A lengthy stewards' inquiry and jockey's objection involving the stretch run of Saturday's Grade 2 Wood Memorial resulted in no change, meaning that trainer Todd Pletcher has yet another weapon in his Kentucky Derby arsenal. Vino Rosso (4-1) and jockey John Velazquez crossed the wire 2 1/2 lengths ahead of 6-5 favorite Enticed, though the 3-year-old Curlin colt did bump that rival in the early stretch. Owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, Vino Rosso completed 1 1/8 miles over Aqueduct's fast main track in 1:49.79 to earn 100 points toward the Run for the Roses.
This year, Pletcher has also won the Holy Bull, Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, and the Rebel, with runners yet to come in the Blue Grass and the Arkansas Derby. The Wood was also Pletcher's third win on Saturday's card at Aqueduct, and his fifth overall victory in the Wood.
“I was a little worried right at the start, because his hind-end kind of slipped out leaving the gate, and it looked [like] it took him about a hundred yards to get engaged,” said Pletcher. “He was a little farther back than I thought he would be, but when you take the pacesetter out, he really was close to the contenders. I felt good about it. I was just hoping he would sustain his momentum around the turn, and he finished up and did great. We're feeling like we're seeing a horse that has that talent, and he's doing well, and we felt like that mile and an eighth is something he's looking for. This is the performance we've been looking for.”
Enticed and Old Time Revival both shot out of the starting gate, but Old Time Revival carried both Enticed and Restoring Hope very wide around the first turn. The leader then proceeded to run away with jockey Jeremy Rose, setting early fractions of :22.96 and :46.68 while straining against the bridle and pulling away by nearly eight lengths. Enticed and Restoring Hope were content to track that pace, while Vino Rosso and Heartfullofstars were just in behind those two.
Approaching the far turn, Enticed began to close the gap on Old Time Revival. Restoring Hope tried to keep pace, but Vino Rosso came surging around the outside of Enticed near the quarter pole and those two pulled away from the rest of the field. Early in the stretch, Vino Rosso came over and bumped with Enticed a couple times, but Velazquez got him straightened out and the colt pulled away with ease.
“He broke a little slower than I anticipated, but once I got to the backstretch, I was in the position that I wanted to be,” Velazquez said. “Knowing him a little bit the last two races, when he gets to the second turn, he wants to back-out of there. Today, I kept him running, and he responded.”
Vino Rosso ended up crossing the wire 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Enticed, while Restoring Hope was another five lengths back in third. Firenze Fire finished fourth.
“There's no question there was some contact,” Pletcher said after the race. “Johnny [Velazquez's] interpretation was [when] he came over close to him, and the other horse [Enticed, No. 5] kind of touched him, he touched him back. No question there was contact, I thought it was mutual, but I don't think it affected the outcome of the race. I think Vino Rosso looked like he was going to win at that point, and Enticed held on for second, so in my opinion it did not affect the outcome of the race.”
Bred in Kentucky by John Gunther, also the breeder of talented upstart Justify, Vino Rosso was a $410,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September sale. The colt broke his maiden at first asking at Aqueduct, then won an allowance race at Tampa in December. His first try in stakes company resulted in a third-place finish in the G3 Sam Davis, and he was a disappointing fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby a month later. Pletcher seems to have figured out the key to Vino Rosso's better performances, and the colt now heads to the first Saturday in May with a record of three wins from five starts and earnings of over $530,000.
Vino Rosso's 100 points have him at a total of 107 to be fourth on the leaderboard. Enticed, meanwhile, will still be eligible for the Kentucky Derby based on points, with 40 from his runner-up finish in the Wood bringing his total points up to 103, good for sixth on the leaderboard. Third-place finisher Restoring Hope earned 20 points and is now in 28th.
The current point standings after Saturday's trio of Kentucky Derby preps are as follows: Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard
“They take them down a lot more often with less [interference],” said Enticed's trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “I thought we had a really good chance to get put up. We got hit pretty hard twice and lost our action behind. We ran very well to finish second, but I thought [the stewards] could have put us up.
“It was an excellent race, we finished second, and he deserved to win. I'm sure there will be no change [in our plans to continue to the Kentucky Derby]. He ran a great race.”
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