If Samraat and Uncle Sigh were to give upstart Social Inclusion a little side-eye on the way to the starting gate for the $1 million Wood Memorial, you couldn't blame them.
The two New York-breds have claimed the prep series in their native state as part of a gutsy rivalry, and here comes this lightly raced Florida shipper with some blazing speed figures and enough hype to overshadow all others in the field of 11 entered for the April 5 test at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Social Inclusion-who galloped to prominence with his 10-length March 12 trouncing of Remsen winner Honor Code in a track record 1:40.97 going 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park- could win the 1 ⅛-mile Wood and roll into the May 3 Kentucky Derby an undefeated hype horse for Ronald Sanchez's Rontos Racing Stable and 85-year-old trainer Manny Azpurua. He has the highest Beyer Speed Figure (111) of any 3-year-old racing so far this season and is the 2-1 favorite on the Wood Memorial morning line.
"Our plan was to come here for the Wood and then go directly to the Preakness, but last time he ran so good we started thinking about the Derby and the Triple Crown," Sanchez said. "This horse is really special. If you see the workouts he does, he's floating. Last Saturday he went in :46 ⅘ seconds and galloped out in :59 ⅗ seconds, so easy. He's a classy horse, and you have to give him the chance. He's a professional horse, and it's hard to find a professional horse. We respect all the horses, but we're not scared of anybody."
Wood Memorial Draw
But the Pioneerof the Nile colt will have to step up his game from the far outside post against the likes of My Meadowview Stables' Gotham and Withers winner Samraat, a Noble Causeway colt who has won five in a row for trainer Rick Violette, and Uncle Sigh, the Indian Charlie runner who has been right there on the road to the Kentucky Derby.
"The key is, somebody has to hook Social Inclusion," said Gary Contessa, who trains Uncle Sigh for Wounded Warrior Stables and Anthony Robertson. "He's had two front-running victories [including a 7 ½-length six-furlong maiden win]. I believe that horse has to be challenged or he's going to be really tough to beat. It may turn out to be that he's tough to beat no matter what, but I would like to see him get challenged. And I would be just as happy to be laying back third, fourth, fifth as I would be chasing Social Inclusion. I'd rather be working out a stalking trip if I can."
In the March 1 Gotham, Uncle Sigh gave chase second to a keen In Trouble while Samraat got the stalking trip in third before ranging up to grind out victory over Uncle Sigh by a neck. In the Withers, it was Uncle Sigh who stepped off to a quick early lead with Samraat hounding him before surging ahead to score by a length.
Samraat drew post 8 in the Wood and will have regular rider Jose Ortiz in the irons as the second choice at 7-2, while 5-1 Uncle Sigh departs post 10 with Corey Nakatani aboard.
"Obviously, just like the rest of the world, I've been blown away by Social Inclusion and now I'm going to have to run against him," Contessa remarked. "There's a horse that could be any kind of horse. His numbers suggest that he could be any kind of horse, but he's extremely untested. So I look forward to Saturday."
Only one New York-bred has ever won the Kentucky Derby, Funny Cide in 2003. And it's been a while between drinks for a Wood Memorial winner at the Run for the Roses as well-the last Wood winner to take the Derby was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. But in a race worth 100 points to the winner on the Derby leaderboard, there are plenty of connections willing to take a shot.
Take, for instance, Vina Del Mar Thoroughbreds and Black Swan Stable. The partners appeared to have a nice runner on their hands earlier this season, when Kid Cruz drew off to a six-length maiden score going a mile at Aqueduct. Just how nice the Lemon Drop Kid colt is became apparent March 8, as Kid Cruz closed sharply in the 1 ⅛-mile Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park with a powerful last-to-first move to win by four lengths. The Linda Rice trainee will be ridden from the rail by Manuel Franco.
Hronis Racing's Kristo, a California shipper, could also factor. Trainer John Saddler sent this Distorted Humor colt off his maiden win at Santa Anita Park to the Sham Stakes where he was second to Midnight Hawk. He then ran third in the March 8 San Felipe Stakes won by Santa Anita Derby favorite California Chrome. Martin Garcia flies in to ride from the 6 hole.
Treadway Racing Stable's Noble Moon is of interest but faces a tough task. The Virginia-bred Malibu Moon colt took the Jan. 4 Jerome Stakes in his last start for trainer Leah Gyarmati. It was just his third outing after running third in the Nashua won by Cairo Prince last November, that effort off a debut maiden score. Irad Ortiz Jr. will ride from post 3.
Allowance winners Schivarelli and Effinex complete the field along with maiden winners Wicked Strong, Los Borrachos, and Harpoon. The latter, by Tapit , was fifth in the Gotham after finishing a narrow second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes for Todd Pletcher and Let's Go Stable.
"The horse has shown us he has a little more ability than his record suggests," said Pletcher, who won the Wood in 2010 with Eskendereya , in 2012 with Gemologist , and last year with Verrazano . "In his races, he's been a little intimidated by kickback, but he seems to be maturing and getting stronger through the process."
The Wood will air on NBC Sports Network from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. EDT.