Local hope El Kabeir will try to keep repeat his Gotham Stakes win in Saturday's Wood Memorial, the final New York stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby.
With 75 points, El Kabeir currently sits in fifth on the Derby leaderboard, while Todd Pletcher's Daredevil is in 28th with 10 points.
In his two outings before the Gotham, the gray/roan colt took the Jerome in his sophomore debut and finished second behind Far From Over in the Withers. As a 2-year-old, El Kabeir made a name for himself winning the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs.
"We want to see him continue to hold his form and go forward, and we'll see how he handles the added distance," said trainer John Terranova. "All along we've been taking it one race at a time and not getting too far ahead of ourselves, so we're gearing up for an exciting race. We have a lot of confidence in him; he's seasoned, versatile, and all of that bodes well for him. However the race unfolds, we'll be able to adapt."
C.C. Lopez, who will be looking for his first grade 1 win, retains the mount on El Kabeir, 3-1 on the morning line. The duo will depart from post 5.
Like El Kabeir, Daredevil burst onto the Kentucky Derby landscape as a 2-year-old. Sent off at even-money in his debut, the More Than Ready colt pounded a field of maidens on Sept. 13 at Belmont by 6 1/4 lengths.
Less than a month later, Daredevil returned to take the Champagne by 2 1/2 lengths over Upstart and a well-beaten El Kabeir. The chestnut colt earned a spectacular 107 Beyer Speed Figure for his performance in the Champagne, and in turn was sent off as the 5-2 second choice in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He disappointed, finishing a distant 11th place in his first start going two turns.
Making his 3-year-old debut in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes, Daredevil rebounded off his Juvenile debacle, but eh could not get past talented sprinter Ready for Rye in the stretch and had to settle for second.
Given some time to re-acclimate to New York, Daredevil put in his final work before the Wood on Sunday over the Belmont training track, breezing four furlongs in :48.85.
"I thought he did it very well," said Byron Hughes, assistant to Pletcher. "He looked good doing it, went very easily, and galloped out strong; we're definitely happy with the work. It didn't start out as planned (with Daredevil breaking a few lengths in front of his workmate), but the rider adapted and had a good hold of him."
Hughes, who spent the winter away from Daredevil while overseeing Pletcher's New York string, has been impressed with what he's seen of the colt since returning to his home base.
"He's very similar to what I saw last year," said Hughes. "Whenever I watch him, I think he can do just about anything."
Daredevil is listed as the 9-5 favorite on the morning line, and will be ridden by Javier Castellano from post 6.
The second choice on the morning line at 5-2, Frosted, may have an experience edge on the field, having become very well acquainted with Aqueduct's main track as a 2-year-old. The son of Tapit drew away from a maiden field at the Big A in his third career start, and parlayed the effort into a tough luck runner-up finish in the Remsen Stakes at the Wood distance. He raced wide from post 13 on a day kind to inside paths.
Shipped to Florida for the winter by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, Frosted finished second in the Holy Bull behind Upstart before contesting the Fountain of Youth. Wearing blinkers for the first time,he pressed a fast pace over a taxing Gulfstream main track and appeared poised to win, but he tired badly in the stretch and finished fourth.
The gray/roan colt was being considered for the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream, but his connections ultimately opted for the Wood.
"We feel like we've accounted for every issue, and he has no excuse not to run his best race," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "We know he has talent; he has to show it on Saturday. The track was very tiring for the Fountain of Youth and was again (for the Florida Derby), so we're happy with our decision."
Frosted will break from post 4 with Joel Rosario aboard.
Rounding out the field are:
--Tiz Shea D, who was purchased privately out of his debut and subsequently finished second in the Gotham for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott;
--Toasting Master, fourth in the Gotham for trainer Dale Romans;
--Tencendur, fifth in the Gotham donning blinkers for the first time in his career;
--Lieutenant Colonel, a Chad Brown trainee that disappointed in the Gotham, finishing last off a promising debut victory.
Edited NYRA release with additional content by Dick Downey