Unbeatens Morello, Early Voting Set to Settle Matters in Wood Memorial

Morello-Wood Memorial

The Grade 2 Wood Memorial boasts a winner’s roll that any race in America would proudly sell its soul to own. There’s Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Foolish Pleasure, Genuine Risk, Count Fleet, Omaha and Gallant Fox, to name a few.

Morello-Wood MemorialMorello’s resounding Gotham Stakes victory played a role in his 8/5 favorite status for Saturday’s Grade 2 Wood Memorial. He is one of the few horses running Saturday who has a Kentucky Derby berth sewn up. (Image: Coglianese Photos/Susie Raisher)

Yes, with 20 Kentucky Derby winners, Aqueduct’s marquee stop on the Kentucky Derby trail has quite the pedigree. It also has quite the drought in producing Derby winners, sending just one this century to the Churchill Downs winner’s circle. That was Fusaichi Pegasus, who barely fits that category, winning the 2000 Derby.

Saturday’s Wood Memorial headlines Aqueduct’s six-stakes, 11-race card. The 1 1/8-mile trek offers 100-40-20-10 Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers out of the eight colts in the field. Two other notable races on the undercard are the Grade 1 Carter Handicap for older spirinters and the Grade 3 Gazelle, Aqueduct’s marquee Kentucky Oaks trail stop.

This year’s Wood Memorial offers a better field than last year’s edition. It offers three unbeaten colts, two of which own graded stakes victories at the Big A: Early Voting and Morello. Both figure to take plenty of money despite coming in with few starts and gaps in the resume.

Morello comes in red-hot

Morello, the 8/5 morning line favorite, comes in 3-for-3, with those three wins coming by a combined 13 3/4 lengths. His last two wins came in stakes races and they came going away: a five-length score in the seven-furlong Jimmy Winkfield Stakes and a 4 1/2-length romp in the Grade 3 Gotham.

That Gotham victory came over a mile and it came with a 96 Beyer Speed Figure, the best last-out Beyer in the field. With 50 points, the son of Classic Empire already has a punched ticket to the Derby.

This, however, is the first time Morello sees two turns, but his connections dismiss any concerns nine furlongs will be an issue for the pacesetting colt.

“Distance isn’t a question mark for me,” said Dave Lyon of Blue Lion Thoroughbreds, a co-owner of the colt. “I think with the way he runs and his patience and class, it shows that he can do it.”

Early Voting has the Wood Memorial distance down

Lightly raced as he may be, distance isn’t an issue for Early Voting (5/2). He’s 2-for-2, with a two-turn, gate-to-wire victory in the Grade 3 Withers on his resume. That 4 1/2-length score came against a field that showed form going forward: runner up Un Ojo won the Rebel Stakes in his next start.

But it came with speed figures (87 Beyer, 81 Equibase) that leave much to be desired. Early Voting will face early pressure from Morello, Skippylongstocking and A.P. ‘s Secret, so that perfect trip he got in the Withers likely isn’t coming again.

The unbeaten horse who gets lost in the crowd is Barese (8/1). That’s because his 3-for-3 record came exclusively against fellow New York-breds. But the Mike Maker-trained, Laoban progeny has the speed figure (a 97 last out) to be competitive, provided he gets the stretch-out to nine furlongs.

Pletcher often brings the heavy wood to the Wood

If not that unbeaten trio, looking to Todd Pletcher for answers is never a bad idea. The Hall of Fame trainer won six of the last 11 Wood Memorials, including last year’s 72/1 surprise with Bourbonic. He brings three into this year’s event: Mo Donegal (5/2), Golden Code (15/1) and Long Term (20/1).

Of the three, second choice Mo Donegal is the likeliest candidate to bring Pletcher his record-tying seventh Wood Memorial. He comes in off a troubled third in February’s Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park.

But before that, the son of 2011 Wood Memorial third-place finisher Uncle Mo won December’s Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct. He held off a charging Zandon in a controversial win that involved a late inquiry from Zandon’s connections that was denied.

“The Wood fits well in the calendar for us and we’ve been pointing Mo Donegal there for a while, seeing as he won the Remsen there,” Pletcher said. “It makes sense to bring him back o a surface we knew he likes.”

Grade 2 Wood Memorial/Aqueduct

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

Mo Donegal, 5/2 (Joel Rosario/Todd Pletcher)
Golden Code, 15/1 (Kendrick Carmouche/Todd Pletcher)
Early Voting, 5/2 (Jose Ortiz/Chad Brown)
Long Term, 20/1 (Javier Castellano/Todd Pletcher)
Morello, 8/5 (Jose Lezcano/Steve Asmussen)
Skippylongstocking, 15/1 (Junior Alvarado/Saffie Joseph Jr.)
P.’s Secret, 20/1 (Manny Franco/Saffie Joseph Jr.)
Barese, 8/1 (Dylan Davis/Michael Maker)

Mo Donegal’s stalking style and competitive speed figures makes him a good fit in a field loaded with early speed.

“He’s adaptable enough,” Pletcher said. “He was fairly close in the Remsen when there wasn’t much pace on, but I think he’s really going to be at his best if he can be in a truly run race with a good, honest pace where he can settle and make a run. Hopefully, there’s enough speed in here that that can happen.”

The Wood Memorial is the eighth race on Aqueduct’s Saturday card.

Author: Justin Graves