It’s been a long time since a Wood Memorial victory led to glory at Churchill Downs. Not since Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 has the Wood-Kentucky Derby double been hit, and before that you have to go all the way back to 1981 and Pleasant Colony.
Saturday’s 93rd Wood at Aqueduct seems unlikely to alter the trend, because none of its eight entrants is in anybody’s Derby top 10. Trainer Todd Pletcher’s 2-1 favorite, Battalion Runner, is 2-for-3 lifetime and making his stakes debut. The 5-2 second choice, Chad Brown’s Cloud Computing, has run only twice. Graham Motion will saddle 7-2 Irish War Cry, who dominated Gulfstream’s Holy Bull Stakes before plodding in seventh in the Fountain of Youth.
“He ran a really appalling race,” Motion said Tuesday. “I’m not sure I can give everyone an explanation why. I just hope he can bounce back.”
NBCSN will show the $750,000 Wood and two other 1 1⁄8-mile Derby preps, Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby, both worth $1 million, live from 5:30-7:30 p.m. The Blue Grass is the marquee event because it drew 4-for-4 division leader McCraken, the 7-5 favorite, and Pletcher’s promising Tapwrit (5-2).
McCraken may be vulnerable because he hasn’t run since Feb. 11, when he beat Tapwrit at Tampa Bay Downs. Trainer Ian Wilkes has nursed McCraken through an ankle strain, and the strong closer needs a 1-2-3 finish to guarantee him enough points to qualify for the Derby.
“I want a good race for this horse, and I think he needs it,” said Wilkes, a transplanted Australian. “It doesn’t mean I have to win it . . . because just like everyone, our goal is the next race.”
Two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neill has four in the wide-open Santa Anita Derby, led by Iliad, a distant second last time to former No. 1 Mastery, who is sidelined by an ankle injury. Without Mastery, the West Coast lacks a leader, and one will emerge Saturday. And if McCraken doesn’t win, there will be a new overall No. 1.
Motion cautions about overreacting to one big performance.
“I think we’re too quick to jump on a horse’s bandwagon,” he said. “A different horse has won each prep, so I think the jury’s still out on this crop. But I think as the waters run deeper the next three weeks, we’re going to sort out the men from the boys.’’