Morello Favored in Eight Runner Wood Memorial

by Margaret Ransom

Eight sophomores whose connections have Kentucky Derby (G1) dreams will race 1 1/8 miles over Aqueduct’s main track in Saturday’s $750,000 Wood Memorial Stakes (GII) presented by Resorts World Casino.

Two years ago, as the Covid-19 pandemic bared down on the world and tossed everyone, including the nation’s horse racing calendar, into chaos, several of the most important Kentucky Derby prep races – and the three-race Triple Crown series itself – were either postponed or cancelled all together. The Wood Memorial was one of the races to not survive in 2020, but was back last year and returns again in 2022 with a strong field and 100-40-20-10 Road to the Derby qualifying points to the top-four finishers, which means the winner and quite possibly the runner-up, depending on their current points earnings, will make the gate for the Kentucky Derby (GI) in four weeks.

The Wood Memorial was first run in 1925 and is named after Eugene D. Wood, who was a New York politician and horse racing enthusiast, who served as president of Jamaica Racecourse for more than two decades and passed away in the weeks before the inaugural running of the race at the now defunct oval. The race was moved to Aqueduct in 1960 when Jamaica closed, where it has remained ever since. It will be contested for the 101st time this year, a number that includes the years it was held in two divisions (1944, 1945, 1947, 1974, and 1983.)

Since Triple Crown champion Gallant Fox became the first of five Wood Memorial Stakes heroes to win the Kentucky Derby in 1930, ten runners have followed — Gallant Fox, Twenty Grand, Johnstown, Count Fleet, Hoop Jr., Assault, Foolish Pleasure, Bold Forbes, Seattle Slew, Pleasant Colony and Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. The other four Triple Crown heroes to have won the wood are Count Fleet, Assault and Seattle Slew. The list of other exceptional Wood winners includes Hill Prince, Native Dancer, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Damascus, Dancer’s Image, Slew o’ Gold, Broad Brush, Gulch, Easy Goer, Devil His Due, Unbridled’s Song, Empire Maker, Tapit, Frosted and Vino Rosso.

Last year Calumet Farm’s Bourbonic upset the Wood at odds of 72-1 and hasn’t won a race in six starts since, including a 13th-place finish in last year’s Derby.

Also the great champion and Triple Crown winner Secretariat famously finished third in the Wood in 1973, the loss blamed on an abscess in his upper lip, which was believed to be aggravated by his bit.

Overall, 11 Wood Memorial winners went on to win under the Twin Spires on the first Saturday in May, and even though no Wood winner since Fusaichi Pegasus has completed a Wood-Derby double, each year an exciting bunch races in New York’s marquee event to secure enough points to make the gate for the Run for the Roses.

From 1925 to 1939, the Wood Memorial was contested at a mile and 70 yards, ​1 1⁄16 miles from 1940 to 1951 and it has been run at 1 1/8 miles ever since. The late Hall of Famers Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons and Eddie Arcaro still lead the trainer/jockey standings for this race despite the fact neither has been represented by a winner since the 1950s. They even teamed up for the win in 1957 with Bold Ruler. Fitzsimmons saddled seven winners overall while Arcaro was aboard nine throughout his extraordinary career.

The weather in New York on Saturday is expected to be cold and wet with rain expected most of the day and temperatures reaching into the mid-50s.

The Wood Memorial is the day’s 8th-race feature and is expected to leave the gate at approximately 4:45 p.m. ET. The field, in post position order with jockeys, trainers and morning line odds, is:

1. Mo Donegal, Joel Rosario, Todd Pletcher, 5-2
Uncle Mo—Callingmissbrown, by Pulpit

2. Golden CodeK. Carmouche123 LbsT. Pletcher, 15-1
Honor Code—Jb’s Golden Regret, by Banker’s Gold

3. Early Voting, Jose Ortiz, Chad Brown, 5-2
Gun Runner—Amour d’Ete, by Tiznow

4. Long Term, Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher, 20-1
Curlin—Savings Account, by Medaglia d’Oro

5. Morello, Jose Lezcano, Steve Asmussen, 8-5
Classic Empire—Stop the Wedding, by Congrats

6. Skippylongstocking, JuniorAlvarado, Saffie Joseph, Jr., 15-1
Exaggerator—Twinkling, by War Chant

7. A. P.’s Secret, Manuel Franco, Saffie Joseph, Jr., 20-1
Cupid—Afleet Honey, by Uncle Mo

8. Barese, Dylan Davis, Mike Maker, 8-1
Laoban–Right Prevails, by Successful Appeal