by Teresa Genaro
The cheering started at about the eighth-pole.
It got louder by the sixteenth-pole.
And by the time Vino Rossi hit the wire three lengths ahead of Enticed in the $1 million Wood Memorial (G2), the old clubhouse boxes at Aqueduct were rocking under the weight – and volume – of dozens of the horse’s connections, cheering and jumping as they realized they were headed to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
Owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, Vino Rossi started his career two-for-two, then finished third and fourth, respectively, in his next two starts at Tampa Bay Downs. He sprang from the starting gate at Aqueduct with seven Kentucky Derby qualifying points; he crossed the wire with 100 more.
Breaking from post nine under jockey John Velazquez, Vino Rossi dropped into the two path and settled in fifth-place while Old Time Revival sizzled out to the lead, leaving the field about a dozen lengths behind him. None of his rivals stepped up to challenge him and he predictably came back to the field heading around the far turn.
And that’s when the real race began, as Vino Rossi cruised to the fore and hooked up with 6-5 favorite Enticed, who’d run steadily in second throughout. The pair effortlessly left Old Time Revival – and everyone else – in their wake, jostling and bumping, matching stride-for-stride until Vino Rossi pulled away in the final strides. The win was made official after a lengthy stewards’ inquiry and jockey objection by Enticed’s Junior Alvarado.
The win gives Mike Repole his fifth Derby starter in eight years – and that doesn’t count Uncle Mo, scratched the day before the race in 2011. St. Elias’ Vinnie Viola will return to Churchill Downs hoping to win his second straight Derby, following the victory of Always Dreaming, another horse that he owned in partnership.
“This is the one I wanted to win,” declared Viola, pointing to the Wood trophy in the winner’s circle.
“It’s always been my favorite race,” he said later, noting his Brooklyn roots. “It’s really special.”
A native of the borough of Queens, in which Aqueduct is located, Repole won the Wood Memorial in 2016 with Outwork. Unlike Viola, he’s yet to win the Kentucky Derby, despite his handful of attempts.
And while he was his usual exuberant, unbridled self, thrilled to be going back to Louisville, he knows all too well that disappointment may well lie ahead.
A lifelong Mets fan who knows something about sporting heartbreak, he said frankly, “I don’t expect to win the Kentucky Derby ever. That’s how I temper (my excitement).”
Viola was a little more cautiously hopeful.
“I feel like it’s almost inappropriate to think about winning it two years in a row,” he said. “It’s probably not smart to, but appropriate to the last horse we won with, I’ll be dreaming every night about it.”
Kiaran McLaughlin and Alvarado, Enticed’s trainer and jockey, will probably be having nightmares.
“I got bumped three times, I got pinched on the rail,” the reinsman said. “This was way too much. This is unacceptable. I got bumped three times, I got fouled, what else do I need to get?”
“They take them down a lot more often with less (interference),” a more measured McLaughlin said. “I thought we had a really good chance to get up. We ran very well to finish second, but I thought (the stewards) could have put us up.”
The runner-up performance adds 40 points to the 63 Enticed already had, and all systems are go, McLaughlin said, for the son of Medaglia d’Oro to head to Churchill Downs.
The 20 points earned by third-placer Restoring Hope will likely be not enough to get him to the Kentucky Derby, as he entered the Wood with none. Firenze Fire in fourth earned 10 points for a total of 39, perhaps enough to squeak in.
Repole and Viola purchased Vino Rosso as a yearling in the 2016 Keeneland September sale for $410,000. The Curlin colt out of the Street Cry mare Mythical Bride was bred in Kentucky by John D. Gunther and selected by Repole’s usual team of Ed Rosen, Ed Martin and Jimmy Crupi.
“We loved the Mythical Bride part of his pedigree,” Viola said. “And Curlin’s going to give you an honest horse. Crupi said that he is classically conformed.”
Repole is throwing a celebratory party tonight; initially planned to celebrate Noble Indy’s win in the March 24 Louisiana Derby (G2) – Repole owns Noble Indy in partnership with WinStar Farm – which nailed his spot in the Kentucky Derby, now Vino Rosso, too, will be feted.
If you think you might be headed to this year’s Derby, which Viola said “is shaping up to be a really good race,” and you might be seated anywhere near Team Vino, a word of advice from the folks at Aqueduct: you might want to bring earplugs.