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Undefeated Verrazano will attempt to make his record a perfect 4-for-4 in the Wood Memorial (G1). Photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire.

By Ellis Starr – National Racing Analyst for Equibase

The 89th running of the Wood Memorial Stakes drew nine horses led by undefeated Verrazano. The Wood is the first of the last four races that offer 100 points to the winner (and an automatic spot in the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby in four weeks) in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series. Verrazano is a perfect 3-for-3 in his career including a strong win last month in the Tampa Bay Derby, but his victory is not a foregone conclusion as some of those lined up to face him could prove good enough to win. Among those is another undefeated horse in Vyjack, who is 4-for-4 to date including victory in the Gotham Stakes last month. A couple of contenders with a big shot at success are Elnaawi, who finished third in the Gotham, as well as Private Terms Stakes winner Mr Palmer. Normandy Invasion missed by a nose at the distance of the Wood last fall in the Remsen Stakes and then was fifth after a poor start in the Risen Star Stakes in February when making his first start as a 3-year-old. He could prove much more competitive. Always in a Tiz missed by a neck in the Smarty Jones Stakes to Rebel Stakes winner Will Take Charge and then finished fifth on a sloppy track in the Southwest Stakes, so he is another with potential to rebound to good form. Go Get the Basil has won three of his last four races and has potential to step into stakes company for the first time and run well. Chrisandthecapper and Freedom Child both won for the first time recently and are stepping way up in class to run in this stakes. Quinzieme Monarque has finished fourth in three straight stakes races, and it appears he would need to improve to compete with these.

Elnaawi is the kind of improving type who could post the upset over undefeated Verrazano and Vyjack in the Wood Memorial. After a fourth-place finish in his debut in December, Elnaawi stretched out to two turns for the first time and won convincingly by four lengths. Two months later, Elnaawi finished well from sixth in the early stages to take third in the Gotham Stakes, improving to a career-best 104 Equibase Speed Figure. As a half-brother (sharing the same mother) to To Honor and Serve, who won both the Woodward Stakes and the Pennsylvania Derby at the same 1 1/8-mile distance of the Wood, Elnaawi certainly has more improving to do in only the fourth start of his career. As such, Elnaawi appears capable of winning this race and going on to perform admirably in the Kentucky Derby next month.


Wood Inside Elnaawi Adam Coglianese

Photo courtesy Adam Coglianese

Verrazano tried two turns for the first time last month in the Tampa Bay Derby and won convincingly by three lengths for his third win in as many races. Verrazano has improved his Equibase Speed Figure in each start since his debut, the 108 figure earned in the Tampa Bay Derby tied with Vyjack for the best figure in the field. Having improved his effort by five points in the Tampa Bay Derby, Verrazano still may have improving to do as well in only the fourth race of his career. He undoubtedly will enter the starting gate in the Wood Memorial as the prohibitive betting choice, probably also being the betting favorite for the Derby in four weeks if he wins again.

Go Get the Basil has some potential to post the upset in the Wood Memorial or at least run much better than his high odds would suggest he can. One race before his last, Go Get the Basil tried two turns for the first time and passed that test with flying colors. Then, in his most recent race, he came up a nose shy of victory. Even though he did not win that race, Go Get the Basil improved markedly to earn a career-best 107 Equibase Speed Figure that is just short of the 108 both Vyjack and Verrazano earned in their recent stakes wins. If he can repeat that effort there is a good chance Go Get the Basil could be close at hand in the finish of the Wood.

It is certainly tough to rank an undefeated horse like Vyjack as the fourth contender in this race, but there is no doubt how deep the competition is in this year’s Wood Memorial. Vyjack has improved his effort and Equibase Speed Figure in each start since his debut, from 93 to 105 to 106 and then to 108 when winning the Gotham Stakes last month. Jockey Joel Rosario got to know Vyjack when aboard for the first time in the Gotham, and, with Rosario riding again, Vyjack is yet another poised to take a big step forward on the Road to the Kentucky Derby with a top effort.

The rest of the field (with their best representative Equibase Speed Figure): Always in a Tiz (97), Chrisandthecapper (100), Freedom Child (97), Mr Palmer (102), Normandy Invasion (115) and Quinzieme Monarque (91).

My Selections:



Go Get the Basil


$1 million Wood Memorial Stakes

Aqueduct, Saturday, Race 11, 6:28 PM ET

3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles







Chrisandthecapper (KY)

J. Lezcano

J Servis



Normandy Invasion (KY)

J. Castellano

C C Brown



Quinzieme Monarque (KY)

I.Ortiz Jr.

T Albertrani



Elnaawi (KY)

E. Castro

K P McLaughlin



Vyjack (KY)

J. Rosario

R R Rodriguez



Mr Palmer (KY)

J. Alvarado

W I Mott



Always in a Tiz (KY)

C.H. Borel

D A Schettino



Verrazano (KY)

J.R. Velazquez

T A Pletcher



Go Get the Basil (NY)

J.L. Ortiz

R A Violette Jr.



Freedom Child (KY)

E. Trujillo

T Albertrani


All carry 123 pounds

Equipment Change: #7, Always in a Tiz, Blinkers On

Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

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