Mo Donegal rallied furiously down the Aqueduct stretch on Saturday to catch long-time leader Early Voting in the final strides of the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2), and thus officially stamped his ticket for the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1).
With just 12 Kentucky Derby qualifying points going into the Wood, via a win in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct in December and a third in the Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream in February, Mo Donegal needed a big effort to advance to the first classic of the season. So did two-race veteran Early Voting, whose last appearance in the Feb. 5 Withers (G3) produced an easy win, but was only worth 10 points.
Both colts are now headed to Churchill Downs after stellar performances. Mo Donegal saved ground most of the way, near the back of the eight-horse field, until commencing his bid around the far turn. Early Voting, attempting to become the first horse to lead gate-to-wire in the Wood since 2005, set a pace of :23.86, :47.75, and 1:11.59. In upper stretch, he shook off pressure from A. P.’s Secret and opened up a two-length lead.
However, Mo Donegal began kicking into gear when switched off the inside at the furlong pole and powered home to take the Wood by a neck under Joel Rosario. The final time for 1 1/8 miles over a fast track was 1:47.96.
“It was a perfect trip. He kept digging in at the end and kept coming,” Rosario said. “I tried to save ground and it looked like the track was good inside, so I tried to stay there for as long as I could.”
Owned by Donegal Racing and trained by Todd Pletcher, Mo Donegal paid $6.30 as the 2-1 second choice. This was the seventh win in the Wood Memorial for Pletcher (all since 2010), and that ties legendary Hall of Famer “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons’ record of most Wood Memorial victories.
Early Voting finished 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Skippylongstocking, who was 1 1/2 lengths clear of A. P.’s Secret. Barese finished fifth and was followed by 19-10 favorite Morello, Long Term, and Golden Code.
Morello, the undefeated winner of the Gotham (G3), hit the gate at the start, trailed after a quarter-mile and made no serious impact in his two-turn debut. Although possessing a spot in the Kentucky Derby field via his 50-point win in the Gotham, his status for the Run for the Roses looks uncertain.
Mo Donegal boosted his point total from 12 to 112, and Early Voting from 10 to 50. Skippylongstocking earned 20 points and A. P.’s Secret 10 points. Both of those colts, trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., would appear unlikely to advance beyond the bubble stage and join their Florida Derby (G1)-winning stablemate White Abarrio in the Derby field.
Mo Donegal now owns a mark of 5-3-0-2, $621,800. Third in his debut over six furlongs, he relished the step up in trip to 1 1/16 miles and won second out by 1 1/2 lengths. He then won the nine-furlong Remsen, controversially, over Zandon, who also flattered the form Saturday with an explosive win in the Blue Grass (G1).
“You need a good trip in the Derby and with his running style, he’s going to have to work his way through some traffic. But I think he’s got some good experience and he showed today he can overcome a bit of a trip and zigzag when he needs to. Most importantly, it looks like he has the stamina to see out the trip,” Pletcher said.
Bred in Kentucky by Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stable, Mo Donegal sold for $250,000 at Keeneland September. By Uncle Mo, he’s out of Callingmissbrown, by Pulpit. His second dam was Grade 1 winner Island Sand.