Morello Could Give All-Time Winningest Trainer First Derby Win
Steve Asmussen is the most prolific trainer in horse racing history, but has never won the sport’s crown jewel – the Kentucky Derby. Asmussen, though, boasts his best chance yet on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, including the potential favorite in Epicenter. Another ace up his sleeve could be the undefeated Morello, the 8-5 morning line favorite in the horse racing odds who drew post No. 5 and will face seven rivals in the Grade II Wood Memorial.
- Race: Wood Memorial
- Location: Aqueduct Racetrack, New York
- Day/Post Time: Saturday, 4:45 p.m. ET (Race 8)
- Television: NBC
Holy Turn of Foot! Morello Shredded Gotham Field
Morello is 3-for-3 – all at Aqueduct – following his visually impressive 4½-length victory in the Grade III Gotham Stakes, a one-turn mile, on March 5. After being bumped at the start, the Classic Empire colt quickly moved alongside pacesetter Dean’s List.
Morello made the lead on his own entering the stretch, and pulled away under light urging from jockey Jose Lezcano as the favorite when horse racing lines at even-money. The 96 Beyer speed figure is among the fastest by a 3-year-old in 2022.
Lezcano returns to ride in the Wood. Morello’s combined margin of victory is 13¾ lengths as he tries two turns for the first time. His stalking style should serve him well again. The waters get deeper, though, as he faces seven rivals, including three from the Todd Pletcher stable and one from Chad Brown. Two of those rivals are rated higher than Morello in the latest DRF.com Kentucky Derby watch.
Early Voting, Pletcher Trio Provide Plenty of Punch to Party
There are two other undefeated horses in this race. Early Voting (5-2, post No. 3), trained by Brown, is 2-for-2 after winning the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct on Feb. 5.
That race was at 1⅛ miles – like the Wood – so the Gun Runner colt has a two-turn race under his belt.
Early Voting’s speed figures are a bit slower than Morello. Jose Ortiz takes the mount. Barese (8-1, post No. 8), trained by Michael Maker and ridden by Dylan Davis, is 3-for-3 – all in New York-bred races – after winning a pair of listed stakes at Aqueduct. Pletcher’s trio of charges includes Mo Donegal (5-2, post No. 1), who was scratched from the Grade II Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on March 5 after drawing the No. 12 post and developing a minor virus.
Mo Donegal, 2-for-4 lifetime, won the Grade II Remsen at this trip as a 2-year-old. The Hall of Fame trainer also sends out Golden Code (15-1, post No. 2), second to Morello in the Gotham, and Long Term (20-1, No. 4), who has finished second in all four career races. Pletcher has won this event six times – all in the last 12 years, including Bourbonic at 72-1 in 2021.
Knock on Wood: No Derby Winner Since 2003
The Wood Memorial, which is run at 1⅛ miles, hasn’t been a hotbed for producing Kentucky Derby betting winners.
Fusaichi Pegasus was the last to win both races in 2000 while Funny Cide (2003) was the last to run in the Wood and prevail in the Run for the Roses. Morello is capable of ending that drought. His victory in the Gotham secured him a spot in the gate at Churchill Downs.
The Wood offers a big purse, but it is a prep race. Morello might be good enough to win this without being totally cranked up, but a short price when betting online could be a reason to take a stand against. Mo Donegal and Early Voting haven’t raced since Feb. 5, so they should be fresh.
There doesn’t appear to be much value betting the Wood, but Barese could be a longshot play for a more than competent trainer and an up-and-coming jockey whose father won this race aboard Coronado’s Quest in 1998. Early Voting, Golden Code and Mo Donegal need to at least finish second to qualify for the Derby while the others – excluding Morello – must win.