First, it’s a Grade 1, $1 million race that will go a long way towards determining graded stakes earnings for the May 5 Kentucky Derby, which is limited to the 20 top-earning 3-year-olds.
Second, the Wood will mark the first time the Bernardini colt has drawn the inside post, which could be a factor given his former tendencies to act up in the gate.
“We were excited to be post position 6 of 6 [in the Withers] because of his gate issues,” said McLaughlin. “But now, we’re post position 1 of 8 and we have to put a different spin on it. It’s a positive because he’s going to be in the gate a while, and hopefully he’ll behave well, because going forward to May 5 we’re going to be in the gate a while no matter what post he draws, almost.
“And this will be the first time he’s down on the inside taking dirt,” he said. “Every race he’s been wide, not because he has to be wide, it’s because of post position. It will be good schooling and a good test for him to be down on the inside, taking dirt, and saving ground. He’s been very good about schooling in the gate in the morning.
“But,” he added jokingly, “if he’s not good, we’ll have to change the post time of the Derby to the morning.”
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Kevin Latta, part of the Hidden Brook Farm ownership group that campaigns Street Life in partnership with Magnolia Racing Stable, says there’s no need to handicap Saturday’s Wood.
“We’re going to win,” said Latta without hesitation. “Alpha and Street Life are going to be [in the] back. In front are going to be The Lumber Guy, Gemologist, and Teeth of the Dog. And we’re finally going to get some splits to run at, and we’re just going to settle in the back. That’s how I see it. It’s going to be our horse and My Adonis to the wire.”
Street Life closed into slow fractions to break his maiden by a widening 2 ½ lengths on February 11 and won the Broad Brush overnight stakes by a half-length on March 17. In the Wood the colt should get a fast pace to set up his closing kick.
“I’ve been watching horse racing since I was 15 and that move he made when he broke his maiden was phenomenal,” said Latta. “That’s what really caught my attention. He’s been running into unbelievably slow fractions. You know how hard that is to do. If he gets something to run at tomorrow, I think he’s going to win.”
Street Life’s maiden win also impressed Bob McNair of Magnolia Racing Stable, who subsequently purchased a 50 percent interest in the colt. With a strong performance in the Wood, Street Life could take McNair, the Hidden Brook contingent, and trainer Chad Brown to Louisville.
“It’s a great thrill. It’s my childhood dream to go to the Kentucky Derby, so it’s a big deal for me,” said Latta. “I think he can do it. He has the pedigree for it. I’m pretty confident. Had McNair not come in for a half, I was going to buy that portion. That’s how confident I was.”
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When trainer Kelly Breen undertook the challenge of sizing up tomorrow’s 1 1/8-mile Wood, he liked what he saw for My Adonis.
George and Lori Hall’s homebred son of Pleasantly Perfect enters the Wood off a strong second behind Hansen last month in the Grade 3 Gotham, and what Breen sees is a field with plenty of speed for his colt to make a run at.
“I looked at it pretty intensely, and I thought the outside horse of Mike Hushion’s [The Lumber Guy] makes the race,” Breen said. “He has speed; Michael Matz’s horse [Teeth of the Dog] has shown speed. Alpha is down on the rail. I don’t know what their camp thinks of it, but I know I didn’t like it down there [with My Adonis in the Gotham]. But I’m surprised we’re 8-1 and getting no respect.”
While Breen had several good 3-year-olds last spring, including Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice and Louisiana Derby winner Pants On Fire, this year, it’s all My Adonis.
“He’s up here,” Breen said holding his hand up high, “and our other horses were down here,” he said holding his hand down by knees.
For the Wood, Breen has made a slight adjustment to Adonis’ blinkers, “opening them up a little because of all the speed in here,” he said. “Hopefully, he can run them all down.”
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Michael Hushion has been training horses for more than 35 years, but like his former boss and mentor, Hall of Famer H. Allen Jerkens, he’s never been a Triple Crown kind of guy. The Lumber Guy is the first horse Hushion has had sniffing around for a spot in the American Classics, and also the first horse he had ever started in the Wood.
While the leggy, gray son of the late stallion Grand Slam stood outside Hushion’s barn Friday morning getting a bath and brush, the trainer made his case for being there.
“After looking at the race, I’m sure glad we’re in,” Hushion said of The Lumber Guy, undefeated in two starts including a 4 ½-length wipeout of the Miracle Wood, a seven-furlong sprint stakes February 25 at Laurel Park. “Just looking at the horses, I think we belong. My way of handicapping, we’re third or fourth choice, and my horse, I think he’s got another move forward in him, and if he does it should be very interesting.”
