The newly minted rivals had the New York stage to themselves over the winter, when undefeated Samraat and gritty Uncle Sigh twice went head to head down the Aqueduct stretch. On Saturday, with $1 million on the line, the New York-bred colts will have more than each other to beat in the Grade I Wood Memorial.
Up from Florida is the brilliant but untested front-runner Social Inclusion, 2-for-2 after setting a Gulfstream Park record of 1:404/5 for 11/16 miles. Owner Ron Sanchez said he turned down an offer of $8 million for 75 percent of his phenom, and the price will rise significantly if he wins New York's marquee prep for the May 3 Kentucky Derby.
Gary Contessa, Uncle Sigh's trainer, hopes Social Inclusion has to face pace pressure for the first time. "I think the key is somebody has to go with Social Inclusion or he's going to be very tough to beat," he said. "I think there's enough speed to challenge him."
Samraat is a Hamptons horse, foaled at My Meadowview Farm in Water Mill. Contessa, born and raised in Merrick, is in the sports Hall of Fame at his alma mater, Calhoun High. His very informal introduction to racing came as a teenager, when he would climb over the fence at Roosevelt Raceway. He's been a New York fixture since the '70s, saddling more than 2,000 winners since 1985 after a five-year stint as an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Frank "Pancho" Martin.
"I think it's a great rivalry for New Yorkers," Contessa said. "It's a friendly rivalry because [trainer] Rick Violette and I are friends.'"
Contessa thinks Uncle Sigh could be his first Derby starter. Losing to the 5-for-5 Samraat by a length, then by a neck, hasn't convinced him that Uncle Sigh (1-for-4, three seconds) isn't just as good.
"I think he got beat by experience in the Withers and by the trip in the Gotham,'" Contessa said. "He's got that fighting instinct, and I don't think we've seen the best of Uncle Sigh."
Social Inclusion, the 2-1 morning-line favorite, drew the outside post in a field of 11 for the 90th running of the 11/8- mile Wood. From the rail out, he'll face Kid Cruz, 20-1; Wicked Strong, 15-1; Noble Moon, 12-1; Harpoon, 8-1; Los Borrachos, 30-1; Kristo, 6-1; Schivarelli, 15-1; Samraat, 7-2; Effinex, 50-1; and Uncle Sigh, 5-1.
"I think it's the best field assembled for a prep this year," Contessa said. "I think the Kentucky Derby favorite, and possibly the winner, could come out of the Wood."
California Chrome, the 6-5 favorite, tops Saturday's other Derby prep, the Santa Anita Derby. Candy Boy and Hoppertunity are considered his main rivals.