Matt King Coal is the Wise Wood Memorial Wager

New York’s Aqueduct racetrack presents the centerpiece of its spring meet, the Grade I $1 million Wood Memorial, this Saturday and it drew a field of eight Kentucky Derby hopefuls. It’s Race 10 on the program and the approximate post time is 5:30 p.m. EST.

The morning-line favorite is #1 SHAGAF at 2-1, but I have my doubts about him. After a flashy maiden win over this course last November, SHAGAF resurfaced at Gulfstream in January and grinded out a workmanlike win in an allowance event. Then he came back to New York in March and took the Gotham Stakes, but the final time was slow and he raced on the inside most of the way. Saving ground along the rail was more important than usual on that day, as there was a pronounced track bias toward the inside. He’s working well for this for Chad Brown and was Irad Ortiz Jr.’s choice over #4 FLEXIBILITY, but to me SHAGAF is worth playing against.

#6 MATT KING COAL (3-1) looks like the one who will deal SHAGAF his first career loss. MATT KING COAL opted not to run in the Gotham but competed the next day in an allowance event and ran a full second faster than SHAGAF did in the Gotham. It’s not always wise to compare times from two different days, but MATT KING COAL had no perceivable bias to carry him and still ran considerably faster than SHAGAF.

There’s a strong chance of rain on Saturday but that would only help MATT KING COAL, who was a gritty runner-up behind Gift Box in a fast race in the mud at Belmont last October. He’s the pick as trainer Linda Rice looks to earn her first trip to the Kentucky Derby.

Of the other six runners in the field, #2 ADVENTIST (10-1) and #8 OUTWORK (5-2) look like the only other horses worth using. ADVENTIST finished two lengths behind SHAGAF in the Gotham but raced two to three-wide throughout; I could easily see him turning the tables on a fairer racing surface.

OUTWORK couldn’t out-finish his stablemate Destin in the Tampa Bay Derby, but that race came back pretty fast. This will be his third start off a layoff, and it’s worth noting that Todd Pletcher’s main rider, John Velazquez, opted to ride this colt instead of travelling to Kentucky to ride Zulu. However, he will probably have to concede the lead to MATT KING COAL.

The play: $8 exacta 6/1, $6 exacta 6/2,8 ($20)

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