Who Wins The Wood ?

Saturday’s Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial provides the final east coast opportunity for the 2022 Kentucky Derby contenders to reap qualifying points for the Run For The Roses, which is just a month away.

The 1 1/8-mile event at Aqueduct will offer points to the top four finishers at the highest level of 100-40-20-10. The race is slated as race eight on a card of eleven, with a scheduled Post Time of 4:45

Here is a look at the field for Saturday’s contest.

1. MO DONEGAL [ML 5-2] Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Jockey: Joel Rosario. MO DONEGAL exits the Holy Bull (G3), which now has the look of a key race on the Derby trail. He finished 3rd but was doing his best running down the stretch and finished behind SIMPLIFICATION and WHITE ABARRIO, the Winners of the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Florida Derby (G1), respectively. He has a Victory at Aqueduct in the Remsen (G2) going nine furlongs. 

2. GOLDEN CODE [ML 15-1] Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Jockey: Kendrick Carmouche.  This New York-bred Won by almost 11 lengths in his second start on a muddy track against state-breds going seven furlongs. He then stepped up to the Kentucky Derby trail and finished 3rd while stretching out to a mile against a good Gotham (G3) field. GOLDEN CODE was 27-1 in the Gotham and figures to be a big price again. 

3. EARLY VOTING [ML 3-1] Trainer: Chad Brown. Jockey: Jose Ortiz. He is unbeaten in his career- that career being two races at Aqueduct – a Maiden special weight going a mile at .95-1 and then a classy Victory in the Withers (G3) at nine furlongs over UN OJO, the Rebel (G2) Winner. He continued to train in New York to prepare for the Wood for two months since the Withers. Brown likes to give his horses plenty of time between starts, so concerns about the layoff are unnecessary. 

4. LONG TERM [ML 20-1] Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Jockey: Javier Castellano. This guy is still a maiden after four 2nd-place finishes in a row at Aqueduct at distances of seven to nine furlongs, each time racing on the early pace. As a Pletcher runner, he was a heavy favorite in his last three starts, but that certainly will not be the case in this spot. 

5. MORELLO [ML 9-5] Trainer: Steve Asmussen. Jockey: Jose Lezcano. Is one of the three unbeaten horses in this field. From the Asmussen barn, he has trained and run exclusively in New York under the care of assistant Toby Sheets. His Wins at Aqueduct came while pressing the pace in a Maiden, then in the Jimmy Winkfield and the Gotham (G3). The three Winning margins totaled almost 14 lengths as the race distances increased from six furlongs to seven and then a mile. 

6.
 SKIPPYLONGSTOCKING [ML 12-1] Trainer: Saffie Joseph Jr. Jockey: Junior Alvarado. He is 2-for-8 career- with a Maiden Win and most recently an Allowance at Gulfstream going the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Wood Memorial. This will be his first start on the Derby trail. His last two starts were with Lasix, but he will not be able to use it in this New York Stakes. He will come with the longest odds of his career, and it is hard to completely overlook this runner. 

7.
 A.P.’S SECRET [ML 12-1] Trainer: Saffie Joseph Jr. Jockey: Manny Franco. He was involved in the incident in the Fountain of Youth that was caused by jockey Paco Lopez. Pressing the pace around the quarter pole he had his heels clipped which caused him to lose all of his momentum. He ships up to Aqueduct from Florida to give him another chance on the Kentucky Derby trail. He broke his Maiden and Won an Allowance at Gulfstream Park. The Joseph barn is hot right now, having dethroned Todd Pletcher as the leading trainer at the Gulfstream Championship meeting. 

8. BARESE [ML 8-1] Trainer: Mike Maker. Jockey: Dylan Davis. The New York-bred is unbeaten in three starts, which include a pair of state-bred stakes at Aqueduct. Most recently, he Won the Gander going a mile. BARESE used a stalking trip to Win each time as distance increased from five furlongs to 6 1/2 to a one-turn mile. Yes, he will need to continue to improve but he likely will come with the highest odds of his career. 

SUMMARY: Big-name trainers like Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen and Chad Brown have selected the Wood Memorial for runners from their barns who have past success at Aqueduct.

#1 MO DONEGAL Won the Remsen for Pletcher, unbeaten #5 MORELLO has three Victories at the Big A for Asmussen, and #3 EARLY VOTING Won both of his races for Brown at the New York City track. Five horses in the Wood field have Won a total of nine races at Aqueduct.

That trio of colts gains an important edge by having experience on an Aqueduct racing surface that is known to be very deep and can produce slow times.

While EPICENTER is, deservedly, the top-ranked Derby contender from the Asmussen barn, MORELLO warrants some attention for his three open-length Victories at increasing distances using an ideal stalking style.

MORELLO owns both a 114 TimeformUS Speed Figure and 99 BRIS Speed Rating for Winning the Gotham Stakes (G3) last month, giving him the field-high speed figure on those two brands.

When speed figure makers are in agreement over the fastest horse, it gives the handicapper an extra boost of confidence that the number is right.

As long as he stays 9-5 or higher, MORELLO is our play.

If you’re looking for a Live Longshot, then #6 SKIPPYLONGSTOCKING, and #7 A.P.’S SECRET both out of the barn of red-hot Saffie Joseph Jr. should run well. And don’t overlook #8 BARESE who has one twice on this track.

Best of luck no matter how you play it.

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