Kentucky Derby and Horse Racing at The Downey Profile®
From Legacy to Recency, Wood Memorial Has Many Stories
The Legacy of Juddmonte
The legacy of Juddmonte Farms will again be put to the test in the Wood Memorial when Tacitus tries to win his second straight Kentucky Derby points race.
"In an operation like this, the word 'legacy' comes out on numerous occasions," General Manager Garret O'Rourke said. "This is one of those pedigrees that I can remember from my youth. Families like this one create that legacy. Obviously, Close Hatches has been one of our greats in recent years and it's nice to see her pass on her abilities to another generation with a great one. This is how it's supposed to happen.
"Top stallions and top mares are supposed to produce good horses like this," O'Rourke added. "He's a horse that is bred to be a classic race horse. We're aiming for step one at the moment, which we have to get to before we can go on to step two."
A gray or roan son of Tapit, Tacitus is out of 2014 Champion Older Filly Close Hatches, whose respective dam, grand dam and great grand dam are Rising Tornado, Silver Star and Monroe - all of which were campaigned by Juddmonte.
In addition, Tacitus is an indirect descendant of prolific Juddmonte broodmare Toussad, who produced dam sire First Defence's mother Honest Lady as well as prominent stallion and 2003 Wood winner Empire Maker.
Tacitus has only recorded a trio of starts, which includes a maiden win at second asking on November 10 over the Big A main track rated good. He emerged from a three-month layoff in style with a win in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 10, when he picked up 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
When it comes to Tacitus' appearance, O'Rourke said he is reminded of 1990 Kentucky Derby winner and prolific sire Unbridled, who appears twice in his pedigree.
"There's a little inbreeding in the pedigree to Unbridled, and when I look at Tacitus I see the beautiful stride that Unbridled had," O'Rourke said. "I believe that he's a little more along those lines. His dam was one that was more powerfully built. I'd say that maybe the Tapit might be coming out a little stronger. (His temperament) is where his mother comes in. In the past, Tapits have been sound but delicate, but Close Hatches had a magnificent temperament. We're delighted to have those genetics."
O'Rourke said Tacitus has made noticeable conformational improvement.
"I think that mentally, he's been a good horse," O'Rourke said. "He's taken all of his races in stride. Physically, early on, he was gangly and a bit of a 'Baby Huey', he needed some time to fill his frame. He made a big improvement from December to February. Hopefully he only continues to improve. He really seems to thrive in his work."
In his Tampa Bay Derby victory, Tacitus sat well off the pace in the early stages and made his winning move at the top of the stretch, notching a 1 1/4-length score. Jose Ortiz, who was aboard that day, is back for the Wood.
"He should do his best running in that last half-mile," O'Rourke said. "With some luck we'll have some speed that will clear up and we'll leave the rest in Jose's capable hands."
Hoffa's Union Makes Stakes Debut for New Barn
It's been an interesting run on the Derby Trail for trainer Mark Casse this season with War of Will, Sir Winston and Our Braintrust making their presence known.
In the Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets, he'll be unleashing a new member of his lineup, Hoffa's Union.
A gelded bay son of Union Rags, Hoffa's Union has only recorded one career start -- a highly impressive 15 1/2-length romp on Feb. 28 going two turns at Laurel Park for former conditioner Gary Capuano. Capuano won the 1997 Wood with Captain Bodgit.
Hoffa's Union was purchased privately by Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable, Christopher Dunn and Harry Loso. Foard Wilgis, a part-owner of his former ownership group, stayed in on the horse.
A plan for Hoffa's Union was to compete in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, where he recorded his last breeze, a half-mile work in 48.60 seconds.
"We've had him down at our training center in Ocala after we got him," Casse said. "He's just a very classy colt, just a big pretty horse. We had sent him to Kentucky and we had planned on running him in the Blue Grass but when it overfilled, we sent him on to the Wood.
