Shadwell Stable homebred Haikal remains on target for the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday, April 6 and is expected to return to the work tab soon, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Friday morning.
Haikal won his third consecutive start and earned a personal-best 95 Beyer Speed Figure when he posted a one-length victory in his graded stakes debut, besting a talented field that included Grade 1-winner Mind Control and Instagrand in the one-mile Grade 3 Gotham on March 9 at Aqueduct.
Should a Grade or Group 1 winner become an official starter in the Wood Memorial, which is expected to be the case with Mind Control pointing towards the nine-furlong challenge, it would trigger a purse increase to $1 million.
Haikal, who earned 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby with that win, will now be aiming at 100 additional qualifying points for the “Run for the Roses” and will start that trek next week when he works on either Thursday, March 28, or the following day.
“He's doing very well; we're just going to work him once, either next Thursday or Friday,” McLaughlin said.
Since running second in his debut on November 10, Haikal has won at increasing distances. His maiden-breaking win by a neck over American Mandate came at six furlongs on an Aqueduct track labeled good on December 15. In his first appearance as a 3-year-old, the Daaher colt edged Joevia by a neck in the seven-furlong Jimmy Winkfield on February 9.
Exactly a month later, Haikal moved from second-last in the eight-horse field to close strong in the Gotham in his first start at one mile. The quarter and half-miles provided the fastest fractions in Haikal's four-race career [22 1/5 and 44 2/5 seconds], which McLaughlin said favored his style.
The conditioner said while the pace for the 1 1/8-mile Wood might not be as fast, he is encouraged that Haikal can get the distance [the Kentucky Derby, slated for May 4, is contested at 1 1/4 miles].
“It was great. We were hoping he could go a mile or further, and the pace was very fast, which helped us,” McLaughlin said. “But he's got a great mind. He does everything right. We don't think nine furlongs will be a problem, either, though we aren't going to get such a hot pace to run. Hopefully, we won't have to have a hot pace.
“He's versatile and he does everything right,” he added. “He's a neat horse to train, and we're excited about it.”
McLaughlin will be seeking his second career Wood Memorial victory, with Frosted capturing the 2015 edition. Frosted, who finished second to American Pharoah in his Triple Crown-winning Belmont Stakes effort that year, went on to set the largest margin of victory in the Metropolitan Handicap with his 14 ¼-length score in 2016.
McLaughlin said Stonestreet Stables' Dawn the Destroyer is a possibility for the Grade 3, $150,000 Distaff Handicap for older fillies and mares at seven furlongs on Friday, April 5.
The 5-year-old Speightstown mare has won her last two starts at the Big A, capturing the Interborough on January 25 after defeating allowance company on November 28. She is coming off a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie on February 16 at Laurel Park.
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