Dear Wicked Strong,
Let me start out by saying I’ve been a big fan of yours ever since you broke your maiden at Belmont Park in your second start. I cashed a pretty nice win bet on you that day at 4-1 and immediately but you on my early list of Derby contenders.
You solidified your position with a solid third in the Remsen when you were gaining ground on my top two Derby prospects at the time, Honor Code and Cairo prince, and certainly appeared to be a horse that would relish a distance of ground. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. And then came Gulfstream Park.
I knew that dismal performance in the Holy Bull wasn’t a true testament as to your ability and thought you ran “sneaky good” when fourth in that allowance contest on Fountain of Youth day, won by eventual Florida Derby winner Constitution, I still couldn’t believe in you again until you got off that highway in South Florida that is the Gulfstream Park main track.
It’s funny I say highway because there is another horse running out on the West Coast named California Chrome that is galloping home the easiest kind of winner in all their preps…the San Felipe, the Santa Anita Derby….while taking advantage of the newest road in SoCal, the Santa Anita Expressway. I’m not buying the hype and have a funny feeling that he’ll fall apart like a cheap suit once he leaves the Golden State.
As far as last Saturday goes, I had my concerns about you earlier in the week when the Aqueduct surface was biased towards speed but Mother Nature literally washed those worries away with some late week rain that evened the course out and made it a level playing field.
By the time the Wood Memorial arrived late on the card Saturday, Coup de Grace, another one of my top three-year-olds who didn’t run a step in the Holy Bull, made his first start since that effort a winning one, ignoring getting bothered at the start to come charging home a narrow winner of the Bay Shore, making him a perfect three for three around one turn.
In the race just before yours, My Miss Sophia showed that you could in fact still win on the lead as she took five others, including G1 winner Sweet Reason, gate-to-wire in the Gazelle under Javier Castellano for trainer Todd Pletcher, who’s Got Lucky managed to get up in the final stages to grab second from Sweet Reason and lock up a Pletcher exacta in the process.
Then came my favorite part of the day. All I heard all day were the names “Social Inclusion” and “Samraat” and “Uncle Sigh” with an occasional “Harpoon” thrown in. A few mentioned you but as a spoiler for the minor awards. Not me…I had you right on top and you proved me right.
Under our main man Rajiv Maragh who waited patiently down the backside as a predicted pace scenario developed in front of you. Maragh wheeled you towards the outside as the field approached the far turn and for a split second I thought you guys were left with too much to do. Boy was I wrong.
Once the field turned for home, you really had your mind on running and went by Samraat and Social Inclusion at the eighth pole like they were tied to the rail. You not only left little doubt as to who the winner of the Wood Memorial was but probably impressed many, including myself, with the verocacity in which you closed ground and continued to gobble it up past the wire, leaving little doubt in my mind that you’ll handle the extra Derby distance.
I grew up around your trainer, Jimmy Jerkens and know that you could not be in better hands because he is one of the best horsemen on the planet. If only he’d open his darn mouth every once in a while then he’d train 100 horses too. I know he’ll get you to Louisville just fine even if he won’t commit to going or actually admit that he can’t wait to get there.
He almost got there a few years ago with the probable favorite, a horse named Quality Road who had to come out in the days leading up to the race. His owner eventually took him away from Jimmy and it wasn’t a great situation all around but Jimmy handled it with class and everyone knew he’d get back there someday. Why now with you?
If not for anything else, you run for a great cause as you were named in honor of the brave men and women who suffered, survived through and tried to make better the events and aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013, one of the greatest atrocities ever on American soil. I for one couldn’t think of a better way to get rid of the stench of terroristic acts than with the smell of some roses.
Finally, Wicked Strong, I’m sorry I doubted you. I promise it will never happen again. As you can see below, you’re back on top of my Derby list and you won’t move again, regardless of what happens in the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby this coming Saturday.
Good luck and may you win all of life’s photo finishes,
Anthony “the Big A” Stabile
Derby Top 5
1. Wicked Strong
3. Cairo Prince
“Hey Big A, What Do You Say?”
Dear Wicked Strong,