2019 Wood Memorial Expert Picks with Odds and Betting Predictions
The Wood Memorial, the last of the Kentucky Derby prep races in New York, has not been particularly productive in terms of Triple Crown success lately. The last winner to win a Triple Crown race was Empire Maker, who won the 2003 Belmont. He's more famously recently, of course, for siring Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. And the last winner of both this race and the Kentucky Derby was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.
The success came more regularly in the past, though, as this race has produced many greats, including Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox, Count Fleet, Assault, and Seattle Slew. And while it hasn't produced winners of late, it has still produced strong horses. Tapit won it in 2004 and has gone on to become one of the great sires of our time. In 2009 and 2010 I Want Revenge and Eskendereya were both poised to be Derby favorites, but both were scratched leading up to the race. Wicked Strong in 2014 was fourth in both the Derby and the Belmont. Frosted was second in the Belmont the next year, and Irish War Cry was also second in that race two years later. So, this race is relevant and one to watch. And Saturday's edition features 11 entrants, including two that already have likely earned a spot in the Derby and a few more that could belong if they get the points they need. Here are the highlights of the field (Odds are the track morning line)
Tacitus (5/2): This Bill Mott-trained son of the great Tapit has Jose Ortiz aboard. Hard to hate those connections. It took two tries for the colt to break his maiden, but the successful try came on this same Aqueduct track, so we know he likes the service. He was off from early November until early March, but he returned with a bang, winning the Tampa Bay Derby in pretty nice fashion. We don't yet know how good that race was, though. Second-place finisher Outshine is a contender in this race, and third-place finisher Win Win Win is the second choice in the Blue Grass on Saturday. This horse is raw, and that makes me uneasy, but he showed a whole lot of courage in his big move in Tampa Bay. I don't hate this horse, but I'd like him a lot more at 5/1.
Haikal (7/2): If you believe in horses for courses, then you'll like this runner. He has run all four of his career races on this same Aqueduct track. It's the only track he knows. After a narrow miss in his first start, he has won his last three outings. He has jumped in class each time out and has handled it nicely - while also increasing in distance. He made his stakes debut last time out in the Gotham, beating a solid field with a nice move from deep. He likes the track, his breeding is sound, and he is in good hands with Kiaran McLaughlin. He should find a pace to run to in this one - Hoffa's Union and long shot Not That Brady are both likely to go fast early. At the very least he needs to be a strong part of all exotics.
Tax (9/2): This is one of those crazy stories. The colt was running in maiden claiming races in the fall, and was claimed after his second start, and first win, for just $50,000. His first start for his new connections was in the Remsen, and he finished third. Then he came back in the Withers in February and got the win. From claimer to graded stakes winner in just over three months. Not bad. He's got talent, and he likes to be near the pace, but it's hard to know if he is ready for this challenge just yet. I don't love the price.
Hoffa's Union (6/1): I am not afraid to admit that I have absolutely no idea how to deal with this gelding. None. He made his racing debut only at the end of February, and it came at Laurel Park - hardly the epicenter of major racing. But he took the lead early in that maiden race and ran away, winning by an eye-popping 15.5 lengths. And he posted a 95 Beyer rating in the race, which is incredible for a debut. Since then, he has been sold and was transferred to Mark Casse's barn. New trainer, jockey, and training approach, and a huge jump in class. What does this mean here? We also have a massive change in training approach. His last workout before his debut was at a mile. I honestly can't remember the last time I saw a young three-year-old work at a mile. Casse is a great trainer, but can he get this horse ready in time after only one career start? I'll have a couple bucks on him just in case, but I can't help but be skeptical. The biggest thing he has going for him is his breeding - sire Union Rags won the Belmont and sired Patch, a solid third in the 2017 Belmont. And damsire Malibu Moon is a son of the great A.P. Indy and the sire of Derby winner Orb. The distance isn't a concern at all given that breeding.
Outshine (6/1): It's amazing how things have changed. Heading into last weekend's action, a big storyline was that Todd Pletcher was DOA on the Derby trail this year. But he won two prep races last week, and suddenly he will again be well represented at the Derby. This could be his third entrant if all goes well. The colt already has 20 points, so he doesn't need to win here to make the big race. He won his debut way back in May but flopped in his stakes debut next time out and was on the sidelines for eight months after that. He came back to win an allowance at Gulfstream before finishing second in the Tampa Bay Derby. He still has a lot to prove, but this price is fair, and he'll figure into my exotics. Pletcher's hand is hot at just the right time.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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