Kentucky Derby Preps: Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, and the Bluegrass Stakes

Three of the most important Kentucky Derby prep races take place this Saturday on April 7. The Wood Memorial, Bluegrass Stakes, and Santa Anita Derby.

I take a look at the field for each race before picking winners. Over the weekend, Mendelssohn, trained by Aidan O’Brien, easily won the UAE Derby. Mendelssohn was so impressive that his future book odds dropped from 40 to 1 to 5 to 1.

Will the favorites win the Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, or Bluegrass Stakes? Or, will a huge dog take down one of the preps and see it’s odds plummet in the futures ala Mendelssohn’s?

2018 Kentucky Derby Preps

Saturday, April 7

Grade 1 Wood Memorial

Secretariat prepped in the Wood Memorial way back in 1973. He finished second to stablemate Angle Light. Big Red turned it around 3 weeks later in the Kentucky Derby. Although Secretariat won the Derby after prepping in the Wood Memorial, the race hasn’t produced a Derby winner since Funny Cide in 2003.

The last winner of both the Wood Memorial and the Kentucky Derby was the ultra-talented Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. Will this year’s Wood Memorial produce the winner on the First Saturday in May?

Projected Field

Restoring Hope
King Zachary
Old Time Revival
Firenze Fire
Vino Rosso

Analysis: The 2018 Wood Memorial figures to have plenty of entrants. Only the Bluegrass will have more. Although the Wood will have a lot of entrants, it doesn’t appear to have the most quality. Godolphin owned and Kiaran McLaughlin trained Enticed should be a short-priced favorite after winning the Grade 3 Gotham over Aqueduct’s racetrack on March 10. He did rather easily and, so, figures to go off as around a 2/1 choice versus this group.

Both Marconi and Vino Rosso enter from the Todd Pletcher barn. Pletcher won the Florida Derby with Audible. Of the two, Marconi might be the better play. The Tapit sired colt had no shot in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth after Promises Fulfilled, who bombed in the Florida Derby, got away with easy fractions while on the lead. Marconi has every right to produce a top effort.

Vino Rosso is a decent horse. He finished 4th in the Tampa Bay Derby in his last. I can see the son of Curlin winning the Wood Memorial if he can put everything together on Saturday. His odds probably won’t be as high as they should, though, because he’s a Pletcher trainee.

That means I’m looking elsewhere. Because of the lack of perceived quality, Enticed’s odds are going to be too low to put on top. But, I’ve already decided that I can’t back either of the Todd Pletcher trainees. No other horses of the probables look like real plays to win except possibly King Zachary and Restoring Hope.

King Zachary has a devastating closing kick that should serve him well in this race. Aqueduct’s dirt doesn’t always favor speed the way Gulfstream Park’s dirt does. If King Zachary can get the right set up, I can see him winning the Wood off his maiden score.

The horse I’m putting on top is Restoring Hope. His connections are the same as West Coast’s, 2017’s top 3-year-old. It took West Coast some time to develop. It might take Restoring Hope some time to develop. However, he didn’t break his maiden until his third lifetime race. Then, he broke his maiden going 1 1/16 miles.

That signals to me that Restoring Hope might have what it takes to win a Grade 1 in his first race versus winners for Bob Baffert and Gary and Mary West. I’ll make King Zachary my second choice while I’ll put Enticed in third place.

First:  Restoring Hope

Second:  King Zachary 

Third:  Enticed

Grade 1 Bluegrass Stakes

Projected Field

Zing Zang
Gotta Go
Sporting Chance
Tiz Mischief
Blended Citizen
Free Drop Billy
Good Magic

Analysis: The Bluegrass Stakes came up tough with Flameaway, Quip, and Good Magic all signing up for the race. Quip won the Tampa Bay Derby. Flameaway finished second. Which of the two should prove difficult to beat in the Bluegrass Stakes?

Flameaway’s the one to consider on top. He ran erratically in the Tampa Bay Derby stretch. If he hadn’t run erratically, he might have beaten Quip to the wire. That’s important to note because Quip was on the lead with World of Trouble. Quip and World of Trouble ran the half-mile in close to :50. That’s way too slow in a Kentucky Derby prep.

At 6 to 1 on the morning line, Flameaway is a stand out for a win wager. He’s trained by the excellent Mark Casse. His sire is Scat Daddy. That’s Mendelssohn’s sire. He’s from a Fusaichi Pegasus mare, Vulcan Rose, and he only needed to run straight in the Tampa Bay Derby to catch Quip. I love the way the Bluegrass Stakes sets up for him.

Quip should run well, but I’m thinking he finishes fourth in this race. Whom do I like for second? My money will be on the Doug O’Neil trained Arawak. Sure, he finished behind both Blended Citizen and Pony Up in the Jeff Ruby Stakes. A closer look at that race reveals that Arawak just flattened in the stretch. That could have been expected because it’s an artificial surface at Turfway Park.

Not only that, but Arawak went extremely wide around the first turn. He went even wider than Blended Citizn. Arawak is my choice to finish second. I like Blended Citizen to finish third. Why? He held off Pony Up over the synthetic surface in the Jack Ruby. He might not be talented enough to win the Bluegrass Stakes. He’s certainly got enough heart to finish in the money, though.

Yep, I’m leaving Good Magic off my ticket. The 2 to 1 morning line favorite could prove me wrong. I don’t believe he will.  He showed little interest in the Fountain of Youth. He’s got the talent, but it’s difficult for me to see him peaking until maybe the Preakness Stakes.

In fact, if I’m right, trainer Chad Brown might skip the Derby with Good Magic unless he places in the top 4. Brown did that last year with Cloud Computing. Look what happened? Cloud Computing won the Preakness Stakes.

First:  Flameaway 

Second:  Arawak

Third:  Blended Citizen

Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby

The Santa Anita Derby has produced 17 Kentucky Derby winners. This year’s Santa Anita Derby is short on the number of entrants. It’s not short on the number of quality entrants. Two of the Top 5 3-year-olds in the nation, per my Derby Rankings, will run in the Santa Anita Derby:  Bolt d’Oro and Justify.

Projected Field

Pep Tono
Orbit Rain
Bolt d’Oro
Instilled Regard

Analysis: Trainer Bob Baffert had penciled in McKinzie to run against Bolt d’Oro in the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday. McKinzie suffered a setback. Baffert decided to call an audible. Instead of running Justify, the brilliant undefeated Scat Daddy sired colt, in the April 14 Arkansas Derby, Baffert decided to run Justify in the Santa Anita Derby.

One of the reasons, no doubt, is because the field is fairly small. The only horse Bob figures to have to beat is the Mick Ruis trained Bolt d’Oro. Can Justify beat Bolt d’Oro? Possibly. Justify has looked sensational in two wins. On March 11, he won a 1 mile allowance over Shivermetimbers and Pepe Tono by 6.25 lengths.

Justify looks like the real deal. I’ll put him on top. Bolt d’Oro should finish second while Instilled Regard should finish third…if trainer Jerry Hollendorfer enters him. Hollendorfer is on the fence with Instilled Regard. The rest don’t appear to have much shot of getting into the money versus Bold d’Oro, Justify, and Instilled Regard.

First: Justify 

Second: Bolt d’Oro 

Third:  Instilled Regard

What do you think?

Written by D.S. Williamson