Social Inclusion takes on 10 in $1 million TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial
By Jenny Kellner | 04/02/2014 05:14 PM ET
With two scintillating victories in Florida by a combined margin of 17 ½ lengths and the highest Beyer Speed Figure of any 3-year-old so far this year, Social Inclusion arguably is one of the most exciting horses on the 2014 Triple Crown trail.
On Saturday afternoon at Aqueduct Racetrack, the 90th running of the Grade 1, $1 million TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial will be the ultimate proving ground for the front-running Social Inclusion as he faces a solid field of 10 other sophomores, including the undefeated New York-bred Samraat and his archrival, Uncle Sigh, in New York's final major prep for the May 3 Kentucky Derby.
"My opinion is the favorite for the Derby comes out of this race," said Uncle Sigh's trainer, Gary Contessa, of the Wood, which will be run as race 10 on the 12-race card and air on NBC Sports Network from 5:30 to 7 p.m. "If Social Inclusion wins, hands-down, he'll be the favorite, and if you beat him, then you're going to be one of the favorites. The whole Derby picture is so cloudy right now, and I think the Wood is going to produce the Derby favorite if he does it impressively, or if it's Social Inclusion or Samraat. All eyes will be on the Wood this year."
With only a maiden and an allowance win - albeit ones that earned him Beyer Speed Figuress of 93 and 111, respectively, at Gulfstream Park - Social Inclusion will need to bring his best game north for the 1 1/8-mile Wood in order to earn one of 20 spots in the starting gate at Churchill Downs. As part of the Kentucky Derby qualifying series, the Wood Memorial winner will earn 100 points, with the runner-up receiving 40, the third-place finisher getting 20 and the fourth-place horse garnering 10.
"Our plan was to come here for the Wood and then go directly to the Preakness, but last time he ran so good we started thinking about the Derby and the Triple Crown," said Social Inclusion's owner, Ronald Sanchez. "This horse is really special. If you see the workouts he does, he's floating. Last Saturday he went in :46 4/5 and galloped out in :59 3/5, so easy. He's a classy horse, and you have to give him the chance. He's a professional horse, and it's hard to find a professional horse. We respect all the horses, but we're not scared of anybody."
Luis Contreras will be back aboard the Pioneerof the Nile colt, who drew post position 11 and was tabbed the 2-1 morning-line favorite.
While Social Inclusion may be unbeaten and untested, the same cannot be said of Samraat. Three of his five victories have come in stakes, including two hard-fought wins over a determined Uncle Sigh in the Grade 3 Withers and Grade 3 Gotham at the Big A.
"Social Inclusion is obviously a very talented horse, but there are some real horses in this race," said Rick Violette, who trains Samraat for Leonard Riggio's My Meadowview Farms. "I think we've got a strong hand in this race because our horse will do anything the jockey asks. If we're going to break running and they decide to give us the lead, it will be a controlling lead. If someone else wants the lead, they're welcome to it. There's no question we want to win - it's a $1 million race, it's a Grade 1, it's in our backyard...our objective is to run our 'A' race without leaving everything on the table, which is greedy, but then, everyone is in the same boat."
At 7-2 on the morning line, the Noble Causeway colt will leave from post position 8 with Jose Ortiz aboard.
Less than a length separated Samraat from Uncle Sigh in the Withers, which was the latter's first start following a New York-bred maiden win, and there was only a neck between them at the end of the Gotham.
"You know, it's not the norm to see a horse win a New York-bred maiden race then go to the Withers, then go to the Gotham, and be talking about being one of the favorites in the Wood," said Contessa of the Wounded Warrior Stables color-bearer. "As far as learning experience, [he] kind of went from kindergarten to fifth grade to high school to college. I didn't give him a few years in each place. So I just feel like my horse is just getting better and better, so I look forward to seeing what his best is."
Uncle Sigh will be leaving from post position 10 with Corey Nakatani in the irons. The pair is 5-1 on the morning line.
Treadway Racing Stable's Noble Moon will be making his first start since capturing the Grade 2 Jerome on January 4. A front-running maiden winner last fall at Belmont Park, Noble Moon rallied from last after being bumped at the start to finish third to Cairo Prince in the Grade 2 Nashua on November 3 at Aqueduct. Following two solid one-mile works on March 23 and 30 from Noble Moon, trainer Leah Gyarmati was impressed enough with his energy level on Wednesday to enter the Wood.
"He's been doing really well since Saturday's breeze [1:45.43], which is what I had been waiting for before making the decision," said Gyarmati. "He appears to be ready."
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will pilot Noble Moon, 12-1 on the morning line, from post position 3.
Seeking to legitimize his past performances is the lightly raced Schivarelli, a Florida-bred son of Montbrook who broke his maiden on January 13 at the Big A and five weeks later followed with a 12-length score over a muddy track.
"We would have preferred to ease up the ladder with him," said David Greathouse, II, whose Pike Place Racing owns Schivarelli in partnership with Homewrecker Racing. "The Wood is a tough spot and it's a big group of horses, but it's that time of year and we feel he deserves a shot."
Schivarelli, with reigning Eclipse Award winning jockey Javier Castellano aboard, is 15-1 on the morning line from post position 7.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has captured three of the past four editions of the Wood, is in the unusual position of saddling an 8-1 long shot, Let's Go Stable's Harpoon, most recently fifth in the Gotham.
"The horse has shown us he has a little more ability than his record suggests," said Pletcher, who won the Wood in 2010 with Eskendereya, in 2012 with Gemologist, and last year with Verrazano. "In his races, he's been a little intimidated by kickback, but he seems to be maturing and getting stronger through the process."
Hall of Famer John Velazquez will ride Harpoon from post position 4.
Centennial Farms' Wicked Strong is looking to regain the form he showed last year in New York, where he was 1-1-1 from three starts, including finishing third, a half-length behind Honor Code and Cairo Prince, in the Grade 2 Remsen at the Wood distance. In Florida, the Hard Spun colt was ninth in the Grade 2 Holy Bull, and then fourth behind Constitution in an optional claimer on February 22.
"I think he's shown in the past he deserves to be in there with these," said trainer Jimmy Jerkens. "He's been training well since his last start and we'll see what happens on Saturday."
Rajiv Maragh will be aboard Wicked Strong, 15-1 on the morning line, from post position 2.
Rounding out the field at California invader Kristo, third behind California Chrome in the Grade 2 San Felipe last time out; Private Terms winner Kid Cruz; recent maiden winner Los Borrachos, and Effinex, who broke his maiden in an optional claimer on March 23.
The field for the Grade 1, $1 million TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial: