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Wicked Strong pulls 9-1 upset in TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial

By Jenny Kellner | 04/05/2014 08:23 PM ET
Wicked Strong
PHOTO/Adam Coglianese

Wicked Strong barreled down the middle of the track to pass Samraat and favored Social Inclusion in midstretch and went onto a 3 ½-length victory in the 90th running of the Grade 1, $1 million TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack to stamp himself a major contender for the Kentucky Derby.
Social Inclusion, sent off as the 8-5 favorite after a pair of scintillating victories in Florida, broke alertly from the far outside and was caught three-wide into the first turn as Schivarelli posted an opening quarter-mile of 23.79 seconds. Moving up eagerly as the field of 10 headed into the backstretch, Social Inclusion poked a head in front of Schivarelli and led through a half in 47.47 and three-quarters in 1:11.16 as Samraat ran along in fourth on the outside. With a quarter mile to go, Samraat launched his bid in earnest but further out, Wicked Strong was closing fastest of all under jockey Rajiv Maragh and blew past the leaders at the 16th pole.

Samraat, who was putting his five-race unbeaten streak on the line, was up to nose out Social Inclusion for second, with Schivarelli holding on to finish fourth, another 1 ½ lengths back.

Trained by Jimmy Jerkens for Centennial Farm, Wicked Strong hadn't won since breaking his maiden at Belmont Park last October, but flashed his potential when he finished third to the well-regarded Honor Code and Cairo Prince in the Grade 2 Remsen last November at the Big A. After the son of Hard Spun posted two sub-par performances in Florida, his connections elected to travel north and Wicked Strong rewarded the decision to run in the Wood by earning 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, guaranteeing him a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on May 3.

Wicked Strong, who completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.31, returned $20.40  for his victory. As well as adding 100 qualifying points to the two points he earned in the Remsen, he also won $590,000.

"I thought he was training well enough in Florida, but he didn't show up in the afternoon for some reason," said Jerkens. "I felt good seeing all the Palm Meadows horses running well today. When I saw him laying five lengths off the lead, just galloping, I really felt we had a big shot. He was really comfortable laying relatively close behind a pretty fast pace."

Samraat, who earned 40 points to enhance his qualifying point total to 100, also will continue on to the Derby, said trainer Rick Violette.

"Other than win, he got a huge education," said Violette, who trains Samraat for Leonard Riggio's My Meadowview Farms. "As long as he comes out of it all right we'll head to Kentucky. I don't think there's anything he can't do; Jose can put him anywhere he wants - behind horses, on the inside, wherever. I don't think the extra eighth of a mile is going to bother him."

Social Inclusion, who was making his first stakes start, has 20 points and is currently 22nd on the leaderboard.
"It was very good," said trainer Manny Azpurua of Social Inclusion's effort. "Next time he'll win; he'll kill them."

Uncle Sigh, who finished second to Samraat in the Grade 3 Withers and the Grade 3 Gotham, was fifth, followed by Noble Moon, Kristo, Effinex, Harpoon and Los Borrachos. Kid Cruz was scratched.