Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby – The G2 Wood Memorial – By Eric Solomon

The biggest Derby Prep race in New York is the Wood Memorial, which is a race that is loaded with history. 11 winners of the Wood would go on to win the Kentucky Derby, with Fusaichi Pegasus being the most recent (2000). Secretariat was defeated in this race back in 1973 before going on to win all three legs of the prestigious Triple Crown. Since 1989, this race has produced three Belmont winners, Easy Goer, Empire Maker, and Mo Donegal. Horses like Devil His Due, Coronado’s Quest, Verrazano, Frosted, and Vino Rosso would all go on to Win Grade 1 races after winning this race. 

This year’s running drew a field of 13 with the two main contenders bookending the field in the starting gate. Hit Show (#13) was a convincing winner of the Withers back in February at this nine furlong distance. He’s going to have to work out a trip from Post 13 today. On the inside is Dreamlike (#1), who is still a maiden, but he’s run two very good races in maiden special weight company at Gulfstream. Eleven other challengers will throw down in an effort to earn their spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby in four short weeks. 

Post time for this race, which is the nightcap on the 11 race card this afternoon at the Big A, is 6:16 (ET). 

Aqueduct, Saturday 4/8/23, Race 11: The Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes

200 Total Derby Points (100/40/30/20/10)

1 – Dreamlike (7-2 ML, 40-1 Circa): It speaks to the lack of depth in this field that the second choice on the morning line in this Grade 2 race is still a maiden. Pletcher brings this son of Gun Runner up from South Florida and enters him in this nine furlong contest after a pair of strong efforts in maiden special weight races at Gulfstream. He has been beaten by two promising colts that have not raced since their respective maiden victories. Blinkers go on and he draws the rail, which should be an advantageous post for the race that he wants to run. Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable paid $975K for him, so the expectations are definitely high. He’s a logical player, but taking 7-2 on a horse that has never won a race is a tough pill to swallow. .


2 – Shadow Dragon (12-1 ML, 225-1 Circa): This son of Army Mule returns to the site of his maiden breaking victory last September, when he faced New York breds in a maiden special weight race. He tried state bred stakes company in his second career try, which was a struggle for him. Mott gave him some time off and returned to finish second in the Holy Bull when facing open company for the first time. He ran well that day, but he regressed in the Fountain of Youth against a sharper field. While I don’t think there’s anyone in this field that is in the same league as Forte, I’m not totally sold that he wants to go nine furlongs. I’m looking elsewhere in this race. 


3 – Knox (50-1 ML): Saffie Joseph rolled the dice with four longshots in the Florida Derby last weekend where they finished 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th. He brings this son of Brethren up north after a second place finish with optional claiming/starter allowance types. This is a massive step up in class and I don’t think he’s up to the task.


4 – General Banker (20-1 ML, 225-1 Circa): He’s been a useful colt, finishing third in the last three Derby Points races on this oval and accumulating over $429K in earnings on track. However, he’s never been close in any of those races, with his best finish being 7 and ½ lengths behind Lugan Knight in the Jerome. I think the pace scenario fit him well in the Gotham, allowing him to grab a share of the money in that race, but I think with the added distance and the steeper competition, finishing in the money is going to be a big challenge for him today. 


5 – Slip Mahoney (6-1 ML, 85- Circa, 100-1 Westgate): Brad Cox sends out a pair here, including this son of Arrogate who will be making his first start going two turns. His dam, Got Lucky, ran for Todd Pletcher and was the winner of the 2015 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes going this nine furlong distance at Keeneland. He’s coming off a disastrous trip in the Gotham last out on a muddy course here. He broke slow and was caught extremely wide in a large field where several runners were backing up. Dylan Davis was on board for his first three starts and he’ll re-unite with him this afternoon. I like the added distance for him. He’ll be the pick for me. 


6 – Clear the Air (15-1 ML): Trainer William Walden has cross-entered this son of Ransom the Moon in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, which is also being run this afternoon. In either race, he’s going to be a longshot. He has four career starts, two on the dirt and two on synthetic. He broke his maiden three back at Turfway and has never finished better than 5th on the main track. He’ll be a tough sell for me in this spot. 


7 – Arctic Arrogance (6-1 ML, 225-1 Circa, 100-1 Westgate): The runner-up in last year’s Remsen has also been the runner-up in the Jerome and Withers Stakes. He’s never finished worse than second in six career starts. Linda Rice opted to have him sit out the Gotham, which was probably a wise choice seeing as how the pace collapsed in that race. Hit Show was definitely better than him in the Withers, but that one will have to navigate Post 13 here, which certainly could level the playing field. The blinkers come off today, perhaps in response to how he finished his last race. He didn’t seem to have the same fight last time, so perhaps the added rest and the equipment change will have an impact here. 


