Sidelines with John Clay

Previewing the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass and Santa Anita Derby

Nyquist trainer Doug O’Neill walks at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Wednesday, May 18, 2016. O’Neill won last year’s Kentucky Derby with Nyquist. He has four horses entered in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby.
Nyquist trainer Doug O’Neill walks at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Wednesday, May 18, 2016. O’Neill won last year’s Kentucky Derby with Nyquist. He has four horses entered in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. Associated Press

We’re in the countdown stage of prep races for the Kentucky Derby. The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park all three will be run Saturday. The NBC Sports Network has the coverage of all three races from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Here’s a brief look at all three:

Wood Memorial

Post time 5:52 p.m. ET

Todd Pletcher entered Battalion Runner in the Florida Derby as a backup to eventual winner Always Dreaming. Battalion Runner was scratched -- Battalion Runner and Always Dreaming share a common owner -- but before the race many believed him to be the better prospect of the two. Battalion Runner was impressive in two wins at Gulfstream.

Another Pletcher entry, Bonus Points, is always around the board but has just one win in his seven career starts. It should be noted, however, that Pletcher has won the Wood four times since 2010. And he could end up with as many as seven horses in the Kentucky Derby.

So who is Irish War Cry? That’s what trainer Graham Motion has to be wondering. Is Irish War Cry the three-year-old who won the Grade 2 Holy Bull back in February? (That was the race in which Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Classic Empire finished third.) Or is Irish War Cry the horse that finished seventh in the Fountain of Youth?

Motion said afterward he ran his horse back too soon after the Holy Bull triumph. He returned the colt to his home base at Fair Hill Training Center and believes the change has done Irish War Cry good. We shall see on Saturday.

Always Dreaming, Girvin get wins in big Derby preps

Cloud Computing has just two career starts, but the second was an impressive second-place finish to J Boys Echo in the Gotham. Chad Brown is the trainer. He may have the best shot of knocking off Battalion Runner.

Mo Town is looking to make a comeback. He won the Grade 2 Remsen as a two-year-old, but fizzled in his three-year-old debut as the favorite in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. Looking for a bounce-back under trainer Tony Dutrow and jockey Javier Castellano.

True Timber finished second in the Withers and third in the Jerome for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. He went fast early in the Gotham, then faded to fifth.

Owned by Zayat Stables, the people that brought you American Pharoah, Glenrichment needed four tries to break his maiden. He’s taking a major step up in class. Same for Stretch’s Stone, trained by Bruce Levine.

Blue Grass Stakes

Post time: 6:17 p.m. ET

Unbeaten McCraken is the favorite for Keeneland’s signature race, which like the Wood Memorial was demoted to Grade 2 status this year. The only question about the Sam F. Davis winner is the minor ankle injury that kept McCraken out of the Tampa Bay Derby. Still, trained by Ian Wilkes, he’s the 7-5 favorite for a reason. His three-for-three record at Churchill Downs almost assures him of being the Kentucky Derby favorite, unless he stumbles here.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Tapwrit won the Tampa Bay Derby that Tapwrit missed. He did so in record time. He also has three wins and a second in five career starts. That second came in the Sam F. Davis to McCraken.

J Boys Echo is coming off a win in the Gotham. He’s also trained by Dale Romans, who won last year’s Blue Grass with Brody’s Cause. J Boys Echo was fourth in the Delta Downs Jackpot, won by Gunnevera last November. He ran third in the Withers, won by the now-injured El Areeb, before breaking through in the Gotham.

Blue Grass favorite McCraken needs a race more than a win

After back-to-back Grade 1 wins in the Hopeful at Saratoga and the Champagne Stakes at Belmont as a two-year-old, Practicale Joke ran third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita and second in the Fountain of Youth, won by Gunnevera at Gulfstream. Trained by Chad Brown, he could be set to improve in his second start of the year.

The handicappers like the fact that Wild Sot may be the only horse in the race with true speed. Trained by Rusty Arnold, Wild Shot finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby after a tough start. As a two-year-old at Keeneland, he led the Breeders’ Futurity for much of the way before losing out to Classic Empire.

It’s Your Nickel is a 20-1 longshot for trainer Kenny McPeek who won the Battaglia at Turfway. Irap has hit the board in four stakes race but is looking for his first career win. Looks like Doug O’Neill threw him in this spot to see what happens.

Santa Anita Derby

7:12 p.m. ET

The injury to Mastery, moments after he won the San Felipe, has made for a wide open field for the Santa Anita Derby, which for once does not appear to boast one of the probable Kentucky Derby favorites.

Trained by last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Doug O’Neill, Iliad is the 7-2 favorite in the field of nine. He ran second to Mastery in the San Felipe. Owned by Kaleem Shah, Iliad would have to win impressively to be among the top betting choices at Churcill Downs.

O’Nell also has Term of Art, So Conflated and Milton Freewater in the field of nine. Term of Art ran third in the San Felipe. So Conflated ran sixth in the Gotham before being brought back to California. Milton Freewater has run well in Cal-bred races but is taking a step up in class.

Injured Derby contender Mastery to stand stud at Claiborne Farm

Gormley won the FrontRunner Stakes as a two-year-old at Belmont Park and the Sham Stakes in January at three at Santa Anita. In between, he was a pedestrian sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Last time out, Gormley was a disappointing fourth in the San Felipe, however. John Shirreffs, who trained Giacomo to a Kentucky Derby win, is Gormley’s trainer.

Shirreffs has also entered Royal Mo, who finished ninth in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn after winning the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 4. Gary Stevens, who has won the Santa Anita Derby a record nine times, has the mount.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has entered Battle of Midway off a March 9 allowance win at Santa Anita. In his long distinguished career, Hollendorfer has never won the Santa Anita Derby. In seven tries, his best finish was second with Chocolate Candy in 2009.

