We're a month out from the Kentucky Derby, and three tracks are having their final prep races on Saturday. Aqueduct hosts the Wood Memorial (G2), Keeneland hosts the Blue Grass Stakes (G2), and Santa Anita hosts the Santa Anita Derby (G1). All three races offer 100-40-20-10 Road to the Kentucky Derby points to their top four finishers: guaranteeing their winners a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May, and most likely punching their second-place finisher's ticket to Louisville as well. They're going to happen in quickfire fashion come Saturday afternoon -- their scheduled post times (which have all been converted to Central time, for the sake of consistency) are all within half an hour of each other.
Our look at each race will be a little shorter than usual -- but feel free to post a comment or ask us on Twitter if you want to chat about our logic!
Saturday, April 6
Aqueduct Racetrack, Race 10: Wood Memorial Stakes (G2), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 5:00pm CDT
#1 TAX (9/2)
#2 TACITUS (5/2)
#10 OUTSHINE (6/1)
Longshot: #8 GRUMPS LITTLE TOTS (30/1)
TAX is already a winner at a mile and an eighth. He has freshened since that score in the Withers, but did that off a similar layoff. Expect him to sit off the speeds (who are there, though not as belligerent and numerous as in the Gotham), and outslug them in the lane. Tampa Bay Derby winner TACITUS won that race like a horse with a future. The pedigree suits for a mile and an eighth and beyond, and he is already a winner over a good Aqueduct track, making the footing no question. Finally, OUTSHINE has some appeal. He has tables to turn on TACITUS, but Pletcher won the Wood with a Tampa-spur also-ran last year. And, if the track is still wet from overnight rain, OUTSHINE does have a maiden win in the slop.
I'm not sure 30/1 will hold, but GRUMPS LITTLE TOTS has upside at a price. He got some seasoning in a trio of money finishes in sprint maidens, and then woke up going a mile at Aqueduct. He is by Sky Mesa, who is one of those sires who may be better known for horses going a bit shorter -- but can certainly be balanced out with route pedigree under, which GRUMPS LITTLE TOTS has. He'll be the price to bet he stays nine furlongs.
Keeneland Race Course, Race 10: Blue Grass Stakes (G2), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 5:23pm CDT
#11 SO ALIVE (15/1)
#3 SIGNALMAN (5/1)
#8 WIN WIN WIN (7/2)
Longshot: #1 SOMELIKEITHOTBROWN (10/1)
Of the three Derby preps this weekend, this is by far the toughest: the race drew a field of fourteen, and it's such a scrum that taking chalk on VEKOMA has no appeal. Let's take a shot with SO ALIVE. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who was a non-entity for so much of the Derby trail, has suddenly caught fire. He'll have to improve off his distant third in the Sam F. Davis (G3), but being a Super Saver half to last year's Wood winner Vino Rosso, why can't he? SIGNALMAN was a rock of consistency at two. The disappointment in the Fountain of Youth was a head-scratcher, but now he is second off the lay, back on a course over which he ran well last year, and he'll be more of a price than he was if he had shown up in Florida. WIN WIN WIN surprised me in the Tampa Bay Derby: I had him pegged for a sprinter, but instead he was able to settle back and make up ground late in his first try going two turns. Since that was his first outing in almost two months, it would be no surprise if he were fitter and tighter this time -- and it speaks volumes that with so many Derby preps going on today, Irad Ortiz keeps the faith with WIN WIN WIN.
SOMELIKEITHOTBROWN still has to prove he can run on the dirt; his only attempt on conventional dirt came in a disappointing, sloppy debut at Saratoga, so the surface is a wild card. But, it also means he will probably be a better price on the tote than he otherwise would be given his resume. He has tactical speed, he has a win at a mile and an eighth, and he keeps showing up over and over again in stakes company. Especially if he can kick his pattern of drifting in the stretch, SOMELIKEITHOTBROWN can prove he is better than the usual horse who preps at Turfway.
Santa Anita Park, Race 8: Santa Anita Derby (G1), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 5:30pm CDT
#6 GAME WINNER (4/5)
#5 INSTAGRAND (3/1)
#1 ROADSTER (5/2)
Longshot: #2 MORE ICE (30/1)
I still have some stamina questions about INSTAGRAND, but there are reasons he can rebound from the Gotham. That was his first race since August, and he got burned on the pace. This time, he probably gets to set it On the other hand? GAME WINNER doesn't have to drop back like he did in his last few, which should help in a short field without a ton of speed. His first race of the year was solid, and can remind everyone why he's the champ. Stablemate ROADSTER was rock-solid in his allowance return, soundly beating NOLO CONTESTO that day. With a good stalking style and Money Mike in the irons, he rounds out a trifecta of divisional heavy hitters.
Between the pair of longshots, it's a stretch to think either will hit the board, but between the two MORE ICE has a bit more upside. Even though it's not off base to think he was entered to make sure the race went for stablemate INSTAGRAND, he is (unlike SYNTHESIS) relatively unexposed on dirt, with his only dirt try being a third-place run on debut. He needs a huge step forward, but has more upside to find it.
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