"I don't know that we have to be on the lead, but we'll try to be forwardly placed," Casse said. "We have a good post position. It looks like there's a fair amount of speed in there. We have a horse that's raced one time, and he went to the lead and improved his position. I don't think that scenario will arise on Saturday. The pace will be fairly quick, and in order for him to be effective, he'll have to rate a little bit.
"This is a huge step for him. The Wood is not an easy race but he's training well, and he deserves a shot."
Casse gave a brief update on War of Will, a distant ninth in the last out in the Louisiana Derby. He's at Keeneland now undere the supervision of assistant trainer David Carroll.
"I spoke with David, and he said that he trained tremendous," Casse said. "He was extremely happy with him and that his energy level is really good. He's an extremely happy horse, so knock on wood. We're down but we're not out."
Hoffa's Union breaks from post 3 under Dylan Davis at odds of 6-1.
A $11,000 purchase from Kings Equine's consignment barn at the Fasig-Tipton Mid-Atlantic Two-Year-Olds in Training sale last May, Hoffa's Union is out of the stakes placed Malibu Moon broodmare Malibu Red.
Leading Owner Dubb Looks to Grumps Little Tots
Michael Dubb, a successful owner in New York, will be represented by Grumps Little Tots, last time out a 6 1/2-length maiden win on Feb. 18 over the Aqueduct main track.
"I've actually never run a horse in the Wood Memorial or the Kentucky Derby, so it would mean everything," Dubb said. "All I really focus on is New York racing, obviously we'll go elsewhere but New York is my main focus, so it's nice to get rewarded.
"That was his first time going past six furlongs," Dubb said of Grumps Little Tots' fourth-out maiden triumph. "I've always felt that he would get better with distance. We think that the longer the better with him. Last time was a one-turn mile and this time will be two turns going a mile and an eighth, so it will certainly be a learning experience. Hopefully he'll have the right pace in front of him and that the jockey can let him relax, find his rhythm and make a big run."
The gelded son of Sky Mesa is owned by Dubb in partnership with Coyle Boys Stables and Bethlehem Stables.
Math Wizard Has Figures
Math Wizard, trained and co-owned by Saffie Joseph, Jr. with John Fanelli, Collarmele Vitelli Stables, Bassett Stables, Ioannis Zoumas, and Wynwood Thoroughbreds, is 30-1 on the morning line for Saturday's Wood Memorial but not without a shot in a wide-open affair.
The Algorithms chestnut, out of the graded stakes winning dam Minister's Baby, has been claimed three times in his seven-race career, most recently on Jan. 31 at Gulfstream Park for $25,000 by his current conditioner. Math Wizard had graduated at fourth asking in a six-furlong claiming sprint and was traveling a mile for the first time when Joseph Jr. got the colt.
"He just seemed consistent on his form, and it seemed like he was getting better, and he'd never went long before we claimed him," Joseph, Jr. said. "His dam ran good going long, so we figured he's good enough for face value going short and if he gets better going long then there's upside."
Math Wizard romped his one-mile debut by a widening 18 1/2 lengths.
"The day we claimed him, he won easy going long and we were very happy to see that. I've never claimed a horse that won that far in my life. Even though he won easy, he ran decent numbers on all the handicapping tools," said Joseph, Jr.
The chestnut returned to action on March 15 at twice the value in a $50,000 starter allowance and finished a rallying second to an in-form Bronzed.
"After we claimed him, he got a little colicky and a little sick. We were behind the eight ball and only went in that race because our intention was to take a shot at one of these races. We went the starter route and didn't expect a good horse like that in this race. That horse ran a big race the time before for Jason Servis," Joseph, Jr. said.
Joseph, Jr. said Math Wizard got a lot out of his first start for new connections.
"Going into that race, he wasn't fully cranked, and when he ran second that made me realize he was a decent horse. He ran second on class," Joseph, Jr. said. "Since that race, he's trained much more forwardly. He's a different horse. I don't know if he's good enough for these kinds of horses, but in my opinion he's four to five lengths better than his last race."
