Repole Stable’s homebred Outwork made his Big Apple stakes debut a winning on Saturday, capturing the $1 million Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) at Aqueduct by a head over the late-charging California shipper Trojan Nation. In the process, the handsome bay earned 100 Kentucky Derby (GI) points, bringing his personal total to 120 and assuring himself a first-class ticket into the starting gate for the most famous race in the world in just four weeks.
With his Wood victory, Outwork avenged the loss his sire, Uncle Mo, suffered in the 2011 renewal of Aqueduct’s final Derby prep and finally gave his owner a victory in one of the races the New York-based owner has said he’d like to win most.
Trainer Todd Pletcher’s go-to jockey John Velazquez, who could have ridden any of the conditioner’s many runners across the nation, chose to accept the mount on Outwork for the Wood likely knowing the colt was sitting on a big race after his runner-up finish to stablemate Destin in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII) last month.
The choice proved a smart one.
Outwork, who bobbled ever so slightly at the break, was soon after rushed toward the front from his outermost post position and, as he made his way around the first turn, dueled for the early lead while three-wide. After settling just behind the pace of :22.91, :46.93 and 1:12.31 set by Matt King Coal, the winner put his head in front just past the three-eighths pole and maintained a narrow advantage over his pacesetting rival past the quarter pole and, under a furious ride from Velazquez, held off the late charge from 80-1 chance Trojan Nation, who rallied mightily along the rail and briefly brushed up against the winner in tight quarters a few jumps before the wire.
“He was going a little too fast in the first turn and I had to get him a little easy in the first turn,” Velazquez said. “Everyone was pushing outside and I had to let him. At the quarter pole he put his ears up, idled a lot. He is still a young horse who is still learning. He has mastered a lot and he showed a lot of heart.”
After posting the mile split in 1:38.90, the winner logged a final time for the nine furlongs over a muddy and sealed main track of 1:52.92, the slowest running of the race in its 92-year history.
Adventist, Matt King Coal, the 9-5 favorite Shagaf, Tale of S’Avall, Flexibility and Dalmore rounded out the final order of finish.
At odds of 2-1, Outwork paid $6.80, $4.80 and $3.90. Trojan Nation returned a whopping $40.60 and $13.40, capping off a $319.50 exacta, while 10-1 chance Adventist was good for $4.90. The trifecta paid $1,955.
With the Wood win and the $590,000 winner’s share of the pot, Outwork bumped his career line to 4-3-1-0, $701,800. He is also another promising son of hot young sire Uncle Mo headed to the Derby.
“Forget the Derby, forget everything other than the fact it was a huge win for him in only his fourth lifetime start,” Pletcher said. “To win a Grade 1 in only his fourth start is extra gratifying for our team, because five years ago Uncle Mo didn’t win the Wood Memorial. It’s sort of vindication in some ways for him, and to win it with a son of Uncle Mo is a pretty cool story.”