All racing eyes will be fixed on Uncle Mo in the Wood Memorial on Saturday as the early Kentucky Derby favorite runs in his final prep on the Road to the Roses, one of three key races this weekend. The early favorite in the first of the three Triple Crown events breezed a half-mile in 48 1/5, second fastest of 36 runners at the Palm Meadows Training Center on Sunday. It was the Todd Pletcher trainee’s second work since his easy 3 ¾-length score in the Timely Writer. With regular rider John Velazquez aboard, Uncle Mo worked in company going the first quarter in 23 3/5. The son of Indian Charlie edged away under his own power, galloping out five furlongs in 1:01 and covering six furlongs in 1:15 3/5.
The likely field doesn’t appear very strong and includes several Gotham Stakes runners including second- and third-place finishers Norman Asbjornson and Toby’s Corner, restricted stakes winner Preachintothedevil and Timely Writer runner-up Rattlesnake Bridge.
It’s not whether you win or lose that counts in the $750,000 Wood, but whether you ran fairly well and at least hit the board. That’s because only two of the past 10 winners since Seattle Slew in 1977 scored at Churchill Downs: Pleasant Colony in ’81 and Fusaichi Pegasus in ’00. However, eight that hit the board in Aqueduct’s showcase race at 1 1/8 miles smelled the roses. The latest: Funny Cide, ’03; Monarchos, ’01; and Go for Gin, ’94.
Saturday’s second big contest, the $1 million Santa Anita Derby, hasn’t produced the Kentucky Derby champ in more than a decade when the main track was dirt before being converted for several years. Real Quiet was runner-up to Indian Charlie in ’98, following Silver Charm’s path to the Churchill Down’s winner circle the previous year. Both were trained by Bob Baffert. The last winner of both derbies was Sunday Silence in ’89.
Likely favorite is Premier Pegasus, impressive winner of the San Felipe by 7 ¾ lengths, but his performance hasn’t scared away a bunch of challengers in the 74th renewal, including four that chased him home March 12. A sizzling five-furlong work was posted last Saturday by the son of Fusaichi Pegasus – a bullet 59 1/5 handily, fastest of 17.
Several other contenders also worked last Saturday, including San Felipe runner-up Jaycito, who went six furlongs in 1:13 2/5 handily, which pleased Baffert. Bench Points, third in the San Felipe, covered five furlongs in 59 4/5, fourth fastest at the distance. Stakes winners include Robert B. Lewis victor Anthony’s Cross and Silver Medallion, who captured Golden Gate’s El Camino Real Derby.
The third Kentucky Derby prep is the $300,000 Illinois Derby that features Watch Me Go, victorious in the Tampa Bay Derby. All three races on Saturday are 1 1/8 miles. In ’02, War Emblem captured the Illinois Derby and repeated in Louisville. Like Real Quiet and Silver Charm, he won the Preakness. However, all three failed in the Belmont.