After Outwork outran a huge long shot to win the $1 million Wood Memorial, the usually business-like Todd Pletcher was all smiles.
And why not? Not only does he have another up-and-coming 3-year-old for the Kentucky Derby in four weeks, he’ll be teaming with one of his favorite owners, the always upbeat Mike Repole.
“He’s so young. He’s only getting better,” Repole said about Outwork. “Thank God the wire came up because another jump, he probably wouldn’t have made it.”
Outwork won by a head over 81-1 long shot Trojan Nation and earned 100 Derby qualifying points. Trojan Nation, winless in six starts, earned 40 points to qualify for a Derby spot.
Outwork is a son of the Repole-owned Uncle Mo, a leading Derby contender in 2011 who ran third in the Wood at 1-10 odds and missed the Derby with a nearly fatal liver disease.
“To come back here five years later, with a son of Uncle Mo … ” an elated and emotional Repole said in the winner’s circle at Aqueduct Racetrack . “That was one of my toughest racing days. This is one of my best racing days.”
The winning time for the Wood 1:52.92 for 1 1/8 miles was the slowest in the history of the race, first http://thegreenguy.co.uk/ running in 1925. But time doesn’t matter much when a Derby shot is on the line.
“It was a great effort,” Pletcher said. On to the Derby? “I think there’s a chance,” he said, grinning.
Ridden by John Velazquez, Outwork raced second behind Matt King Coal for most of the race, then took over in the stretch but had to hold off an unexpected strong challenge along the rail from Trojan Nation.
“He just ran a really gallant race,” Trojan Nation rider Aaron Gryder said. “He definitely has a bright future. They can run him from a maiden race to the Kentucky Derby http://www.buzzfeed.com/peggy/brilliant-outdoor-ideas in his next start.”
Only nine maidens have run in the Derby since 1937 none won. The last to try was Nationalore, who ran ninth in 1998.
Shagaf, the 9-5 favorite in the field of eight, had a poor start from the rail and finished fifth. The colt trained by Chad Brown lost for the first time in four starts, but already has a Derby spot waiting with 50 for his Gotham win.
Brown said a slow start and muddy conditions may have been an issue for Shagaf.
“If the horse is healthy, I’m inclined to hope for a dry track at Churchill and a better trip.”
Outwork returned $6.80, $4.80 and $3.90. The 3-year-old colt finished second to stablemate Destin in the Tampa Bay Derby in his previous start and goes into the Derby with three wins in four races. Outwork now totals 120 Derby points.
Trojan Nation paid $40.60 and $13.40. Adventist, who earned 20 Derby points, returned $4.90 to show.
Pletcher also has Destin, who won the Tampa Bay Derby, plus a few other possible Derby starters.
“Loved the performance,” Pletcher said after Outwork gave him his fourth Wood win. “I mentioned to Johnny (Velazquez) that I was a little worried that if he made the lead, he might idle a little bit. Luckily the other horse came to him in time to re-engage and see him there.”
Matt King Coal was fourth and earned 10 Derby points, followed by Shagaf, Tale of S’avall, Flexibility and Dalmore.
In earlier stakes races, favorite Kid Cruz ($5) won the $200,000 Excelsior for 4-year-olds and up, favorite Lewis Bay ($5.50) took the $300,000 Gazelle for 3-year-old fillies, 6-5 top choice Unified ($4.40) won the seven-furlong $300,000 Bay Shore for 3-year-olds. In a later race, Salutos Amigos ($5.10) won the seven-furlong $400,000 Carter for 4-year-olds and up
After the Gazelle, there was a video tribute to Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, who died earlier this week. Under his guidance, the famed Phipps Stable raced five Eclipse Award winners and its first Kentucky Derby winner, Orb, in 2013. The New York Racing Association flag in the infield flew at half-staff. Phipps was chairman of the NYRA board of directors from 1976-1983).
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