By Margaret Ransom
Nine sophomores whose connections have Kentucky Derby (G1) dreams will race 1 1/8 miles over Aqueduct’s main track in Saturday’s $750,000 Wood Memorial Stakes (G2).
A year ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic bared down on the world and tossed everyone, including the nation’s horse racing calendar, into chaos, several of the most important Derby preps – and the Triple Crown itself – were either postponed or canceled.
The Wood Memorial was one of the races to not survive in 2020, but it’s back this year with a big purse, a strong field and 100-40-20-10 Derby qualifying points to the top-four finishers, which means the winner and quite possibly the runner-up, will make the gate for the Derby in four weeks.
The Wood was first run in 1925 and named after Eugene D. Wood, who was a New York politician and horse racing enthusiast who had recently passed away. Wood served as president of Jamaica Racecourse for more than two decades.
The race was moved to Aqueduct in 1960 when Jamaica closed, where it has remained ever since. It will be contested for the 100th time this year, a number that includes the years it was held in two divisions (1944, 1945, 1947, 1974, and 1983.)
Since Triple Crown champion Gallant Fox became the first of five Wood winners to win the Kentucky Derby in 1930, 10 runners have followed — Gallant Fox, Twenty Grand, Johnstown, Count Fleet, Hoop Jr., Assault, Foolish Pleasure, Bold Forbes, Seattle Slew, Pleasant Colony, and Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. The other four Triple Crown heroes to have won the Wood are Count Fleet, Assault, and Seattle Slew.
The list of other exceptional Wood winners includes Hill Prince, Native Dancer, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Damascus, Dancer’s Image, Slew o’ Gold, Broad Brush, Gulch, Easy Goer, Devil His Due, Unbridled’s Song, Empire Maker, Tapit, Frosted and Vino Rosso.
Also, the great champion and Triple Crown winner Secretariat famously finished third in the Wood in 1973, the loss blamed on an abscess in his upper lip, which was believed to be aggravated by his bit.
Overall, 11 Wood Memorial winners went on to win under the Twin Spires on the first Saturday in May, and even though no Wood winner since Fusaichi Pegasus has completed a Wood-Derby double, each year an exciting bunch races in New York’s marquee event to secure enough points to make the Derby.
From 1925 to 1939, the Wood Memorial was contested at 1 mile and 7 yards, 1 1⁄16 miles from 1940 to 1951 and it has been at 1 1/8 miles since. The late Hall of Famers Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons and Eddie Arcaro still lead the trainer/jockey standings for this race despite the fact neither has been represented by a winner since the 1950s. They even teamed up for the win in 1957 with Bold Ruler. Fitzsimmons saddled seven winners while Arcaro was aboard nine.
It looks like spring has finally sprung and the cold and wet weather from Friday will give way to mostly sunny skies with temperatures reaching into the mid-50s.
The Wood Memorial is the day’s 10th race feature and is expected to leave the gate at approximately 5:58 p.m. ET.
The Wood Memorial field, in post-position order, with jockey, trainer and odds:
1. Brooklyn Strong (Manny Franco, Daniel Velazquez) 6-1
Wicked Strong-Riviera Chic, by Medaglia d’Oro
2. Crowded Trade (Eric Cancel, Chad Brown) 4-1
More Than Ready-Maude S, by Jump Start
3. Bourbonic (Kendrick Carmouche, Todd Pletcher) 30-1
Bernardini-Dancing Afleet, by Afleet Alex
4. Risk Taking (Irad Ortiz, Jr., Chad Brown) 5-2
Medaglia d’Oro-Run a Risk, by Distorted Humor
5. Dynamic One (Jose Ortiz, Todd Pletcher) 12-1
Union Rags-Beat the Drums, by Smart Strike
6. Prevalence (Tyler Gaffalione, Brendan Walsh) 3-1
Medaglia d’Oro-Enrichment, by Ghostzapper
7. Candy Man Rocket (Junior Alvarado, Bill Mott) 12-1
Candy Ride-Kenny Lane, by Forestry
8. Weyburn (Trevor McCarthy, Jimmy Jerkens) 9-2
Pioneerof the Nile-Sunday Affair, by A.P. Indy
9. Market Maven (Dexter Haddock, Penny Pearce) 30-1
Super Ninety Nine-My Sonata, by Noble Causeway
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.
After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.
In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law known as the “Borell Law.”
Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, two Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.