Despite losing Mastery to injury, Bob Baffert has three entered in the Santa Anita Derby. American Anthem ran second in the Sham but produced a dud when shipped to Oaklawn for the Rebel Stakes, where he finished 10th. is coming off a 10th-place finish in the Rebel Stakes. Reach the World has shown promise. He finished second to Battle of Midway in an allowance in March. Irish Freedom is a 20-1 longshot who ran fifth in that same allowance.

Wood Memorial

PP

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

Odds

1

Glennrichment

Kendrick Carmouche

Rudy Rodriguez

15-1

2

Mo Town

Javier Castellano

Tony Dutrow

6-1

3

Battalion Runner

John Velazquez

Todd Pletcher

2-1

4

Bonus Points

Luis Saez

Todd Pletcher

20-1

5

True Timber

Paco Lopez

Kiaran McLaughlin

12-1

6

Stretch's Stone

Manuel Franco

Bruce Levine

15-1

7

Cloud Computing

Irad Ortiz

Chad Brown

5-2

8

Irish War Cry

Rajiv Maragh

Graham Motion

7-2

Blue Grass Stakes

PP

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

Odds

1

It’s Your Nickel

James Graham

Kenneth McPeek

20-1

2

McCraken

Brian Hernandez Jr.

Ian Wilkes

7-5

3

J Boys Echo

Robby Albarado

Dale Romans

4-1

4

Tapwrit

Jose Ortiz

Todd Pletcher

5-2

5

Wild Shot

Corey Lanerie

George R. Arnold

15-1

6

Irap

Julien Leparoux

Doug O'Neill

20-1

7

Practical Joke

Joel Rosario

Chad Brown

7-2

Santa Anita Derby

PP

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

Odds

1

Term of Art

Tyler Baze

Doug O'Neill

12-1

2

Reach the World

Mike Smith

Bob Baffert

5-2

3

Battle of Midway

Corey Nakatani

Jerry Hollendorfer

5-1

4

Comma Sister

Israel Ocampo

George Papaprodromou

50-1

5

So Conflated

Mario Gutierrez

Doug O'Neill

15-1

6

American Anthem

Mario Garcia

Bob Baffert

5-1

7

Kimbear

Joe Talamo

Eric Kruljac

12-1

8

Gormley

Victor Espinoza

John Shirreffs

9-2

9

Iliad

Flavien Prat

Doug O'Neill

7-2

10

Milton Freewater

Tiago Pereira

Doug O'Neill

30-1

11

Irish Freedom

Rafael Bejarano

Bob Baffert

20-1

12

Midnight Pleasure

Jamie Theriot

Mick Ruis

30-1

13

Royal Mo

Gary Stevens

John Shirreffs

10-1

Road to the Kentucky Derby

Date

Race

Track

Points

Winner

9/17/16

Iroquois

Churchill Downs

10

Not This Time

10/1/16

FrontRunner

Belmont Park

10

Gormley

10/8/16

Champagne

Belmont Park

10

Practical Joke

10/8/16

Breeders' Futurity

Keeneland

10

Classic Empire

11/5/16

Breeders' Cup Juvenile

Santa Anita Park

20

Classic Empire

11/19/16

Delta Downs Jackpot

Delta Downs

10

Gunnevera

11/26/16

Remsen

Aqueduct

10

Mo Town

11/26/16

Kentucky Jockey Club

Churchill Downs

10

McCraken

11/26/16

Cattleya Sho*

Tokyo Racecourse

40

Mont Saint Legame

12/10/16

Los Alamitos Futurity

Los Alamitos

10

Mastery

1/2/17

Jerome

Aqueduct

10

El Areeb

1/7/17

Sham

Santa Anita Park

10

Gormley

1/16/17

Smarty Jones

Oaklawn Park

10

Uncontested

1/21/17

Lecomte

Fair Grounds

10

Guest Suite

2/4/17

Withers

Aqueduct

10

El Areeb

2/4/17

Holy Bull

Gulfstream Park

10

Irish War Cry

2/4/17

Robert B. Lewis

Santa Anita Park

10

Royal Mo

2/11/17

Sam F. Davis

Tampa Bay Downs

10

McCraken

2/18/17

El Camino Real Derby

Golden Gate Fields

10

Zakaroff

2/19/17

Hyacinth*

Tokyo Racecourse

50

Epicharis

2/20/17

Southwest

Oaklawn Park

10

One Liner

2/25/17

Risen Star

Fair Grounds

50

Girvin

3/4/17

Fountain of Youth

Gulfstream Park

50

Gunnevera

3/4/17

Gotham

Aqueduct

50

J Boys Echo

3/11/17

Tampa Bay Derby

Tampa Bay Downs

50

Tapwrit

3/11/17

San Felipe

Santa Anita Park

50

Mastery

3/18/17

Rebel

Oaklawn Park

50

Malagacy

3/25/17

UAE Derby

Meydan Racecourse

100

Thunder Snow

3/25/17

Spiral

Turfway Park

50

Fast and Accurate

3/25/17

Sunland Derby

Sunland Park

50

Hence

4/1/17

Florida Derby

Gulfstream Park

100

Always Dreaming

4/1/17

Louisiana Derby

Fair Grounds

100

Girvin

4/8/17

Wood Memorial

Aqueduct

100

4/8/17

Blue Grass

Keeneland

100

4/8/17

Santa Anita Derby

Santa Anita Park

100

4/15/17

Arkansas Derby

Oaklawn Park

100

4/15/17

Lexington

Keeneland

10

* Japan Road to Kentucky Derby

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