In the storied history of the Wood, the winner has gone on to capture the Run for the Roses 11 times. This year, Gemologist, the 8-5 choice on the morning line, has a chance to go into the Triple Crown races with an unbeaten 5-0 record if the colt can give trainer Todd Pletcher his second Wood win in the last three years.
Owned by WinStar Farm – for whom Pletcher saddled 2010 Derby hero Super Saver – Gemologist will be making just his second start of the year in the Wood, having soared to a seven-length allowance win at Gulfstream Park on March 16. In 2011, after breaking his maiden at Turfway Park, the bay son of Tiznow won an optional claimer at Churchill Downs and closed out his juvenile campaign with an off-the-pace victory in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.
“After the Kentucky Jockey Club, we decided to plan on a similar program to what we did with Super Saver, which was two prep races prior to the Kentucky Derby,” said Pletcher, who won the 2010 Wood with Eskendereya. “With another good performance, some good racing luck, and some graded earnings, he could be in a good spot.”
Javier Castellano, aboard for Gemologist’s three most recent starts, will ride the bay colt Saturday from post position 6.
A more familiar face returns for the Wood in Godolphin Racing’s Alpha, who won the Count Fleet and Grade 3 Withers over the Big A’s inner track earlier this year to bring his career record to 3-1-0 from five starts. While the Bernardini colt had been under consideration for the Grade 3, $400,000 Gotham on March 3 in the all-important scramble for graded stakes earnings, it was decided to skip that race and await the final round of Derby preps. Sent to Florida as his connections pondered several options for his next start, Alpha finally returned to New York last Friday for the Wood.
“We couldn’t be happier with him, he’s such a professional,” said Art Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “Distance-wise, the longer the better for him. He’s got kind of a medium build, and in the two two-turn races over the inner track he ran well, [although he might have been] have been a little wide. I think he’ll appreciate the outer track.”
Alpha, the 5-2 second choice on the morning line, drew the rail and will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez, scheduled to return Friday after a three-week absence due to a separated collarbone.
Third choice at 4-1 on the morning line is another Aqueduct veteran, Street Life, who went last-to-first in breaking his maiden at one mile, 70 yards over the inner track on February 11 in his second start and who returned a month later to take the 1 1/16-mile Broad Brush overnight stakes. The Street Sense colt is co-owned by Bob and Janice McNair, who will be going for their third Wood victory, having won in 2001 with Congaree and again in 2006 with Bob and John.
“The longer [the race] the better, but whether he’s good enough to face this caliber of horses yet, we’ll have to see,” said trainer Chad Brown. “I know the talent is there. We’re trying to develop the horse to get ready for some of these nice races. This will be a good test for him. I’m optimistic he’ll give a good account of himself.”
Junior Alvarado will ride Street Life, who drew post position 5.
Making his fourth straight graded stakes appearance is My Adonis, who was third to Algorithms in the Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream in his sophomore debut and who most recently finished second to Hansen in the Gotham. Owned by George and Lori Hall and trained by Kelly Breen – who together won the 2011 Belmont Stakes with Ruler On Ice –
the Pleasantly Perfect colt was 2-3-0 from six starts as a 2-year-old, with his only off-the-board outing a ninth-place finish in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot in November.
“He’s a strong, good-looking horse, and he’s still maturing,” said Lori Hall. “I felt really good about running back against Hansen [in the Gotham] and I don’t think anyone has a better shot to win the Wood than we do. It’s our home court.”
Elvis Trujillo will ride My Adonis, 8-1 on the morning line, from post position 3.
Also at 8-1 on the morning line is Barry Schwartz’s homebred The Lumber Guy who has taken his two starts by a combined winning margin of 13 ½ lengths. The New York-bred son of Grand Slam followed his front-running maiden win on January 28 at the Big A with a nearly wire-to-wire score in the Miracle Wood stakes at Laurel Park on February 25.
“I don’t know if we’re going to have much of a choice than to be on the lead,” said trainer Michael Hushion. “But I love the way he’s been acting. I’m very happy with the way he’s coming into the race. He got something out of his last work [1:01.83 on April 1] and it didn’t knock him back at all. I might work him a little again on Friday.”
Cornelio Velasquez will ride The Lumber Guy from post position 8.
Rounding out the field is a trio of longshots, including two from Derby-winning trainers Michael Matz and Hall of Famer Nick Zito.
Matz, who took the 2006 Run for the Roses with Barbaro, will saddle recent maiden winner Teeth of the Dog, while Zito, who sent out 1991 Derby winner Go for Gin and 1994 hero Strike the Gold, goes for his fourth Wood victory with Casual Trick.
“We’re taking a big step with him,” said Matz of Teeth of the Dog, who broke his maiden in his third start at Gulfstream Park, going wire-to-wire at the Wood distance. “We’ll see where we stand with him.”
Joe Bravo rides Teeth of the Dog, 15-1 on the morning line, from post position 4.
Zito, who won the Wood in 1991 with Thirty Six Red, in 1999 with Adonis and in 2005 with Bellamy Road, is hoping a procedure to correct a breathing problem will help Casual Trick live up to his $425,000 purchase price. The son of Bernardini broke his maiden at Churchill Downs in his second start, and then was a good second to Reveron in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day. In two subsequent starts, he was seventh and eighth, respectively, in an optional claimer and the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.
“We’re hoping he’ll breather better,” said Zito, “and that he’ll step up to the plate.”
Corey Nakatani will ride Casual Trick, 20-1 on the morning line, from post position 2.
Rounding out the field is Sagamore Farm’s Tiger Walk, third to Alpha in the Withers and fourth behind Hansen in the Gotham. The Tale of the Cat colt, 15-1 on the morning line, will leave from post position 7 under John Velazquez.