Gotham Stakes (G3) scorer Enticed lines up against eight rivals on Saturday, including Gotham runner-up Old Time Revival and fourth-placer Firenze Fire, when going nine furlongs in Aqueduct’s $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2).
Enticed threw his hat in the Kentucky Derby (G1) ring last year at Churchill Downs with a head victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) on November 25. That contest awarded the Kiaran McLaughlin pupil 10 points toward a starting berth in the May 5 Run for the Roses, and he added another point when finishing fourth in the February 3 Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park to kick off his sophomore campaign.
Enticed wintered in Florida at the Palm Meadows Training Center, but shipped to Aqueduct for the March 10 Gotham. The Medaglia d’Oro colt prevailed by 2 3/4 lengths in that one-mile affair, which was worth 50 points to the winner, and will now go for 100 points on Saturday in the 94th edition of the Wood Memorial, which is worth 170 total points to the top four finishers.
“He’s doing very well,” McLaughlin said. “He’s training great. We’re happy with him and we’re there trying to win an important race. Even if it doesn’t have Grade 1 status, we feel like it is a Grade 1. It’s a huge race for a horse in his career, especially for a stallion prospect. Only one horse wins the Derby and 19 are hot and dirty, so this is a very important race on Saturday.
“We wanted to be outside in the Gotham, but going two turns, it’s no big deal,” McLaughlin added of Enticed drawing post 5 in the Wood Memorial after breaking from the nine hole in the Gotham. “There’s not a bad post, in my opinion, with a nine-horse field. We were hoping we’d draw four, five or six, something in the middle, but whatever it was going to be, it was going to be and we’d work it out.”
Junior Alvarado has been aboard for all but one of Enticed’s career outings and retains the mount on the Godolphin homebred Saturday.
Old Time Revival made his Derby Leaderboard debut with a runner-up effort in the Gotham last out after attempting to lead all the way home under returning jockey Jeremy Rose. The Brethern colt set the early pace in the Gotham, just like he did in the Miracle Wood S. one race prior before also ending up second under the line. Before that, Old Time Revival ran seventh while trying stakes foes for the first time in the Frank Whiteley Jr. Stakes
The dark bay colt competed exclusively at Laurel Park, breaking his maiden by 4 3/4 lengths in mid-December, before shipping to Aqueduct for the Gotham last out. He returned to that track to prepare for this shot to make the Derby field.
“Everything’s doing good, so we’re excited to make the trip,” trainer Kenneth Decker said. “He seems to be getting better every time we go. It seems like the further we go, the better he does. So we’ll see on Saturday, but right now, everything looks good.”
Firenze Fire captured the Champagne Stakes (G1) as a juvenile at Belmont Park prior to a fading seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Del Mar in early November. That proved to be the Jason Servis trainee’s final start of 2017 and he returned January 13 to win the rescheduled Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct.
The bay son of Poseidon’s Warrior showed up for the nine-furlong Withers Stakes (G3) three weeks later and ran second, then could do no better than fourth in the Gotham reverting to a mile. This stretch back out to 1 1/8 miles could see the Florida-bred return to form under Manuel Franco.
Vino Rosso took his maiden debut at Aqueduct last November for trainer Todd Pletcher before shipping to Tampa Bay Downs to wrap up his juvenile season with a 2 1/2-length allowance/optional claiming victory under regular rider John Velazquez. The chestnut son of Curlin stayed at that track to make his stakes bow in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) on February 10, finishing third on that occasion, then filled the fourth spot in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) last out wearing blinkers for the first time.
“He’s a horse that’s trained very well all winter and in company with some very good horses that have gone on to be successful,” Pletcher said. “So, we’ve been a little frustrated with his races this year. We thought we had seen some improvement with him training (in blinkers) and in the Tampa Bay Derby, Johnny (Velazquez) felt like he was more focused in the earlier part of the race, so we talked about it and after discussing it with Johnny, we decided to leave them on.
“We’ve been looking forward to the Wood for a while,” he added. “We’re excited to get him back to Aqueduct. It’s where he broke his maiden and stretching out to a mile and an eighth is going to allow him to show his true ability.”
Restoring Hope makes his stakes bow in this spot for trainer Bob Baffert off a 3 1/2-length maiden score at Santa Anita Park on February 2. The Giant’s Causeway sophomore was second and third in his two prior efforts against maiden rivals, and brings fellow Southern California-based Flavien Prat along for the ride here.
“We’ve always been very high on him and he worked really well the other day so I thought we’d take a shot,” Baffert explained. “He’s doing really well. We’re like everybody else, we’re trying to see if he fits. The Wood is a very important race.”
Restoring Hope ran his first two races sporting blinkers, but didn’t earn his first victory until that piece of equipment was taken off.
“We took the blinkers off and he came back and ran well (last out),” Baffert said. “Now, he’s training like a good horse, so that’s why he’s there. Hopefully he ships well and handles everything well. It’s new surroundings and you never know how they’re going to act with everything and you still need racing luck and all, but I feel confident that he’s going to be very competitive.
“He’s very fast. He has a lot of natural speed. He’s got to be up on the pace so we’re going to see what happens. He’s a gorgeous horse and he’s built for it. He’s a big, strong horse.”
Vino Rosso breaks from the far outside post 9 and Restoring Hope drew one slot inside of him.
Like Restoring Hope, King Zachary enters the Wood Memorial having broken his maiden in his third career start last out on March 18. The Dale Romans trainee romped by 7 3/4 lengths after stretching out to 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park. Robby Albarado has been in the saddle for all three starts and holds the reins on Saturday as the Curlin colt tries winners for the first time here. Heartfullofstars is also facing winners for the initial time in this spot, having broken his maiden by a head at Santa Anita Park last out in his fifth career start. Trainer Philip D’Amato has tabbed Dylan Davis to rider the Astrology colt.
Evaluator broke his maiden on Saratoga’s turf last year, then failed to factor when seventh in a pair of Grade 3 turf contests. The Michael Dilger charge showed up on the main track last October at Belmont Park to take the Sleepy Hollow Stakes by a nose, and just missed by that same margin when second in the Damon Runyon Stakes while making his sophomore bow last out on January 15. Kendrick Carmouche has the call here.
Completing the Wood Memorial field is Catch Twenty Two, who clipped heels and lost his rider last out on March 9 in his first start for new trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul after being claimed out of his debut victory on December 17. Both those starts came at Aqueduct, and the Super Saver ridgling gets a jockey switch to Luis Reyes for this one.