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Tacitus with Jose Ortiz aboard go to the winner's circle after the Wood Memorial.
The major New York prep race for the Triple Crown is the $750,000 NYRA Bets Wood Memorial Stakes (G2), contested at 1 1/8 miles, one complete circuit of the Aqueduct main track, 100 points to the winner as part of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series. Conditions were typical for early April at the Long Island oval near Kennedy Airport, with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 60's. Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner Tacitus was sent off as the 5-2 favorite in the field of 11. In to challenge him included 3-1 second choice Haikal, winner of the Gotham (G3), and 7-2 third choice Outshine, 2nd in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Down the stretch in the Wood Memorial
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 2 Tacitus Ortiz 7.20 4.70 3.00 1 Tax Alvarado 6.20 3.90 4 Haikal Maragh 3.10 Winning Time: 1:51.23 $1 Exacta 2-1 22.90 $1 Trifecta 2-1-4 66.50 $1 Superfecta 2-1-4-9 1,850.00
Left: Tacitus in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Bill Mott said, "I thought it was a very good effort. It was very rough on the first turn, but fortunately he came out of it in good order. When he got down the backside, I thought he had a nice, clear run by himself. He kind of got his feet back under him and regrouped a little bit. When it was time to run he started to wear them down. It's not a surprise, but you always hope they show up. He's a young horse and you never know what's going to happen in any race. Some horses would have been discouraged with what happened on the first turn. They could have backed out of it or decide they didn't want any part of it after getting roughed up like that."
Right: Tacitus heads back to the barn after the race. Garrett O'Rourke, racing manager for winning owner-breeder Juddmonte Farms said, "We've been [to the Kentucky Derby] five times now and came out of them all with our tail between our legs. We had two good runs, a huge disappointment with Empire Maker , because he was the horse that I felt was the best horse in the field and should have won. But it's not easy and we know that, so were going to go into it again knowing that it's not easy. We have a legitimate contender now that's bred to be a Derby horse and he's now proving that, hopefully, he is up to that standard."
Left: Tacitus in the paddock before the race. Mott added, "He does take after his dam [Close Hatches]. She was ready from the word 'go'. She was one that was very aggressive and very fast. He's a little different type of horse. She was good up to a mile, a mile and an eighth. This horse, with the Tapit genes, seems like he's willing to go on, but he also seems to have enough speed to get him up and involved early in a race. He's certainly not a speed horse, but he has tactical speed and we know he's got talent and we know he's willing to overcome a little adversity."
Right: Tacitus heads out for the post parade. Winning jockey Jose Ortiz said, "I was pleased with his effort. I don't know about the other horses behind me, it was kind of crazy around the first turn. After that, he got a little bumped and he's a big horse. He managed to take that and go on and win the race. 1 1/4 miles will suit him. The 1 1/8 didn't bother him, so I think going a little bit longer can be good too."
Left: Second place finisher Tax heads out for the post parade. Trainer Danny Gargan said, "He ran huge. The horses laying up close all day have been running really well. I told Junior [Alvarado], let's just break out of there and get a good position. I didn't want to take back. Let's make them run into the first turn and make your move turning for home. If we get run down, it's okay. I don't mind running second today, I just wanted to make sure we got enough Derby points to get in. We might have moved a little early today, but we get to go to Louisville, Kentucky now."
Right: Third place finisher Haikal returns after the race. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said, "We ran very well. Obviously, his first time around two turns he finished strong. He might do better with a little faster pace, but that could happen if we go to the Derby. You never know, two turns and the distance, it was a good answer - he answered the questions. He ran very well. He can do the distance."
The horses break from the gate for the Wood Memorial.
Kicking off the graded stakes quintet was the $250,000 Bay Shore Stakes (G3) featuring a compact field of just four 3-year-olds (after 1 scratch) sprinting 7 furlongs on the main track. Gotham (G3) fourth place finisher Much Better was sent off as the 6-5 favorite. In to challenge him were 2-1 second choice Mind Control, winner of the Jerome, 3-1 Call Paul, winner of the Swale (G3), and 4-1 Mucho, 2nd in the Hopeful (G1) but an allowance winner last out.
Jockey Victor Espinoza sent Much Better to the lead exiting the chute through fractions of 22.33 and 45.14 while pressed by Mucho and stalked by Mind Control. Turning for home, jockey John Velazquez sent Mind Control 3 wide to sweep to the front through 3/4 in 1:09.57. Kept to task by Velazquez, Mind Control drew off late to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Much Better in 1:23.45. It was a long 5 3/4 lengths back to Call Paul third, and 7 1/2 more to Mucho last.
Left: Mind Control in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Greg Sacco said, "There was serious consideration for the Wood and to try and make it to the Derby, but he's just so talented at this distance. We pinpointed this race first, with the Woody Stephens in mind, so if he comes out of this race well and trains well, that will be our next target. He kind of just stays there when he puts a head in front, and that's him, but he had it measured from mid-stretch on. Johnny [Velazquez] knows him. He tapped him a little bit, but he knew he had it measured. He's a tough horse and the one word to describe him is 'genuine.'"
Right: Mind Control heads back to the barn after the race. Winning jockey John Velazquez said, "We know that [Much Better] is very fast. I was surprised Jose [Ortiz aboard Mucho] tried to go with him the first 1/8 mile, and then he took back. So, I thought, let me be the one to put a little pressure on the horse in front and it worked out perfect. Once I got to him at the 3/16 pole, he put his head in front of him. For whatever reason, he was even more focused on what he needed to do today than he was the last time [in the Gotham]. He ran a good race last time, don't get me wrong. He came from way back and got through the inside. Today, he was more secure about himself. Everything he did today was first class."
Left: Second place finisher and beaten favorite Much Better in the post parade. Jockey Victor Espinoza said, "We broke out of there running and I took the lead nice and comfortable. It was just in the last minute that the other horse [Mind Control] went by me. Nevertheless, I think he ran a good race."
Right: Third place finisher Call Paul returns after the race. The Jason Servis trainee improved his record to 4 wins and 3 thirds in 7 starts, earning $396,920 for owners Michael Dubb, David Simon, Bethlehem Stables, and Bruce Irom.
On to the Carter Handicap, Gazelle Stakes, and Excelsior Stakes also on the card.
Past winners of the Wood Memorial
Past winners of the Bay Shore Stakes
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