The Wood Memorial seems like a cursed Kentucky Derby prep race these days. The winner hasn't gone on to win the Derby since Fusaichi Pegasus did it in 2000. Over the three-year stretch from 2009 to 2011, injuries kept the winner out of the Derby entirely - including two horses, I Want Revenge and Eskendereya, that would have been tough to beat.
It's a shame that the race has fallen on hard times, because the history is incredible. Four different horses won this race and then went on to win a Triple Crown. A fifth Triple Crown winner, Secretariat, was third in this race and bounced back strong. In all, 11 different horses have pulled off the Wood-Derby double. Over the last three years we have had heartbreakers emerge from this race - horses that were strong enough to draw a lot of betting dollars but not strong enough to deliver a return. Those three, starting last year, were Frosted, Wicked Strong and Verrazano. With a solid field this year will we have another heartbreaker emerge? Or is this the year that the Derby slump ends and the Wood Memorial climbs back to the top of the heap?
Before we look at the field, we have to talk about the ridiculousness of this field compared to the Blue Grass Stakes on the same day . There were 16 horses entered in the Blue Grass, even though only 14 can run. Just eight are entered in this race, and a couple of those are just filler. It's not like New York and Kentucky are a million miles apart, so it seems just bizarre that a couple of the Kentucky runners didn't head to New York for a better shot at the Derby points they crave. Their illogical behavior is good news for this group, though. Here's a look at the field:
Shagaf, Irad Ortiz Jr., 2/1: The race sets up as a three-horse race - though there are a couple of intriguing longer shots that can't be ignored as well. Of the three, this Chad Brown trainee already won the Gotham here at Aqueduct, so he likes the track, and win or lose he already has the points he needs to get into the Derby. He's a son of Bernardini, so he has the stamina to do well here, and Ortiz Jr. is having a great year and sits second in the nation in earnings. What stands out most about the horse, though, is how versatile he is. He has run on the front and survived blistering early fractions. He has rated off the pace. He's just a smart, talented horse with maturity beyond his experience level. He's the most likely to win, and I would be happy with something close to this price.
Outwork, John Velazquez, 5/2: Todd Pletcher has three runners in the Blue Grass, but this is quite probably his best horse running this weekend - or at least the one with the most upside, in my eyes. He has had an odd career. He had a very early start to his career, breaking his maiden last April in impressive fashion. But then we didn't see him again until February when he won an allowance race. Then he made his stakes debut in the Tampa Bay Derby, leading the whole way before being caught late by stablemate Destin, who is training up to the Derby off of that win. He needs seasoning, but so does Shagaf. He's a son of Uncle Mo like likely Derby favorite Nyquist, so stamina is a bit of a concern - but more in the Derby than here. I like Shagaf better, but wouldn't argue with anyone who liked this guy.
Matt King Coal, Jose Ortiz, 3/1: This Linda Rice trainee is another one who should be looking for the lead - he has two wins and a second on dirt, and all have come from the front. He's had some bad luck - illness kept him out of the Jerome in January and forced him to skip the Gotham for an easier allowance spot. He's new to stakes as a result, but there is upside. Irad Ortiz Jr.'s brother Jose, who is third in the nation in earnings, rides, so the rivalry factor adds another twist. I respect the horse - and would really like him at better than 4/1.
Flexibility, Manny Franco, 8/1: This is the second Chad Brown horse in the field. He actually has a lot of stakes experience. Last fall he was second to Mohaymen in both the Nashua and the Remsen. He started his three year old campaign by winning the Jerome very impressively but then came back to disappoint as the heavy favorite in the Withers. He hasn't raced since, so he's fresh and hopefully ready. I like him a lot at this price and definitely wouldn't leave him out of my exotic bets.
Adventist, Kendrick Carmouche, 10/1: This horse was third in the Withers, just one spot ahead of Flexibility. Then he was third again in the Gotham behind Shagaf. There is talent here, but a third in this race would be a bit of a miracle.
Dalmore, Junior Alvarado, 12/1: It costs $600 to nominate a horse for the Triple Crown. Hundreds of owners do it each year even if they have no hope of making the race. The connections of Dalmore didn't bother to nominate him. That tells you what they thought of his chances. He broke his maiden last time out after seven tries. Now he is making his stakes debut. It won't go well.
Tale of S'avall, Cornelio Velasquez, 20/1: This horse is a son of Tale of Ekati, who won this race in 2008. That's a positive for this horse here - and he is short of those at this point. He had some buzz earlier in the spring, but a fifth-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby dropped him from the national consciousness. I'm not sure even his best day would be good enough.
Trojan Nation, Aaron Gryder, 30/1: He looked underwhelming in two low-level races on the West Coast, so the owners figured - bizarrely - that a change of coasts and a massive jump in class is what the horse needs. It's just plain not. No chance.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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