Eskendereya, the leading thoroughbred in trainer Todd Pletcher’s stable of Kentucky Derby nominees, is the odds-on morning line 4-5 favorite in Saturday’s 86th Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
The son of Giant’s Causeway is taking a different path to the Kentucky Derby than most 3-year-olds have in recent memory, after winning the Fountain of Youth (FOY) Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Five of the past 15 FOY winners went on to capture the Florida Derby en route to Louisville: Quality Road, ’09; Scat Daddy, ’07; High Fly, ’05; Vicar, ’99; and Thunder Gulch, ’95, which also took the Kentucky Derby.
However, only a single winner of 64 FOYs was victorious in the Wood: Storm Tower, which triumphed in one of the two divisions in ’93. The son of Irish Tower finished 16th in the 19-horse Kentucky Derby field captured by Sea Hero.
But four others since that time that hit the board in the FOY took the Wood: Nobiz Like Showbiz, ’07, third; Coronado’s Quest, ’98, second; Captain Bodgit, ’97; third; and Unbridled’s Song, ’96, second. The latter two also won the Florida Derby, but didn’t score at Churchill Downs.
Eskendereya, breaking from post 3 with John Velazquez aboard, has been at the top of most main Derby contenders lists since defeating Jackson Bend by 8 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream on Feb. 20. That impressive victory by the largest margin in FOY history stands as the knockout performance of Derby preps this season.
“The one thing that we’ve been very confident in all along is he wants to run the distances of the classic races,” Pletcher told the Daily Racing Form. “I don’t see a mile and a quarter or even a mile and a half being a problem. He has natural stamina, he’s physically a strong horse. He holds up to his races.”
Pletcher has gone winless in the Kentucky Derby with 24 starters in nine attempts. “Hopefully, we show up. . . with the right one.”
The six-horse field includes Jackson Bend, 4-1, post 5, Calvin Borel, who has recorded four scores and two seconds in six stakes, but the longest distance he has been successful at is 1 1/16 miles.
Ice Box and Pleasant Prince, one-two in the Florida Derby, were off the board more than 10 lengths behind Eskendereya in the FOY.
Several key challengers include Awesome Act, 9-2, post 2, Julien Leparoux, coming off a 1 1/4-length win in the Gotham in his debut on dirt. I Want Revenge took both stakes last year.
But the last Gotham winner to smell the roses was ’73 Triple Crown champ Secretariat. Since than time, 10 repeated in the Wood Memorial. However, Secretariat didn’t — he finished third.
Rounding out the field:
Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Schoolyard Dreams, 5-1, post 4, Ramon Dominguez.
Carnivore, 20-1, post 6, Justin Shepherd, impressive maiden winner by seven lengths in his third start at Laurel Park. One factor in his favor – he’s another son of Giant’s Causeway.
Most Happy Fella, 15-1, post 1, Rosie Napravnik, front-running winner in two of his last three outings at Aqueduct.