Donegal Racing’s Mo Donegal, piloted perfectly by Joel Rosario, came in the last few steps to capture Saturday’s Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial Presented by Resorts World Casino, a nine furlongs sophomore trial at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park. , NY The victory provided Hall of Fame Trainer Todd Pletcher a record seventh victory at the Wood Memorial, joining Hall of Famer “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons.
Mo Donegal picked up the maximum point allocation from Wood, who provided 100-40-20-10 qualifying points to the top four finishers for the $3 million Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs.
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“I thought he was on the wings,” said Donegal Racing’s Jerry Crawford. “I think the performance he gave today was even better than it seemed at first glance. I was here all day yesterday and today and no horse has come near the ground in two days and it came from way back. So not only did he have to be the best today, he had to be much better to prevail. You never celebrate early, but I was confident at least in the last 100 yards. I love that we won today, not because of me, but because of my partners.”
Previously undefeated Early Voting, winner of February’s Grade 3 Withers in the Big A for trainer Chad Brown, got alert and took command through a 23.86-second quarter mile as Rosario saved ground from the inside post aboard of the slow start Mo. Donegal facing only Morello, the 9-5 favorite of José Lezcano, who missed the break and fell behind.
Early Voting dictated the terms down the stretch with AP’s Secret pressing from second position and Barese comfortably moving in third position to the outside of Golden Code as the half mile passed in :47.75.
Rosario, ever patient, inched closer to the frontrunners along the rail, though Uncle Mo’s colt still had only two horses beaten as he approached the final turn. Early Voting held command throughout the turn, but Mo Donegal sprinted into the opposition.
Once straightened out for the homestretch, Mo Donegal easily cruised into the inside of AP’s Secret along the rail before turning to the outside of Early Voting and taking aim at the leader. Early voting marched on valiantly but could not deny Mo Donegal who posted a neck score in a final time of 1:47.96 on the main fast track.
Pletcher said he was concerned about a possible lack of pace after Gotham’s previously undefeated Grade 3 winner Morello, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, broke badly.
“I think he had a great race. It didn’t really play out the way we thought it would,” said Pletcher, whose previous Wood Memorial winners include Eskendereya gemologist Verrazano work at home Red wine  and Bourbon . “When Steve’s horse didn’t get away well, I was worried that the fractions would be a little soft, but he was able to overcome that and come in with a great run. I think he got his last quarter mile in 23.69, which is pretty impressive. He was determined. He kept coming back and I was excited to see him get there.”
Rosario, who won the 2015 Wood Memorial with Frosted, credited the horse for never giving up.
“It was a perfect trip. She kept pushing herself to the end and kept coming back,” Rosario said. “It was a good race. I tried to save ground and it looked like the track was okay on the inside so I tried to stay there as long as I could. He was handling everything fine.
“I just put it together the way it came out and I saw how he handled it and hopefully it comes with an ending,” Rosario added. “He was just galloping and reaching. Coming home, we only had one thing left. She left on her own. He is a very nice horse.”
Brown, whose Zandon captured Saturday’s Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland, was gracious in the loss.
“He had a great race. He was second best today,” Brown said of early voting. “He had a great trip and the winner also had a very good race. Both horses had good rides, only beating us in the square here. We were second best today, but we didn’t dishonor his effort. He was very proud of the horse.”
Brown said he will collect his thoughts before deciding whether or not to persevere in the Kentucky Derby with Early Voting.
“I have to digest this and look at what is happening everywhere today. Also, first of all, look at the horse and put everything together to see if he has a reasonable chance of winning the race,” Brown said. “We’ve always said about this horse and really about all of our horses, I’m not interested in going unless they have a legitimate shot at winning the race. Based on his and others’ limited experience, I’m not sure, but let’s see. He has the points, so probably. I don’t want to make a decision until he evaluates everything.”
They were 3 1/2 lengths further back to Skippylongstocking in third, who was 1 1/2 lengths ahead of fellow AP’s Secret trainee Saffie Joseph, Jr. Barese, Morello, Long Term and Golden Code completed the order of arrival.
Buying $250,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Mo Donegal graduated second in October at Belmont Park before earning a narrow nose score in the Grade 2 Remsen over Zandon.
Mo Donegal, who had a spike in temperature and was dropped from the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth last month at Gulfstream, entered from a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Holy Bull on February 5 at the Hallandale Beach Oval.
Bred in Kentucky by Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stables, Mo Donegal banked $400,000 in the win and improved his record to 5-3-0-2. He returned $6.30 for a $2 winning bet.
Live racing resumes Sunday at Big A with a nine-race card headlined by the $100,000 Top Flight Invitational. The first post is at 1:20 pm ET.
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