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Wood Memorial Stakes Handicapping

Handicapping the Wood Memorial

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 are all coming in from sunnier climes.

In the last 16 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 had sent 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 10 of the last 16 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 had also been 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.