8 – Lord Miles (30-1 ML, 250-1 Circa): The second of two runners shipping north for Saffie Joseph is this son of Curlin who finished off the board in both the Tampa Bay Derby and the Holy Bull Stakes earlier in the year. He was well backed two starts back in the Holy Bull after a solid third place finish in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes in January. However, he didn’t fire that afternoon, finishing a dull 6th. He ran a better race last out at Tampa, but he still finished 5th, almost six lengths behind Tapit Trice, who didn’t really bring his A game that afternoon. At this point, he feels better suited to be in a N1X allowance race, but when you pay $225K to be bred to Curlin, as Vesgo Stables did,  I guess it’s worth taking one more big swing. 


9 – Crupi (12-1 ML, 175-1 Circa): The second of three Pletcher runners in this race is also a maiden, much like the shorter priced entrant, Dreamlike. This son of Curlin did try stakes company last out at the Fair Grounds in the Risen Star, which was contested at this distance. He broke slowly that afternoon and was last of 14 for the first half of the race. He was able to get going late to finish midpack. He was a game second behind both Slip Mahoney and stablemate Classic Catch in his prior two starts, and both Angel of Empire and Two Phil’s came back to run big races after they finished ahead of him in Louisiana. He might have as much upside as his stablemate, but I don’t think he’s too far behind that one either. He’ll be the better value of the two Pletcher maidens that share common ownership. 


10 – Uncle Jake (20-1 ML): Brittany Russell has received some of the former Baffert trainees that are owned by the SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket conglomerate, including this son of Uncle Mo who broke his maiden last month at Laurel. He went to the lead that afternoon and continued to find on the front end, dominating that maiden special weight by nine lengths. Running in a race like this must have been a part of the plan, as he was one of the horses transferred prior to Churchill Downs imposed 2/28 date where horses must have moved out of the Baffert barn in order to be eligible to compete in the Derby. The speed figures are light and I’m not sure this is the kind of spot where he’s going to take that big step forward. 


11 – Classic Catch (10-1 ML, 150-1 Circa): The third Pletcher entrant has a maiden and a N1X allowance win under his belt. He beat Mr. Ripple in a nine furlong allowance last month at Gulfstream. That one came back to run 4th in the Florida Derby last week. He clearly wants to go two turns on the dirt, but his last three races look the same and we haven’t seen this one take a big step forward yet. Trevor McCarthy will be his 5th different rider in as many as five races. He’s faced short fields in Florida and will now have to navigate a lousy post while facing stakes foes for the first time. I’m looking in another direction. 


12 – Mr. Swagger (30-1 ML): He broke his maiden here going 6 and ½ furlongs in his debut at the end of January. He tried stakes company in the Gotham where he chased a hot pace and finished a well-beaten 6th. There wasn’t much from that effort to suggest that he’ll flourish at nine furlongs. I’ll pass on him as well. 


13 – Hit Show (5-2 ML, 35-1 Circa): The morning line favorite has continued to progress nicely during his first four career starts. He broke his maiden at first asking at Keeneland, but he struggled in his second start when losing to quality horses like Confidence and Rocket Can, both of which that would go one to win a Derby Points race. He handled his business in allowance company at Oaklawn two starts ago, winning in impressive fashion. Cox had originally entered him in the Southwest, but called an audible and sent him to the Withers, which was delayed a week due to weather. He sat toward the back of the pack that day and when Manny Franco asked him to go, he responded well to draw off to win by over five widening lengths in the stretch. Forte had to overcome a lousy post to score in the Florida Derby last weekend, however, I think there was a decent gap between him and his rivals in that race. I think the gap between Hit Show and some of the others here is not nearly as wide. I think 5-2 is a tough pill to swallow, regardless of how impressive he was in the Withers. I’d cover with him on some deeper tickets, but I think the play is to try to beat him here. 



The Verdict: 5-7-9

While I think Brad Cox will win the race, it’s not with the favorite. I landed on Slip Mahoney (#5) to rebound and avenge his troubled trip loss in the Gotham Stakes last month. He’s bred to improve at two turns, and he should find himself in a better position than he was in that race. 


Arctic Arrogance (#7) sat out the Gotham in favor of waiting for this race where he should be on or near the front end. Linda Rice added blinkers for the Withers, but I think he’s the kind of horse that is better without them. He has natural early speed and is as game as they come.


Pletcher sends out a pair of maidens for the Repole Stable/St. Elias Stable duo. Dreamlike (#1)has the higher ceiling than Crupi (#9) does, but I don’t think Crupi is too far behind his stablemate. I’m willing to ignore the Fair Grounds debacle where things weren’t going his way. He’s better than his 12-1 odds and his experience may prove helpful, whereas his stablemate is being asked to do an awful out in his third career start.


We’ll have coverage of every North American Derby Points Race, along with plenty of coverage leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6th, 2023. Current futures odds from Circa,  Caesars-William Hill, or Westgate will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.

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