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Wood Memorial : Mogambo Victory Today Would Be Just Jolley

Times Staff Writer

Few trainers have had as much success in the Kentucky Derby as Leroy Jolley. Since taking his first horse to the Derby when he was 24 in 1962, Jolley has won the race twice in eight tries, finished second twice and had one third.

Both of Jolley’s Derby winners--Foolish Pleasure in 1975 and the filly Genuine Risk in 1980--used the Wood Memorial as a springboard. Foolish Pleasure won the Wood, and Genuine Risk finished third.

When Jolley finished second with General Assembly in the 1979 Derby, the Secretariat colt had also raced in the Wood, finishing fifth two weeks before running at Churchill Downs.

So, it’s not surprising that Jolley likes the Wood as a Derby prep. The 48-year-old trainer will like the Wood even more if Mogambo, one of two horses that may represent him in the Derby, wins the Aqueduct race today.

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Although Mogambo, who is named after the Clark Gable-Ava Gardner movie, is the 8-5 second choice in the morning line, his Wood assignment is not an easy one.

The 7-5 favorite is Tasso, last year’s champion 2-year-old colt who seems to have improved this season. Also in the field are Groovy, a speedster who may try to steal the 1 1/8-mile race, and Broad Brush, who after winning six of eight starts is running in a major race for the first time.

Rounding out the seven-horse field are Glider Pilot, Tinchen’s Prince and Mr. Classic.

Despite heavy rain early in the week, the sun finally appeared Friday, and warmer temperatures could dry out Aqueduct’s track and make it close to fast. It is expected to be in the mid-60s today.

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All horses carry 126 pounds in the Wood, the same weight they will be assigned if they run in the Kentucky Derby in two weeks.

“That’s one of the reasons I like this race,” Jolley said. “I’m not so sure that carrying 126 pounds in this race doesn’t help a horse if he goes to the Derby. Weight is more of a factor in these early 3-year-old races than many people believe.”

Mogambo, son of a good sprinter, Mr. Prospector, and the champion filly Lakeville Miss, has 4 wins, a second and 4 thirds in 10 starts and will be ridden for only the second time by Jacinto Vasquez. Vasquez took the mount for the colt’s win in the Gotham Stakes on April 5 because Angel Cordero was injured.

Vasquez rode both of Jolley’s winners in the Derby and has won the Wood with Foolish Pleasure and with Angle Light, who upset his stablemate, future Triple Crown champion Secretariat, in 1973.

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Unlike Tasso, Mogambo has already been in a 1 1/8-mile race, the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park March 1, although he didn’t run it too quickly, finishing a distant third, behind Snow Chief and Badger Land.

“My horse found the Gulfstream track to be very tiring,” Jolley said. “I was very impressed with those California horses--the way they came in there and handled the track so well.”

Mogambo and Tasso have raced each other twice, each colt having won one with the other horse having an excuse.

In the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes at Aqueduct last November, Tasso rallied to win by a nose over Storm Cat. Mogambo, the even-money favorite, finished sixth.

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“Mogambo had three hard races in about a five-week stretch just prior to the Breeders’ Cup,” Cordero said. “Then he got knocked around in the gate and later he was also carried wide by another horse.”

Still, Mogambo lost by only 2 lengths.

When Mogambo won the Gotham, Tasso finished third and was moved up to second because both he and Glider Pilot had been knocked off stride by Groovy shortly after the start.

“Mogambo has the ability and the talent,” Cordero said. “It’s just a question of him putting it all together. He works real fast in the mornings without hardly trying. If you could take Pillaster’s calmness and combine it with Mogambo’s talent, you’d have a superstar.”

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Pillaster, Jolley’s other Kentucky Derby candidate, also belongs to Mogambo’s owner, Peter Brant, a newsprint manufacturer and magazine publisher from Greenwich, Conn.

Jolley has not run those two horses against each other, and Pillaster is scheduled to run in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland next Thursday. They could both run in the Derby.

As much as he will allow himself, conservative Neil Drysdale expects Tasso to improve on his performance in the Gotham.

“I thought he was making up ground on the winner at the end,” the trainer said. “Our plan in that race was to have him settle and then make his run. With the bumping, of course, he was farther back than we wanted.

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“I’m hoping he’ll be closer at the start than he was last time, and then give us a nice kick at the end.”


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