Eric Cancel picks up the mount on Math Wizard and Joseph, Jr. said the rider will have options on race strategy.
"This weekend he won't be as far behind as he was last time. He'll be much more tactical," Joseph, Jr. said. "But, it's good to see that he can come from so far back and provide a decent rally. But I think this time he'll be more into the bit from the beginning."
Sacco Brings New Face
Instead of Mind Control, who's going in the Bay Shores Stakes, trainer Greg Sacco will be represented in the Wood by what he says is the improving Joevia.
"It's in the best interests for him right now, at this stage of his development," Sacco said of Mind Control. "The team gave it serious consideration, and we're comfortable with where he's at. The Bay Shore is a small field, but very talented, and we're going to this race with the Woody Stephens, a Grade 1 on Belmont Day, in mind."
While Mind Control would likely have been among the top-four choices in the Wood and Joevia is a 30-1 longshot, the conditioner harbors no disappointment.
"It's quite an accomplishment to win a Grade 1 with a horse at two, and if we're in a position to win a Grade 1 like the Woody Stephens at three, it would be fantastic and would be another stepping stone towards the Allen Jerkens at Saratoga," said Sacco.
So, on Saturday, Joevia will look to step out from his stablemate's shadow arriving at the Wood from a steady second to Alwaysmining in the Private Terms at Laurel Park when making his first attempt around two turns.
"Joevia is doing super. He came out of the stakes race at Laurel well and has worked super at Belmont," said Sacco. "It's a big, competitive field. He handled the two turns, now we'll see if he can handle the mile and an eighth, which I think will be in his scope. He has to improve off the last race to be competitive in this race, but we feel that he can."
Sacco said he has always held Joevia in high regard and said that he worked Joevia in company with Mind Control as the two young horses were developing.
"He was Mind Control's workmate last summer, but I haven't breezed them together this year. I didn't want those two hooking up and going too fast," said Sacco. "He stayed with him and both trained head's up all summer prior to making their debuts. They were at the top of our class last year."
Sacco said he is cautiously optimistic of Joevia's chances going into Saturday's significant class test.
"Joevia is an improving colt, he's lightly raced. We're asking a lot of him on Saturday, but a lot of colts in there are lightly raced. We'll see if he's good enough to run a big one for us in the Wood," Sacco said.
Not That Brady Tries to Rebound
New York-bred Not That Brady looks good heading into the Wood, trainer Rudy Rodriguez said. Perhaps hindered by a quarter-crack, he finished last of eight in the Gotham last time out.
Rodriguez said the Big Brown colt is fully recovered and will look to notch his first career graded stakes win and earn the 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby that will be awarded to the Wood winner.
"He's training very forwardly," Rodriguez said. "Everything is good. He's running, and everything has been like clockwork for him."
Not That Brady finished second by a head to fellow Wood contestant Tax in the Grade 3 Withers at the Wood's distance of 1 1/8 miles on February 2.
Owned by Rodriguez, Michael Imperio, Lianna Stables and R.A. Hill Stable, Not That Brady, bred by KatieRich Farms, enters Saturday with four total Derby qualifying points, ranking 44th on the leaderboard.
"All the Derby prep races seem wide open; I don't think you can pinpoint a horse who is really, really solid," Rodriguez said. "That's why we are here. Maybe we can get lucky."
Not That Brady, 2-2-0 in seven career starts, has two wins and two runner-up efforts in five career races at the Big A. He drew post 7 in the 11-horse field with Reylu Gutierrez set to ride and is listed as 20-1 on the morning line.
"I hope he breaks good and puts himself in good position early," Rodriguez said. "I'd like to use his speed and hopefully he can put himself with the leaders. If he can be on the lead, that would be better.
"When he's comfortable on the lead, I feel like he's at his best," he added. "It's a mile and an eighth, so if they want to go 22, I guess they are going to have to chase him."