For the past three years, the winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes has been among the favorites—and often the favorite—to win the Kentucky Derby. I Want Revenge crossed the finish line first in 2009. A year later, it was Eskendereya, trained by Todd Pletcher. Last year Toby's Corner, trained by H. Graham Motion, finished first.
All three of these horses exited the Wood Memorial as favorites at The Kentucky Derby. Yet all three never made it to Churchill Downs.
I Want Revenge suffered a ligament injury to his right front ankle. Eskendereya was pulled because of a soft tissue injury in his left front leg. Another Pletcher horse, Super Saver, went on to win "The Run for the Roses." Finally, Toby's Corner never made it due to lameness in his left hind leg. Just like Pletcher the year before, another Motion horse, Animal Kingdom went on to win the Derby.
The Wood Memorial has produced 11 Kentucky Derby winners. It also has the most famous loser, Secretariat, who lost to Sham in 1973 but went on to win the Triple Crown en route to one of the most legendary racing careers of all time.
Enter Gemologist, the winner of this year's Wood Memorial. Owned by Winstar Farms (same barn as Super Saver), Gemologist is another horse trained by Pletcher and ridden by Javier Castellano. Ranked No. 3 in the latest NTRA three-year-old poll (behind Union Rags and Bodemeister), Gemologist enters the Derby having won all five of his career starts (2-for-2 this year).
Trainer Todd Pletcher seems to think he might have his second Derby winner in the three-year-old out of Tiznow (a two-time Breeders Cup Winner), as he told ESPN.com after the Wood.
“So far, it would be hard to be unhappy with anything he’s done his whole career,” said Pletcher. “It was great to see. It looked like he had a little something left after the wire, so I think from a conditioning standpoint, with a good mile race and a good 1 1/8-mile race under our belt, hopefully we can have a good month of training leading up to [the Derby].”
Gemologist is also 3-for-3 at Churchill Downs, having won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last November. Familiarity with the track is what will make Gemologist even tougher to defeat two weeks from now as he does his Derby prep in Florida. According to Pletcher, Gemologist came out of the Wood in fantastic shape, and looks sharp leading up the the Derby.
The three-year-old also looked great at Aqueduct. He was floated six-wide into the first turn of the Wood and raced three- to four-wide down the backstretch. Gemologist earned a 98 Beyer speed rating for the win.
The Derby field looks wide open this year, as it does most years. However when Gemologist enters the Churchill Downs starting gate May 5, 2012, he will be among the top betting choices. He has the pedigree, the experience at the track and has been training very well. If he can overcome the recent Wood Memorial "curse," he very well could be the horse to beat.