Long Shot Looks Wicked Strong at Aqueduct as Kentucky Derby Picture Shapes Up

In Kentucky Derby Prep action California Chrome continues to shine, and long-shot Wicked Strong beat a very strong field to take the Wood Memorial. The $1 million Grade I Santa Anita Derby held Saturday, April 5 was one of the last Kentucky Derby Prep races of the year. The 1 1/8 mile race showed that the usual dismissal of California contenders for The Run for the Roses might be misplaced this year. Only four weeks until arguably the biggest horse race in the world takes place under the twin spires at Churchill Downs, and California Chrome ran away with an easy victory in the important Kentucky Derby Prep race by 5 1/2 lengths.

Early it looked like long shot Dublin Up may have a chance, but the power of California Chrome proved too much as the field rounded the stretch. In a race with viable Kentucky Derby contenders like Hoppertunity and Candy Boy, California Chrome improved his win streak to four straight races. That began way back in December of last year against other California bred horses in the King Glorious Stakes. Jockey Victor Espinoza was in the stirrups for a reasonably quick time of 1:47.52 over a fast field. Bob Baffert's Hoppertunity was the best of the rest, and Candy Boy finished third. Winning trainer Art Sherman simply said, "It was awesome. That's all I can say."

Speaking of awesome, that's about all you can say regarding the long shot Wicked Strong's performance at the 1 1/8 mile Wood Memorial Saturday. In a field with Kentucky Derby contenders like Samraat, Social Inclusion and Uncle Sigh, Wicked Strong exploded up the center of the Aqueduct track in New York to take the $1 million Grade I TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial by a full 3 1/2 lengths. Samraat edged Uncle Sigh for second, as Social Inclusion faded late. While this is just the second win in six starts for Wicked Strong, a product of a Hard Spun colt and a Charismatic mare, the 100 important Kentucky Derby qualifying points he earned in the race guarantee his spot in the Kentucky Derby May 3.

Wicked Strong trainer Jimmy Jerkens said that the horse has been training well and did not surprise him with the big victory. Referring to the 1 1/4 mile Kentucky Derby race, Jerkens said he believes the extra distance will not bother the colt. Samraat trainer Rick Violette, when asked about his horse's chances in the upcoming first leg of the Triple Crown, stated that, "There's nothing he can't do." The race was the first loss in the last six events for Samraat. Another Derby contender, Social Inclusion, received even stronger words from his trainer, Manny Azpurua. He stated that if his colt is entered into The Run for the Roses, "He'll win. He'll kill them."

Those are pretty strong words for a horse that currently stands in 22nd Place in the Derby points standings. Only those 20 horses which have accumulated the most Derby points hit the starting gate at Kentucky. And probably more will pass Social Inclusion in points after the important Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Kentucky Derby Prep races are run on April 12. That likely excludes Social Inclusion from the first leg of the Triple Crown this year, and that horse's owner, Ron Sanchez, admitted that his horse would probably show up next at the Preakness rather than Kentucky.

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