Alpha's connections have figured out what it will take to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate, now all he has to do is execute the plan.
Alpha has $180,000 in graded stakes earnings, probably not enough this year.
“He’s 23rd as of today,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “He needs to hit the board, one, two or three. It would be great to win, but if he were second or third, it would punch our ticket to the Derby.”
The $1 million Wood pays 60% to the winner, 20% to second and 10% to third.
The Wood will mark the first time the Bernardini colt has drawn the inside post, which could be a factor given his former tendencies to act up in the gate.
“We were excited to be post position 6 of 6 (in the Withers) because of his gate issues,” said McLaughlin. “But now, we’re post position 1 of 8, and we have to put a different spin on it. It’s a positive because he’s going to be in the gate a while, and hopefully he’ll behave well, because going forward to May 5 we’re going to be in the gate a while no matter what post he draws, almost.
“And this will be the first time he’s down on the inside taking dirt,” McLaughlin said. “Every race he’s been wide, not because he has to be wide, it’s because of post position. It will be good schooling and a good test for him to be down on the inside, taking dirt, and saving ground. He’s been very good about schooling in the gate in the morning.
“But,” he added jokingly, “if he’s not good, we’ll have to change the post time of the Derby to the morning.”
Street Life Connections Confident
Kevin Latta, part of the Hidden Brook Farm ownership group that campaigns Street Life in partnership with Magnolia Racing Stable, says there’s no need to handicap Saturday’s Wood.
“We’re going to win,” said Latta without hesitation. But then there's a qualifier.
“Alpha and Street Life are going to be (in the) back. In front are going to be The Lumber Guy, Gemologist, and Teeth of the Dog. And we’re finally going to get some splits to run at, and we’re just going to settle in the back. That’s how I see it. It’s going to be our horse and My Adonis to the wire.”
Street Life closed into slow fractions to break his maiden by a widening 2 1/2 lengths on Feb. 11 and won the Broad Brush overnight stakes by a half-length on March 17. In the Wood, the colt should get a fast pace to set up his closing kick.
“I’ve been watching horse racing since I was 15, and that move he made when he broke his maiden was phenomenal,” said Latta. “That’s what really caught my attention. He’s been running into unbelievably slow fractions. You know how hard that is to do. If he gets something to run at tomorrow, I think he’s going to win.”
Street Life’s maiden win also impressed Bob McNair of Magnolia Racing Stable, who subsequently purchased a 50 percent interest in the colt. With a strong performance in the Wood, Street Life could take McNair, the Hidden Brook contingent, and trainer Chad Brown to Louisville.
“It’s a great thrill. It’s my childhood dream to go to the Kentucky Derby, so it’s a big deal for me,” said Latta. “I think he can do it. He has the pedigree for it. I’m pretty confident. Had McNair not come in for a half, I was going to buy that portion. That’s how confident I was.”
Breen Sizes Up Competition
When trainer Kelly Breen undertook the challenge of sizing up tomorrow’s 1 1/8-mile Wood, he liked what he saw for My Adonis.
The homebred son of Pleasantly Perfect enters the Wood off a strong second behind Hansen last month in the Grade III Gotham, and what Breen sees is a field with plenty of speed for his colt to make a run at.
“I looked at it pretty intensely, and I thought the outside horse of Mike Hushion’s (The Lumber Guy) makes the race,” Breen said. “He has speed; Michael Matz’s horse (Teeth of the Dog) has shown speed. Alpha is down on the rail. I don’t know what their camp thinks of it, but I know I didn’t like it down there (with My Adonis in the Gotham). But I’m surprised we’re 8-1 and getting no respect.”
While Breen had several good 3-year-olds last spring, including Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice and Louisiana Derby winner Pants On Fire, this year, it’s all My Adonis.
“He’s up here,” Breen said holding his hand up high, “and our other horses were down here,” he said holding his hand down by knees.
For the Wood, Breen has made a slight adjustment to Adonis’ blinkers, “opening them up a little because of all the speed in here,” he said. “Hopefully, he can run them all down.”
An Emotional Pull
According to co-owner Lori Hall, My Adonis was born a few months before her husband George’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“He pledged that if he were to survive this disease, he would turn over a new leaf – stop smoking, eat better, and ultimately become ‘an Adonis,’” she said. “I looked at this colt out of Pleasantly Perfect and thought for all of his faults, George Hall, Sr. was “Pleasantly Perfect” and so I named the colt My Adonis with the caveat that George, Sr. stick around long enough to see him run.
"After his second victory, I called my father-in-law, who reassured me, ‘You see, if you name them appropriately, they will respond.”
George, Sr. died on Oct. 28, and each start since then has been highly emotional for the Halls. The colt was off the board in the Grade III Delta Jackpot on Nov. 19 but launched his 3-year-old campaign with a good-looking third in the Grade III Holy Bull before finished second in the Grade III Gotham.
“He’s a strong, good-looking horse, and he’s still improving, which is what you want,” said Hall. “I would have liked to meet Hansen again, but I strongly believe we have the horse to beat in the Wood. It would be a wonderful tribute to my father-in-law.”
Hushion Looks to Break Maiden for Classic Try
Michael Hushion has been training horses for more than 35 years, but like his former boss and mentor, Allen Jerkens, he’s never been a Triple Crown kind of guy. The Lumber Guy is the first horse Hushion has had sniffing around for a spot in the American Classics, and also the first horse he had ever started in the Wood.
While the leggy, gray son of the late stallion Grand Slam stood outside Hushion’s barn Friday morning getting a bath and brush, the trainer made his case for being there.
“After looking at the race, I’m sure glad we’re in,” Hushion said.
The Lumber Guy is undefeated in two starts including a 4 1/2-length wipeout of the Miracle Wood, which is a seven-furlong sprint stakes Feb. 25 at Laurel Park. “Just looking at the horses, I think we belong. My way of handicapping, we’re third or fourth choice, and my horse, I think he’s got another move forward in him, and if he does, it should be very interesting.”
The Lumber Guy has never been behind horses after a quarter-mile or beyond and is expected to be near or on the lead in the Wood. He also, however, has never been asked to negotiate a two-turn race. His stout breeding suggests the move to 1 1/8 miles should be within his range.
“Gotta find out sometime,” Hushion said.
--Edited NYRA release with additional content by Dick Downey