The road to the Kentucky Derby is into the home stretch as two more key races on Saturday, the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby, will help firm up the 20-horse field.
The top four finishers of each race will earn 100, 40, 20 and 10 Derby points, respectively. Last year, the 20th Derby horse had 10 points. But this year it could be higher, putting one of the probable Derby favorites Cairo Prince, with 24 points, on the bubble.
The Wood at Aqueduct will feature undefeated Social Inclusion (2-1). He has a lot of press clippings, but zero Kentucky Derby points. He is a son of Pioneerof the Nile, who ran second to Mine That Bird in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. His owner, Ron Sanchez, has said he turned down a $5 million offer for the colt. I would have taken the cash.
But Sanchez is feeling his oats. A Wood win would make Social Inclusion even more valuable to those who worship the Derby and foresee a potential superstar stallion prospect.
Other Wood horses aren’t yet willing to concede. Samraat (7-2) and Uncle Sigh (5-1) have had their own personal duels in the Withers and Gotham. Kristo (6-1) ships in for top West Coast trainer John Sadler. However, I will use Kid Cruz (20-1) in all of my wagers. He flew home to win the Private Terms at Laurel in a breathtaking last-to-first rally.
The Santa Anita Derby clearly goes through California Chrome (6-5). He has won his last three starts, all stakes, by a combined 19 lengths. A Kentucky Derby win is not a coronation. It is hard-earned. So California Chrome still has his work cut out for him.
I am still a believer in Candy Ride (9-5), who won the Robert Lewis last out. He has only 10 points, so a top finish is a must. His steady incremental development is what I like to see in a young horse. Candy Ride should be sitting on top of a big race.
There cannot be a Santa Anita Derby without trainer Bob Baffert in it. Hoppertunity, who won the Rebel last out, will use this as his final Derby prep. He clearly is a horse moving in the right direction. Also, his stalking style is a plus with so many speed-type horses among the Derby favorites.
■ AQUEDUCT ADVANCE WAGERING — Las Vegas Dissemination Company vice president of corporate relations Vinny Magliulo announced that LVDC has received approval to offer the New York Racing Association Saturday cards for advance wagering on Fridays. This customer service, which starts today, will be available in all race books in Nevada. The NYRA tracks include Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga.
■ TVG TO OFFER HONG KONG RACES — TVG reached an agreement to offer commingled wagering on the races from the Hong Kong Jockey Club tracks Happy Valley and Sha Tin. Here in Las Vegas, the HKJC Wednesday card will begin at 4:15 a.m., and its Sunday card will start on Saturday at 10 p.m. Two major attractions to betting the HKJC product are pool size, $17 million per race average, and a 12.6 horse average field size.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @richeng4propick on Twitter.