The biggest Kentucky Derby prep in New York will be in a New York state of mind today.
Three colts bred in New York, including ferocious rivals Samraat and Uncle Sigh, will line up side-by-side-by-side in the Aqueduct starting gate for the Grade I $1 million Wood Memorial.
They’ll all likely be chasing a lightly raced but impressive Kentucky-bred, Social Inclusion, who has won his two career starts by a combined 17 1⁄2 lengths. He’s the 2-1 morning-line favorite making his stakes debut against nine rivals; long shot Kid Cruz will be scratched because of a shoulder strain.
Samraat and Uncle Sigh have engaged each other in spirited stretch duels in their last two starts, Samraat prevailing in both.
He caught Uncle Sigh to win the Withers by a length, then held on to win the Gotham by a neck when Uncle Sigh’s jockey, Corey Nakatani, got sandwiched so tightly between Samraat and In Trouble that he couldn’t use the stick.
To promote the Wood, the New York Racing Association posted banners of each horse at Aqueduct, which Uncle Sigh’s trainer, Gary Contessa, compared to the banners for the first fight between Rocky and Apollo Creed in the movie.
“This is a great rivalry for New Yorkers,” Contessa said during a national teleconference. “I mean, it’s a huge 20-by-20 banner for each horse, and they’re kind of looking at each other, and it’s fantastic. I think it’s very good for the public, and it’s very good for the sport.”
The other New York-bred in the race is 50-1 Effinex, who will break from the No. 9 post, between Samraat to his inside and Uncle Sigh.
The rivalry could be pre-empted by Social Inclusion.
He beat highly regarded Honor Code in an allowance at Gulfstream. Honor Code subsequently was taken off the Derby trail with a tear in his right uppersuspensory and is in the midst of 60 days off before being re-evaluated.
“The key is somebody has to hook Social Inclusion,” Contessa said. “I believe that horse has to be challenged [on the front end], or he’s going to be really tough to beat. It may turn out to be that he’s tough to beat no matter what, but I would like to see him get challenged.”
The Wood card includes three other graded stakes, the Bay Shore, Gazelle and Carter. Golden Ticket, the 2012 Travers dead-heat winner, is entered in the Carter after finishing second by a head to Palace Malice in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.
The Gazelle, one of four big Kentucky Oaks preps this weekend, has drawn Sweet Reason, who won the Spinaway at Saratoga Race Course last season and is the slight favorite at 8-5 after making her 2014 debut a winning one, in an allowance at Aqueduct on March 7.
‘PRINCESS’ IS BACK
Princess of Sylmar, who just missed out on the 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award last year, will make her 4-year-old debut on Sunday in the Cat Cay Stakes at Aqueduct.
Owned by 1967 Linton High School graduate Ed Stanco’s King of Prussia Stable, Princess of Sylmar last raced in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita in November, when she was sixth to eventual Eclipse Award winner Beholder.
She’s the even-money favorite among six horses for the Cat Cay, but this won’t be the equivalent of a public workout, considering the presence of Grade III Comely winner Wedding Toast, a Godolphin Racing filly who has won four straight since breaking her maiden at Saratoga Race Course last summer.
“I’ve already got the yips,” Stanco said shortly after the race was drawn on Thursday. “It’s funny, you win four Grade I’s in a row and you get this adrenaline rush that’s sort of hard to describe. It’s back.
“That’s why we do this, for this self-torture.”
Princess of Sylmar, also bred by Stanco at Sylmar Farm in eastern Pennsylvania, has lost just three of 11 career starts. Her big streak last year included the Kentucky Oaks at odds of 38-1, the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama at Saratoga and the Beldame at Belmont Park, where she beat multiple champion Royal Delta.
The Cat Cay is a one-turn mile out of the chute on Aqueduct’s main track. Wedding Toast is listed at 6-5 and will break from the outside, with Princess of Sylmar in post No. 3.
“We know her and we’re fans of hers,” Stanco said of Wedding Toast. “With her and us in there, it’s really a Grade III.”