Eskendereya dominates again

Derby favorite cruises to win at Wood Memorial

April 04, 2010|By From Sun news services

And your likely Kentucky Derby favorite is ... Eskendereya, the overpowering winner of the $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York.

Drawing away from a strong field in the stretch, Eskendereya pulled off a second straight blowout in a major Derby prep Saturday to state his case as the horse to beat on the first Saturday in May.

And that would be fine with Todd Pletcher, the trainer who has won just about every race you can think of but is 0-for-24 in the Derby.

"It would be big to win the Derby," Pletcher said. "We'll try to make it happen. We'll do the best we can."

Eskendereya looks like Pletcher's best shot to end his Derby drought, but the trainer could have as many as seven other 3-year-olds by the time an expected 20 horses enter the starting gate at Churchill Downs.

Eskendereya, though, is the clear standout. And after fellow Derby top contender Lookin At Lucky finished third in the Santa Anita Derby about 30 minutes later, there's little argument as to who's the No. 1 choice for the Derby.

Pletcher couldn't hide a huge smile as he stood on the track and congratulated his assistant, Jonathan Thomas, before accepting handshakes from a large group in the winner's circle.

"It's amazing," he said. "The further he goes, the stronger he gets. He's a horse that has natural stamina."

Ridden by John Velazquez, 1-2 favorite Eskendereya stormed into the lead and won by 9 3/4 lengths over Jackson Bend. The margin of victory in the 1 1/8-mile Wood topped Eskendereya's 8 1/2 -length win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 20 in his last start.

The Derby on May 1 is 1 1/4 miles and appears to be a perfect fit for Eskendereya, a chestnut son of Giant's Causeway.

Owned by Ahmed Zayat, Eskendereya picked up $450,000 and boosted his graded stakes earnings to $600,000, more than enough to qualify for the Derby that has a 20-horse limit.

Zayat, who has filed for bankruptcy after a bank said he defaulted on $34 million in loans, was not at the race.

Jackson Bend, trained by two-time Derby winner Nick Zito, earned $150,000 for second to move to $230,000, likely enough to make the Derby field. That would give Zito two Derby starters - Florida Derby winner Ice Box is the other.

Santa Anita Derby: Sidney's Candy led all the way in winning at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., with 4-5 wagering favorite Lookin At Lucky finishing a troubled third.

Ridden by Joe Talamo, Sidney's Candy covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.00 to win the West Coast's major prep for the Kentucky Derby.

Setsuko finished second.

A stewards inquiry was posted after the race, but no changes were made in the order of finish. Lookin At Lucky took up around the five-sixteenths pole, appearing to get squeezed down along the rail, which forced jockey Garrett Gomez to stand up in the saddle.

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