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Features - RACING

Social Inclusion (above) dominated in his first two races and will try stakes competition for the first time on Saturday in the $1-million Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct. (Photo by Leslie Martin/Gulfstream Park)

By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

Rarely is so much at stake for one horse in one race as it is for Social Inclusion in the 90th edition of the Wood Memorial Stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct.

The stakes only begin with the winner’s $600,000 share of the $1-million purse. They extend to a slot in the expected 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby on May 3 if the Pioneerof the Nile colt finishes first or second. They still do not end there. It is expected that a strong showing will trigger a sale of a significant share in the horse that could be worth millions to Ron Sanchez, who knows that smart owners take things one step at a time.

A Wood victory would be worth 100 points according to the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying system that Churchill Downs implemented in 2013 for the first time. Second place carries 40 points, with either being considered more than enough to make the cut.

BE THERE: See Wynonna Judd & The Big Noise LIVE at the 1st Annual Fillies and Lilies Party at the Kentucky Derby Museum on Oaks Night.

“First, we’re going to focus on the Wood Memorial and get the points,” Sanchez said, “because if no points, no Derby.”

Sanchez and trainer Manny Azpurua initially targeted the Preakness Stakes before the horse convinced them otherwise. He faces a huge step up in class in the Wood after putting his abundant speed to excellent use at Florida’s Gulfstream Park. He romped by 7 ½ lengths in his debut on Feb. 22, zipping six furlongs in 1:09.35. He followed that by trouncing Remsen Stakes victor Honor Code by 10 lengths in an allowance race while setting a track record of 1:40.97 for the 1 1/16-mile contest. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 111 for the latter, the highest awarded any 3-year-old this season.

Jockey Luis Contreras will have to call on some of that speed early to ensure a good position after drawing the outside post position in a field of 11. Social Inclusion is the 2-to-1 morning-line favorite. Samraat, a New York-bred who is undefeated through five starts, will break from post eight and is rated at 7-to-2 on the morning line.

Although Samraat possesses speed to go with Social Inclusion, trainer Rick Violette hopes Jose Ortiz does not have to use it.

“If we’re going to break running and they give us the lead, it will be a controlling lead,” Violette said. “If someone else wants the lead, they’re welcome to it.”

Violette does not want a race so taxing that it compromises Samraat’s chances on the first Saturday in May. “There’s no question we want to win. It’s a $1 million race, it’s a Grade 1, it’s in our backyard,” he said. “Our objective is to run our ‘A’ race without leaving everything on the table, which is greedy.”

Samraat owns narrow victories against Uncle Sigh in the Withers and Gotham Stakes, both Grade 3 races.


Samraat Hero Eclipse

Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

Gary Contessa, trainer of Uncle Sigh, believes a better trip can make the difference against Samraat. He is not so sure what it will take to reel in Social Inclusion, or whether that can be done.

“Obviously, just like the rest of the world, I’ve been blown away by Social Inclusion and now I’m going to have to run against him,” Contessa said. “There’s a horse that could be any kind of horse. His numbers suggest that he could be any kind of horse, but he’s extremely untested.”

According to Sanchez, he already rejected an offer from overseas for $8 million for 75-percent of the horse. He purchased Social Inclusion for $60,000, saying that he was drawn to him by his easy stride and equally easy demeanor. He felt he had a bargain from the outset.

“It was love at first sight,” Sanchez said. “When I bought him, I told Manny, ‘Well, I think we have the Derby horse.’ ”

Social Inclusion is one big race away from proving that.

$1 million Wood Memorial Stakes

Saturday, Aqueduct, Race 10, post time 5:40 p.m. ET

1 1/8 miles, 3-year-olds

Television: NBC Sports Network – 5:30 p.m. ET





1. Kid Cruz




2. Wicked Strong

Rajiv Maragh


Jimmy Jerkens

3. Noble Moon

Irad Ortiz Jr.


Leah Gyarmati

4. Harpoon

John Velazquez


Todd Pletcher

5. Los Borrachos

Cornelio Velasquez


Bill Mott

6. Kristo

Martin Garcia


John Sadler

7. Schivarelli

Javier Castellano


Eddie Kenneally

8. Samraat

Jose Ortiz


Rick Violette

9. Effinex

Rosario Montanez


David Smith

10. Uncle Sigh

Corey Nakatani


Gary Contessa

11. Social Inclusion

Luis Contreras


Manny Azpurua

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