Wood Memorial Stakes | Race Profile

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One of the major prep races in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series, 1 1/8-mile test for three-year-olds awards points on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the top four finishers.

Wood Memorial Stakes

The importance of the Wood Memorial Stakes

The Wood Memorial is the culmination of Aqueduct’s road to the Kentucky Derby. Although the 1 1/8-mile feature includes horses who have been running in such local preps as the Jerome, Withers and Gotham, the top contenders nearly always come in from sunnier climes.

In the last 22 years, only two Wood Memorial winners have exited an Aqueduct prep, and neither was locally based. Southern California shipper I Want Revenge bolted up in the 2009 Gotham before launching another smash-and-grab in the Wood. Toby’s Corner raced in two Wood preps in 2011, each time vanning in from Maryland. So any horse who has been wintering in New York must be regarded with an especially critical eye.

These trends reflect the fact that the elite New York stables send their top prospects down to Florida for the winter. They typically compete at Gulfstream Park, and sometimes Tampa Bay Downs, before returning to the Big Apple in the spring. It’s no surprise that most of the last 22 Wood winners had last raced in Florida, and another, Tale of Ekati (2008), had trained at Palm Meadows but raced in the Louisiana Derby prior to the Wood.

In addition to the generally lesser quality of Aqueduct’s winter racing, the local preps leading up to the Wood are contested on the inner oval, which tends to accentuate the advantage of inside speed. Come April, racing shifts to Aqueduct’s more expansive main track, and horses who had been favored on the “inner tube” now have to face a different set of circumstances.

To weigh the respective merits of the contenders, the BRIS Speed figures are a helpful tool. The other usual handicapping angles always come into play as well, chief among them whether a top speed horse will get loose on the lead or get burned up in a duel, setting the stage for a closer. Those off-the-pace runners who have been fighting a speed bias at Gulfstream are worth a particularly close look here.

And as with all of the final round Kentucky Derby preps, key in on horses who can be expected to handle the increase in distance. Speedsters who are just holding on for dear life at 1 1/16 miles are unlikely propositions over an extra sixteenth. 

About the Wood Memorial

The Wood Memorial Stakes is held annually every April at Aqueduct Racetrack at Ozone Park in Queens, New York. The East Coast Kentucky Derby prep is for three-year-olds and has been running every year, in one form or another, since 1925. It’s run on a dirt surface and horses travel counter-clockwise on the track. In 2017, the graded stakes designation for the race was changed to a grade II event; since 2002, it previously ran as a grade I stakes.

Every year the Wood Memorial Stakes is considered a major prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. 2000 was the last year a horse who won the Wood Memorial Stakes had also won the Kentucky Derby in the same year. Prior to that drought, 11 Wood Memorial Stakes winners would win the Kentucky Derby between 1930 and 2000.

First run in 1926, the Wood Memorial has produced 13 Kentucky Derby winners since 1950, with Funny Cide being the most recent in 2003. But success isn’t paramount to glory in the first leg of the Triple Crown – the last three Kentucky Derby winners all finished second in the Wood Memorial (Funny Cide, Monarchos and Go for Gin).

Four Wood Memorial winners have gone on to capture the Triple Crown (Seattle Slew, Assault, Count Fleet and Gallant Fox) and perhaps the greatest American Thoroughbred of all-time, Triple Crown winner and two-time Horse of the Year Secretariat, finished third in the 1973 Wood Memorial.

The Wood Memorial highlights an outstanding card that includes the Gazelle Stakes, a major prep for the Kentucky Oaks a day before the Kentucky Derby; and the Carter Handicap, a top sprint race. The Excelsior Stakes for older route horses and the Bay Shore Stakes for three-year-old sprinters is also run on that day.

The Wood Memorial is always one of the most eagerly anticipated Kentucky Derby preps and TwinSpires.com is the place to watch and wager on the action, offering *free Past Performances to horseplayers (*check site for details).

Wood Memorial Stakes Records

The biggest margin of victory in the Wood Memorial occurred in 2005 when Bellamy Road set a new stakes record at 1 1/8-mile distance, with defeating Survivalist by 17 ½ lengths. Bellamy Road was ridden to victory by 2017 National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame inductee Javier Castellano. Bellamy Road was trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito and owned by infamous New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

The record for fastest time at the Wood Memorial Stakes is 1:42.00. The record is held jointly by Pompey and Johnstown. However, they both set the record when the race was 1 1/16 miles in length. The fastest winning time in the modern era is 1:47.16, which was set by Bellamy Road in his record-shattering 17 ½ lengths win in 2005.

The record for most Wood Memorial Stakes wins by a jockey is held by Eddie Arcaro, while the record for most wins by a trainer is held by Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. Arcaro and Fitzsimmons teamed up for one Wood Memorial Stakes win in 1957 with Bold Ruler

Notable Wood Memorial Stakes Winners

Many Hall of Fame horses have a Wood Memorial Stakes victory on their resume. A few of the more noteworthy and recognizable names include Gallant Fox, Twenty Grand, Johnstown, Assault, Native Dancer, Damascus, and Seattle Slew.

One of, if not the greatest, racehorse of all-time is a notable loser when it comes to the Wood Memorial Stakes – Secretariat. Prepping during what would turned out to be the year he won the Triple Crown, Secretariat would finish in third in the 1973 Wood Memorial Stakes.