The New York duel never materialized, but a new Kentucky Derby contender emerged in the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on Saturday.
Centennial Farm’s Wicked Strong, ridden by Rajiv Maragh, closed powerfully on the outside to catch the previously undefeated Social Inclusion to win by 31⁄2 lengths, as Samraat just got up for second by a nose in the final stride.
Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Wicked Strong went off at 9-1 and won for the first time since breaking his maiden at Belmont Park last October.
“I thought he was training well enough in Florida, but he didn’t show up in the afternoon for some reason,” Jerkens said. “When I saw him laying five lengths off the lead, just galloping, I really felt we had a big shot.
“I said to Rajiv, ‘It’s great to save ground all the way, but if you can get him to that crown on the stretch, go ahead.’ They were taking off out there all day.”
Samraat, who won in tight finishes over fellow New York-bred Uncle Sigh in the Withers and Gotham, lost for the first time in six career starts.
Social Inclusion, making his stakes debut after two impressive wins, took over on the backstretch and never folded coming for home, but Wicked Strong was too good.
“It was very good,” said Social Inclusion’s trainer, Manny Azpurua. “Next time, he’ll win; he’ll kill them.”
“It’s his best race,” trainer Rick Violette said of Samraat. “It’s the first time he’s been surrounded and covered up, and he handled it. He came back three times. I thought he was going to be fourth the entire [stretch], and he kept finding more, finding more.”
Uncle Sigh broke a step slowly, and jockey Corey Nakatani told trainer Gary Contessa that he ran greenly while behind horses like that for the first time. He was fifth.
Maragh said he considers Wicked Strong to be the Kentucky Derby favorite after beating a loaded field in the Wood.
“He’s really maturing at the right time now, and there’s a lot left in the tank, so I don’t think we’re at the bottom of him, yet,” he said.
Also on the Wood card, My Miss Sophia rolled to a 71⁄4-length win in the Gazelle as the 4-5 favorite to stake her claim as a Kentucky Oaks contender.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said that her stablemate, Got Lucky, would also point toward the Oaks.
ARCADIA, Calif. — Less than an hour after the Wood, California Chrome elevated himself to likely Derby favoritism when he romped by 51⁄4 lengths in the Santa Anita Derby under Victor Espinoza.
Fashion Plate beat Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Ria Antonia by a length and a quarter in the Santa Anita Oaks.
ASHLAND DEAD HEAT
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Room Service came from last place in the 13-horse field to finish in a dead heat with Rosalind to win the Grade I Ashland at Keeneland.
They were seven lengths ahead of the rest of the field.
Starlight Racing’s Candy Kitty never got in the race and finished eighth.