The Lumber Guy has never been behind horses after a quarter-mile or beyond and is expected to be near or on the lead in the Wood. He also, however, has never been asked to negotiate a two-turn race. His stout breeding suggests the move to 1 1/8 miles should be within his range.
“Gotta find out sometime,” Hushion said.
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As usual, trainer Todd Pletcher is ready for, literally, everything, with runners in each of the four races that make up the $500,000 Guaranteed All-Graded Stakes Pick 4 on Saturday’s card.
His primary runner is WinStar Farm’s 4-for-4 Gemologist, the 8-5 morning-line favorite in the Wood. In the Grade 1 Carter Handicap, he has Calibrachoa, back-to-back winner of the Toboggan and Tom Fool Handicap on the Aqueduct inner dirt course. In the Grade 3 Bay Shore, a seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds, he sends out Mike Repole’s How Do I Win, and in the Grade 3 Comely for 3-year-old fillies, he has the lightning-fast Broadway’s Alibi, making her first start since a 16 ¾-length score January 29 in the Grade 2 Forward Gal at Gulfstream Park.
Broadway’s Alibi, owned by E. Paul Robsham Racing Stables, developed a hind foot issue in winning the Forward Gal on a sloppy track, Pletcher said, shedding her left, hind frog, “which is sort of unusual.”
After crushing the field in the Forward Gal, Pletcher toyed with the idea of running Broadway’s Alibi against males in the Swale Stakes, but, instead, wound up briefly taking her out of training.
The one-mile Comely will be the furthest she has run in a four-race career, and Pletcher expects a powerful effort.
“The filly’s doing very well,” he said. “Earlier in the year, I thought she would compete in sprint and middle-distance races, but we’re seeing now she might go longer. [Comely opponent] Millionreasonswhy is a top-class filly, and she proved that last year, so this is a quality field.”
Pletcher said the same thing about the Carter, in which Repole’s Calibrachoa is the 4-1 fourth choice of the five betting interests.
“It’s a blend of speed, stalkers and closers,” Pletcher said. “It’s a deep race and a versatile field, and I’m sure they’ll be running beginning to end. I can’t think of a specific race that’s come up this strong [this year], but it’s a marquee race, for sure.”
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Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap winner It’s Tricky worked a half-mile this morning in 49.04 over the Belmont Park training track in preparation for her next start, which most likely will be the Grade 2, $200,000 Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct on April 14.
“She is doing great,” said McLaughlin of the 4-year-old Mineshaft filly, who has been first or second in nine of her 10 lifetime starts, including victories in the Grade 1 TVG Acorn and the Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks.
“The seven-eighths [of the Distaff] is a turn back from the 1 1/16 miles of the Top Flight, but her best race was at one turn. We think she could do it, and then we would come back on May 28 for the [Grade 1] Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park.”
The Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 13 remains a possibility, but logistically, the Distaff might be better suited for the sometimes temperamental It’s Tricky, said McLaughlin.
“Hot Springs is very difficult to get to for the Apple Blossom,” said McLaughlin. “We’d get to Lexington [by air] on Sunday, and then it’s a 10-hour van ride. Nine miles [from Belmont to Aqueduct] might be a lot easier than 19 hours.”
Also pointing to the $200,000 Distaff, according to NYRA stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes, are Aquitania, C C’s Pal, Dontbeshy I’ll Buy, Indian Burn, Magical Feeling, Nicole H and White Merlot, with Bold Affair, Her Smile, and R Holiday Mood possible.
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Two-time reigning Eclipse champion jockey Ramon Dominguez returned to action Friday at Aqueduct Racetrack after a three-week absence to recuperate from a separated collarbone.
Dominguez, who was injured on March 18, finished fourth aboard Cooper River in the second race, and was scheduled to ride Rebellious Chic in the seventh race. Tomorrow, Dominguez will be aboard Grade 3 Withers winner Alpha in the Grade 1, $1 million Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial and will also ride Welcome Guest in the Grade 2 Comely.
“I had three weeks off, and the last week and a half I have really been dying to get back,” said Dominguez. “I rode one horse in the second race today, and it absolutely felt great. I don’t think there is anything at this point to keep me from performing at my best. I can’t wait to ride Alpha tomorrow.”
After Saturday, Dominguez will take off for the next few days and return to ride 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn on April 13 and last year’s Juvenile champion and Grade 3 Gotham winner Hansen in the Blue Grass at Keeneland the following day.