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Apr 06, 2012

Let's Be Frank: Wood Memorial is big test for Gemologist

By: By Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Union Rags, Creative Cause and Hansen were the only three single entrants lower than 10-1 in Pool 3 of the Future Wager for the Kentucky Derby. In addition, Gemologist took more action than the other 19 horses as he closed at 12-1.

It is interesting to note that after finishing at 22-1 in Pool 1 and 23-1 in Pool 2, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt was hit hard despite lagging behind in the graded earnings battle with just $103,855 in the bank. If the Derby was run today, Gemologist wouldn't even be allowed in the starting gate.

Thankfully for Pletcher and WinStar Farm, the horse still has one prep race before the Run for the Roses and it comes on Saturday at Aqueduct in the $1 million Wood Memorial. Winning the race, or at least finishing second, is essential for Gemologist to qualify for the Derby.

The Wood produced four Kentucky Derby winners between 1975 and 1981, but history has not been kind to the winner as only one horse, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, has captured both the Wood and the Derby since 1982. On the other hand, I Want Revenge (2009) and Eskendereya (2010) would have been favored to win the Run for the Roses had they not been injured prior to the first Saturday in May

Gemologist made his 3-year-old debut on March 16, winning an allowance race at Gulfstream Park by seven lengths in gate-to-wire fashion. The son of Tiznow is not a speed demon by any stretch but he has been on the lead in three of his four lifetime efforts.

Still, if jockey Javier Castellano tries for the lead in the Wood, he runs the risk of getting caught in a speed duel with The Lumber Guy, a horse that possesses far more early speed than Gemologist. Look for Pletcher's colt to sit second (or third) a couple of lengths behind The Lumber Guy. He also will be challenged later in the race by My Adonis, Alpha and Street Life.

My Adonis has hit the board in seven of eight career starts, including a second to Hansen in the Gotham Stakes, where he defeated the third-place horse by six lengths. He is talented enough to put fear into the hearts of the expected favorites, and since he has just $130,000 in graded earnings, he'll be fighting for a spot in the Kentucky Derby as well.

Another colt that needs to hit the board is Alpha. The son of Bernardini hasn't raced since winning the Withers Stakes on Feb. 4, but he will be the second choice in the wagering behind Gemologist. One thought to keep in mind is the fact he has already won off a two-month layoff as well as won his initial start as a 2-year-old by six lengths at 6-1 odds.

Alpha has the pedigree to perform well at nine and 10 furlongs. He also is in the capable hands of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. On the negative side, his two losses (in five lifetime appearances) came when he faced horses on a level or two above his own. The step-up in company might be his downfall in the Wood. If you see a horse come out of nowhere through the stretch, the odds are strong it will be the late-running Street Life. The son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense ran his final 2 1/2 furlongs in a brisk 30 2/5 seconds while taking the Broad Brush Stakes at Aqueduct on March 17.

He hasn't faced anywhere near the type of horses he'll be taking on in the Wood so the jury is still out on his chances Saturday. On the flip side, if the early speed is faster than expected, Street Life has a chance to make things interesting at the wire.

Given the fact Gemologist has yet to lose in four career starts, the odds of him falling short are extremely slim. Still, this is horse racing and anything can happen. If you don't believe that, watch last Sunday's Louisiana Derby and you'll see Hero of Order cross the finish line first at odds of 109-1.

Predicted finish - 1) Gemologist; 2) My Adonis; 3) Alpha; Long shot) Teeth of the Dog

CREATIVE CAUSE VS. I'LL HAVE ANOTHER IN SA DERBY

The Santa Anita Derby winner has not brought home the bacon in the Kentucky Derby since Sunday Silence upset Easy Goer in 1989. That doesn't mean it is impossible to come out of the SA Derby and win the Run for the Roses since four horses have lost the race prior to crossing the wire first at Churchill Downs since 1997.

The top two colts in this year's edition are Creative Cause and I'll Have Another. Ironically, they finished one-two in the Best Pal Stakes as 2-year- olds last August when the former knocked off the latter.

Creative Cause comes in as the expected favorite off his victory over Bodemeister in the San Felipe Stakes. It was his first win since Oct. 1 when he took care of business in the Norfolk Stakes.

A few factors might be working against the son of Giant's Causeway. First, he already has enough earnings so a win here is not critical. Second, he failed to run a straight course through the stretch of the San Felipe, especially when jockey Joel Rosario went to the left-handed whip. Third, trainer Mike Harrington will race his star 3-year-old without blinkers for the first time. Is such a drastic change necessary at this stage of the game?

I'll Have Another, his main competitor, has been overlooked by many experts this year, not only when he won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at 43-1, but also in the Future Wager pools. The son of Flower Alley closed at 29-1, 22-1 and 21-1 in all three betting opportunities. His lone poor performance came in the Hopeful Stakes in the slop at Saratoga. Otherwise, he's 2-for-3, including the dominant 2 3/4-length score in the Lewis.

I'll Have Another ran the 1 1/16 miles that day in 1:40 4/5, a tick faster than Setsuko, who won an allowance race later on the card. Setsuko followed that effort with a game second-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap. For comparison purposes, Creative Cause won the San Felipe in 1:41 4/5.

On the negative side, the horses I'll Have Another defeated back in early February have not moved forward. Only the fifth-place finisher Isn't He Clever has come back to win his next start. Still, the race may be his for the taking since a lot of the expected early speed has been removed with Bodemeister heading to Hot Springs for the Arkansas Derby.

I'll Have Another has been training superbly since the victory in the Lewis with four powerful workouts of six furlongs or more, including a dominant 1:10 work in between races on Big 'Cap Day. Look for another huge effort, especially since he needs a win (or a second-place finish) to garner enough earnings for a trip to Kentucky.

Predicted finish - 1) I'll Have Another; 2) Creative Cause; 3) Paynter; LS) Brother Francis

THE JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"

1) I'll Have Another - A win in the Santa Anita Derby keeps him on top;

2) Union Rags - Don't jump ship after Florida Derby loss;

3) Gemologist - Looks like trainer Todd Pletcher's top 3-year-old;

4) Creative Cause - One has to wonder about blinkers off;

5) Hansen - Must show an ability to rate in Blue Grass Stakes to warrant this spot in two weeks;

6) Dullahan - Slight injury is a big concern moving forward;

7) Bodemeister - 2-year-old jinx aside, he has more upside than most;

8) El Padrino - All of a sudden graded earnings become a factor;

9) Alpha - Stiff jump up in class might be his undoing;

10) Howe Great - Must win Blue Grass to make the Kentucky Derby;

11) Take Charge Indy - Won't duplicate easy Florida Derby win at Churchill Downs;

12) Daddy Nose Best - Looked good winning in New Mexico



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