Gemologist earns his way into Derby
Gemologist won the $1 million Wood Memorial for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct on Saturday, holding off Alpha by a neck to improve to 5 for 5 in his career.
The latest victory makes the colt trained by Todd Pletcher one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby on May 5. Gemologist will enjoy an important advantage over many rivals in the Derby, having already won twice at Churchill Downs. He captured an allowance race and the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes there to close out his 2-year-old season.
Ridden by Javier Castellano, Gemologist ran 1-1/8 miles in 1 minute, 50.96 seconds. The $600,000 first prize in the Wood assures Gemologist a starting spot in the Derby where the 20 entrants are determined by graded stakes earnings.
Teeth of the Dog finished third.
Coming into the Wood, Gemologist was light on graded earnings, having banked only $103,855. He also was largely untested.
That all changed in the Wood.
Gemologist ranged boldly into contention with a three-wide move on the final turn. He took charge at the top of the stretch and appeared on his way to a commanding win until Alpha shook loose.
Trapped in traffic on the first turn, Alpha took up the chase and made it a two-horse battle to the wire. Alpha had the momentum, but Gemologist had more in reserve, striding out strongly to preserve the victory in the last major 3-year-old stakes in New York before the Derby.
''When I asked him, he took off again'' Castellano said. ''I like that. I was concerned when Alpha was closing because my horse was just looking around at the crowd.
The $200,000 for second also cinched a Derby spot for Alpha, winner of a pair of Aqueduct stakes over the winter.
''We had a true test, and we passed,'' said Kiaran McLaughlin, Alpha's trainer. ''We just didn't win. We got beat, but we're going on to May 5th.''
Pletcher is seeking his second Derby victory, having won in 2010 with Super Saver, also owned by WinStar Farm. Gemologist was purchased for $310,000 at a yearling sale in 2009.
''So far, it would be hard to be unhappy with anything he's done so far in his whole career,'' Pletcher said. ''It looked like he had something left after the wire. With this horse being 2 for 2 at Churchill Downs, I think he's got as good chance as anybody.''
Gemologist returned $4.40 for a $2 win bet.
Tiger Walk was fourth, followed by The Lumber Guy, Street Life and My Adonis. Casual Trick was eased and was taken off the track in a van.
In other stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct, Broadway's Alibi extended her winning streak to four, easily beating Welcome Guest by 3-1/2 lengths in the $250,000 Comely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
Castellano was also aboard for Pletcher as Broadway's Alibi ran the one mile in 1:36.53, paying $4.30 to win as the even-money favorite.
Trinniberg, the 6-5 favorite, led all the way in the $250,000 Bay Shore for 3-year-olds, finishing three lengths in front of Hardened Wildcat. Willie Martinez guided the colt to his third win in seven starts for trainer Bisnath Parboo.
There was a ''15 percent chance'' the colt would run in the Derby, said owner Shivananda Parboo, the trainer's son. The Preakness two weeks later is a more likely target
Trinniberg paid $4.70 to win, running the seven furlongs in 1:23.46.
Jackson Bend edged Caleb's Posse by a nose in the $400,000 Carter Stakes. Trained by Nick Zito and ridden by Corey Nakatani, the 5-year-old got his ninth win in 25 starts. He ran the seven furlongs in 1:22.32, paying $11.40 to win.