by NYRA Press Office
After only hinting at his potential early in his career, Vino Rosso will carry momentum into the Kentucky Derby following his breakthrough victory Saturday in the Grade 2, $1 million Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Vino Rosso easily won his first two starts but came up short in two stakes tries at Tampa Bay Downs, making a mild rally when third in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis in February and finishing a flat fourth in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby in March. The Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable colorbearer was able to put it all together in the Wood Memorial, settling in sixth early behind the fast pace set by Old Time Revival, commencing a rally on the far turn, and overhauling Enticed in the stretch en route to a three-length score.
“He had been training well all winter and it was exciting to see him run the race we thought he could run,” said Pletcher.
Pletcher hasn’t determined where Vino Rosso will train in the lead up to the Kentucky Derby but is considering taking the colt back to Palm Beach Downs, where he has trained since November.
“We’ll make a final decision tomorrow,” said Pletcher, who added that Vino Rosso will have two breezes between the Wood Memorial and the Kentucky Derby.
The Wood Memorial capped a big day for Pletcher, who also won the Grade 1 Carter Handicap with Army Mule and the Grade 3 Bay Shore with National Flag. Like Vino Rosso, Army Mule and National Flag were in fine fettle Sunday morning, Pletcher said.
The Wood Memorial was the second of two graded stakes wins on the card for Vincent Viola of St. Elias Stable, who also captured the Grade 1 Carter Handicap with Army Mule. The 4-year-old son of Friesan Fire served notice with a 6 ¼-length triumph to remain unbeaten in three dominant efforts.
The Carter was Army Mule’s first start at seven furlongs and Pletcher intends to have the bay colt stretch out to a mile next time in the Grade 1, $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap on June 9, Belmont Stakes Day.
“I had the chance to talk to Mr. Viola [after the Carter] and it seems like the Met Mile will be the most likely target,” Pletcher said.
National Flag, owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, and S.F. Racing, unleashed a powerful stretch run to win the Grade 3, seven-furlong Bay Shore for 3-year-olds by four widening lengths. Pletcher for now intends to focus on one-turn races with the Speightstown colt, who entered the Bay Shore off a victory in a seven-furlong optional claimer in March at Gulfstream Park.
“One race we’ll consider is the Pat Day Mile [Grade 3, May 5, Churchill Downs],” said Pletcher.
Pletcher’s only loss on the Wood Memorial card came in the Grade 2 Gazelle as Virginia Key finished third, beaten three-quarters of a length, and Mo Shopping reported home fifth after fading in the stretch.
The Gazelle was the stakes debut for Blue Heaven Farm homebred Virginia Key, who won a two-turn maiden race in February at Tampa before finishing third in a seven-furlong allowance in March at Gulfstream.
“Virginia Key ran well, considering it was her third start,” said Pletcher. “We’ll take a look at the Black-Eyed Susan [Grade 2, May 9, Pimlico Race Course].”
Pletcher plans to regroup with Repole Stable’s Mo Shopping, who entered the Gazelle off a third in the Beyond the Wire in March at Laurel Park.
“We might have run her back a little quick,” said Pletcher. “She’s a filly who needs more time between starts.”
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Wood Memorial runner-up Enticed in good shape, will wrap up Derby preparations at Palm Meadows
Godolphin Racing's Enticed emerged from his runner-up finish in Saturday’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct no worse for wear and will continue to target the Kentucky Derby on May 5 at Churchill Downs, said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin Sunday morning.
Enticed, by Medaglia d'Oro and out of multiple Grade 1 winner It's Tricky, raced in second early behind rank pacesetter Old Time Revival and battled for the lead in the final quarter-mile with Vino Rosso, who ultimately prevailed by three lengths. Vino Rosso, ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, bumped solidly with Enticed in the stretch, prompting a stewards’ inquiry and a jockey’s objection lodged by Enticed’s rider, Junior Alvarado. After a lengthy review, the results were allowed to stand.
“We ran very well. The horse that was on the lead was difficult and we were a little closer than I thought we’d be,” said McLaughlin. “He broke well and laid second. We ran very well, and obviously Johnny came over and definitely bumped us pretty hard twice down the lane, but the stewards didn’t think it was enough to change the result, so we had to finish second and we’ll move on to Kentucky. We have our points and he came out of it in good shape.”
Enticed, winner of the Grade 3 Gotham in March at the Big A and the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club last November at Churchill, currently sits sixth on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 103 points.
McLaughlin said Enticed is scheduled to ship on Tuesday to Palm Meadows in Boynton Beach, Florida, where he will complete most of his Kentucky Derby preparations.
“Mainly because of the weather, and it’s very quiet there in the month of April because of all the horses that have shipped out, so it’s almost like a private training center,” he said. “We’ll train there and point for the Derby. We’re doubtful that we’ll even work him at Churchill, because he won there last fall and we already know that he likes the track.”
McLaughlin also reported that Grade 2 Gazelle runner-up Sara Street came out of her race in good shape, but there is no decision yet as to whether the Street Sense filly will be pointed to the Kentucky Oaks.
“She came out of the race in good shape,” he said. “She ran very well, she was very game. I thought she was going to win at the eighth pole, but she kept trying. We were very happy with the race. We don’t know what we’re going to do with her for her next race.”
