’s Imperial Council used to the Big A, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey shipped the colt earlier today from Florida to trainer Rick Violette’s barn at Aqueduct. A son of 2003 Wood Memorial and Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, Imperial Council made a powerful late run to neck Mr. Fantasy for the place in the Gotham Stakes. During a recent television program, retired Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey said of Imperial Council: “There’s nothing but blue sky ahead of him.”

“I like to think so,” said McGaughey, who won the Wood Memorial in 1998 with Coronado’s Quest and 20 years ago with Easy Goer. “He ran a big race in the Gotham. It was his first time around two turns, and it was definitely a big step up from allowance company. He chased a slow pace, and the winner ran a huge race.

“Edgar (Prado, jockey) is back on him and I am happy about that. Not that Rajiv (Maragh) did anything wrong, but I would have liked to have seen Imperial Council lay closer in the Gotham. He had to come from too far off a slow pace. The winner ran great, but sometimes, when a horse gets alone on the front like that, his heart gets real big.”

McGaughey also points out Imperial Council’s seasonal debut at Gulfstream Park on Valentine’s Day was a significant race for his colt. Sitting in a stalking position, Imperial Council went on to a two-length victory, covering six and a half furlongs in 1:16 3/5.

“What I liked about that race was that he sat off a 44 and three half mile and still finished strong,” McGaughey said. “So, he doesn’t have to close from far back. His breeding says he will like more distance, and I think there will be speed in the Wood Memorial with Just a Coincidence and probably (trainer) Kelly Breen’s horses.”

Breen has entered two for owners George and Lori Hall for the Wood Memorial: West Side Bernie and Atomic Rain.

West Side Bernie was thrown right into the fire after he broke his maiden at first asking last summer at Monmouth Park. He was then sent to Turfway Park, where he won the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile, and then was sent to Santa Anita, where he ran sixth to Midshpman in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, beaten three lengths. He was stakes-placed in a pair of Grade 3 races on dirt, then returned to Turfway Park and a synthetic surface on March 21. Sent off as the favorite in the Grade 2 Lane’s End, he ran his worst race, finishing sixth, eight lengths behind Hold Me Back.

“From the start, he showed us that he could handle two turns and that he could win,” Breen said. “When he won the Kentucky Cup, we knew he could handle synthetic tracks and that’s why we took our shot in the Breeders’ Cup.

“I have no idea why he ran the way he did in the Lane’s End. That was the first race he’s ever run where he didn’t fire. Our hope was that he would win that race and have enough earnings to make the Kentucky Derby. Fortunately, we had enough time to run in the Wood Memorial. He’s by Bernstein and turf may be in his future, but for now, we’re trying to get to Churchill.”

Atomic Rain, a son of Smart Strike, needed two tries to break his maiden. In his third start, he ran second to Old Fashioned here in the Grade 2, nine-furlong Remsen. He is winless in three starts this year.

“He is a big, good-looking horse, but very immature,” Breen said. “For as big as he is, you would think he would be a lot stronger and a lot smarter, but we have had issues with him paying attention. I hesitated to put blinkers on him because I kept hoping he would mature and figure things out on his own. We tried them on him at Tampa Bay Downs, but he never took hold of that track.

“We brought him back to Gulfstream and got a new jockey in Joe Bravo and it seemed to make a difference -- except, when he got to the quarter-pole, he switched leads and went off at a 45-degree angle. It was like he had company and suddenly, no one was there. So he started looking around and got beat three-quarters of a length. We might have to move the blinkers up on him to keep his focus.”

Dogwood Stable’s Lime Rickey is admittedly taking a big step here. A son of 1999 Belmont Stakes and Travers winner Lemon Drop Kid, Lime Rickey has spent his entire nine-race career on grass and exits three straight runner-up finishes on the turf in graded stakes races at Gulfstream Park.

“We don’t know how he will take to dirt in a race, but now is the time to find out, and the mile and an eighth Wood Memorial is a spot that will test him pretty keenly,” said Dogwood President W. Cothran “Cot” Campbell. “If Jupiter aligns with Mars in a precise manner, we could get to the Derby this year. Lime Rickey is a solid grass specialist, but he has a dirt pedigree and is a game colt – and if he moves up big time he might get to Churchill Downs.”

Just a Coincidence, owned by Robert V. LaPenta, has flashed speed in two wins for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, and Stronach Stable’s Lord Justice, a son of 1992 Belmont Stakes winner and Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, is also a speedster who has won two of four career starts for trainer Todd Pletcher. Lord Justice is also entered in Saturday’s Illinois derby at Hawthorne Racecourse, where he drew post 3 of 11.

Paraneck Stable’s Cellar Dweller, who has one victory in 10 starts for trainer John Campo Jr., completes the field.

The field for Saturday’s 85th running of the Grade 1 Wood Memorial:

1. I Want Revenge Jeff Mullins Joe Talamo
2. Lord Justice Todd Pletcher C.C. Lopez
3. Cellar Dweller John Campo Jr. Rosie Napravnik
4a. Atomic Rain Kelly Breen Joe Bravo
5a West Side Bernie Kelly Breen Stewart Elliott
6. Imperial Council Shug McGaughey Edgar Prado
7. Just a Coincidence Nick Zito John Velazquez
8. Lime Rickey Frank Alexander Javier Castellano

All starters will carry 123 pounds.

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