REMARKS: The presence of Tasso, Mogambo, Broad Brush and Groovy makes the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct the most attractive of four Kentucky Derby prep races Saturday.
Elsewhere, an overflow field is likely in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park; the second echelon of West Coast 3-year-olds will be in action in the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields; and upstart Bordeaux Bob may have Zabaleta to contend with in the Garden State Stakes in New Jersey.
The Kentucky Derby will be run two weeks from Saturday, on May 3, and after these four stakes, the only significant Derby previews remaining are the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland April 24 and the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs April 26.
Mogambo, Groovy, Tasso and Zabaleta were the first four horses under the wire in the Gotham at Aqueduct April 5, but Tasso and Zabaleta were moved up and Groovy was dropped to fifth by the stewards for causing interference shortly after the start.
"Mogambo--you'd go crazy training a horse like that," another trainer said of the Leroy Jolley-trained colt. "He runs one good one and then one bad one."
Since winning the Champagne Stakes--he beat Groovy by almost 10 lengths--last October, Mogambo has been a troubled sixth as the even-money favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Stakes at Aqueduct, first in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park, third in the Florida Derby and first in the Gotham.
Mogambo's margin over a tiring Groovy was less than a length in the Gotham and although Tasso closed a lot of ground through the stretch, he didn't appear to be running any faster than the winner in the last sixteenth of a mile.
Zabaleta's workout today at Garden State Park will determine whether he will run there Saturday or in the Blue Grass. Either way, Zabaleta will skip the Kentucky Derby, trainer John Gosden conceding that the colt is not equipped to handle the 1-mile distance at Churchill Downs. Gosden, however, is not ruling out the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in the Triple Crown, which will be run at Pimlico May 17. The Preakness is a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby.
The ankle injury to Rare Brick, the undefeated colt who would have been favored in the Arkansas Derby, has revived interest in the Oaklawn race, which is worth $500,000. If more than 14 enter, horses with the most lifetime earnings will be given preference.
Trainer Wayne Lukas, who has won the Arkansas Derby with the filly Althea and with Tank's Prospect in the last two years, is leaning toward starting both Clear Choice and Big Play Saturday. It is still possible that Big Play will wait for the Blue Grass. Lukas' top Kentucky Derby prospect, Badger Land, was the first Derby candidate to arrive at Churchill Downs last week.
The California Derby, which seldom produces a horse that becomes a factor in Kentucky, will be filled with horses whose trainers are thankful that they don't have Snow Chief to run against.
A horse with as good a chance as any at Golden Gate is Vernon Castle, a good-looking son of Seattle Slew with only two lifetime starts. In the last one, however, he was a winner by 8 1/2 lengths at Santa Anita in a good time. Even a win Saturday, however, might not convince trainer John Sullivan that Vernon Castle has enough seasoning to run in the Kentucky Derby.
Just as 3-year-olds can improve quickly at this time of year, they also can suddenly go backward. Such was the case last Saturday when Country Light, winner of the Louisiana Derby and a 3-10 favorite, lost by two lengths to Wise Times in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.
"This wasn't the same horse that I rode in New Orleans," jockey Pat Day said of Country Light. "He had a different mental attitude this time. He wasn't good going into the gate and just didn't run the same kind of race."
Country Light had a reason to change. He came back sore and his status won't be known for two or three days.
By winning, Wise Times has earned a ticket to the Kentucky Derby. Before the Lexington, Wise Times had only a second and a fourth in stakes competition, but he has a late-running style that can't hurt at Churchill Downs, where it's 1,234 1/2 feet from the top of the stretch to the finish line.
TRIPLE CROWN RATINGS
Career Horse S 1 2 3 Earnings 1. Snow Chief 13 9 2 1 $1,719,040 2. Badger Land 12 9 2 1 533,825 3. Tasso 9 6 2 1 863,174 4. Mogambo 10 4 1 1 552,296 5. Ferdinand 9 2 3 3 340,900 6. Icy Groom 6 2 3 0 157,305 7. Broad Brush 8 6 1 0 386,943 8. Groovy 8 2 3 0 206,267 9. Country Light 6 4 2 0 248,390 10. Wise Times 9 3 1 1 110,115