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My Miss Lilly targeting G1 Kentucky Oaks after G2 Gazelle victoryl
My Miss Lilly is on target for the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks following her impressive half-length win in Saturday’s, Grade 2, $300,000 Gazelle, trainer Mark Hennig said by phone Sunday morning.
My Miss Lilly earned 100 points towards a spot in the Oaks, the prestigious race for 3-year-old fillies, on May 4 at Churchill Downs. Owned by Courtlandt Farms, the daughter of Tapit stalked from fourth before outkicking Sara Street and Virginia Key to win the Gazelle, which was contested at the Oaks distance of 1 1/8 miles.
“She came out of the race great,” Hennig said.
Only Midnight Bisou (160) and Monomoy Girl (154) has more qualifying points than My Miss Lilly’s 112, setting up a potential start in the $1 million Oaks the day before the Kentucky Derby.
“I think we’ll probably go in that direction if everything goes well. We haven’t had a chance to finalize it, but I think that was the gist of everybody’s feelings as we were lapping it up yesterday,” Hennig said with a laugh.
My Miss Lilly has two wins and four third-place finishes in four career starts and her victory on Aqueduct’s main track was her first in a stakes.
“A lot of these preps are not a mile and eighth, so it’s [good] that she has that experience under her belt,” Hennig said. “I think she’s a filly who is still improving. She went a little wide [yesterday], but I think she runs better the longer she goes. I think she’s at her best going around two turns. She’s a long-legged Tapit, and it looks like that’s her forte.”
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Firenze Fire on bubble towards Kentucky Derby start
Mr. Amore Stable’s Firenze Fire, the fourth-place finisher in Saturday’s Wood Memorial, will go on to the May 5 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs as long as he has enough points earned for a start, said owner Ron Lombardi. The multiple graded stakes winner sits 18th with 39 points earned on the Kentucky Derby trail.
“Obviously, we’re still on the bubble,” Lombardi said. “We have to wait and see what happens next week, and let everything straighten out from there. We’re sitting at 18 right now, so we just have to see, but it’s been that way all season. We’ll just wait for the rest, but if we do get the points we’re going.”
The son of Poseidon’s Warrior made his ninth career start in the Wood, and finished a lackluster fourth amid the field of nine. The Florida-bred replicated his placing in the March 10 Grade 3 Gotham Stakes where he failed to close and ran fourth amid eight others. A better effort was expected in the Wood.
“As far as the race yesterday, I was disappointed with how he ran,” said Lombardi. “We knew that the 4 horse [Old Time Revival] was going to go out to the lead, but I wanted him to be closer. We always break well, but we were too far back and he just didn’t have enough.”
Firenze Fire broke his maiden first out at Monmouth Park before capturing the Grade 3 Sanford at Saratoga. He followed with a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Hopeful, but then rebounded with a victory in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park. Firenze Fire earned 10 points in the Champagne towards a berth in the Derby then, after a seventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, earned an additional 10 with a victory in the Jerome in January.
A runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct earned four points padded by his two subsequent fourth placings with added five and 10 points respectively. After a tough campaign, the winner of four races with earnings of $669,100 will force his connections to wait before confirming his next start.
“It’s funny, a reporter asked me the other day about how I feel about the points system,” Lombardi said. “I joked that if we were in, I’d be fine with it. I think it’s a good system, but I think it can be improved. Maybe horses that run more, or have higher earnings or a combination of both could get points, too.
“The way it’s set up, you could have a horse win one race at 30-1, and he’s in,” he continued. “Maybe change the points system itself? I really don’t have a problem with it, it works, but I think there are ways to improve it. We’ll just have to see.”
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Discreet Lover emerges from G3 Excelsior win in good order
One day removed from winning his first graded stakes race in Saturday’s Grade 3 Excelsior with Discreet Lover, owner and trainer Uriah St. Lewis reported the 5-year-old son of Repent returned in fine fettle following his 2 ½-length victory.
“He came out of the race very good,” said St. Lewis. “He ate up everything and was his usual self this morning, we’re very proud performance.”
Purchased for $10,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Mid-Atlantic 2-year-olds in training sale, Discreet Lover left St. Lewis feeling pleased but not surprised with the effort his charge put forth to win the race.
“He always gives his top effort,” said St. Lewis. “Every time I’ve entered him he’s given us his best. The only time I can recall he wasn’t himself was in the [2016 Grade 2] Pennsylvania Derby. He lost a front shoe in the race and finished 10th so it was a legit excuse, but every time we’ve entered him he’s tried, and you can’t ask for anything more than that. When he stumbled out the gate I was worried and the jockey [Franco] had to go to Plan B, but, thankfully, it all worked out.”
Making his second start of the year in the Excelsior following a third-place finish in the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial on March 17 at Laurel Park, St. Lewis confirmed he would aim Discreet Lover to the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic at Charles Town Races on April 21.
“We’ll point next to the Charles Town Classic,” St. Lewis said. “I think he’s earned a chance to take a shot in there with the way he ran yesterday. So, we’ll move forward with that race as our target.”
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Wood Memorial Day generates 3.3 percent increase in all-sources handle
Saturday’s Wood Memorial Day posted a 3.3 percent increase in all-sources handle from 2017, according to figures released by NYRA. The 11-race card, featuring five graded stakes, generated all-sources handle of $16,404,541, including $2,074,149 in on-track handle. The all-sources handle bested the 2017 mark that generated $15,877,064 for a 12-race card.