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On Saturday, April 9, Aqueduct (NY) will host five graded stakes races including the Grade III Kentucky Oaks Prep Gazelle Stakes and the Grade II Kentucky Derby Prep Wood Memorial. Get my analysis and selections for each graded stakes race.

Saturday Free Horse Racing Picks: The Wood Memorial and More at Aqueduct

The winners will receive 100 points toward qualifying for the big races the first weekend in May.

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Race 5

  • Distance: 7 furlongs
  • Name: The Distaff Handicap – Grade III
  • Age: 4-years-old and up (F&M)
  • Surface: Dirt

Let’s kick off a packed Aqueduct card with a six-horse stakes races that features some very nice fillies and mares. Morning line favorite Search Results (1-1) checks all the boxes as she’s a multiple graded stakes winner and boasts the best speed figures in the field. The only detraction is that she hasn’t run since August. Her trainer, Chad Brown, has great success bringing horses back from that length of a layoff as he’s winning at a 25% rate under those conditions, but it’s fair to wonder if she’ll fire as effectiveness as she has in the past. There is little doubt that she’s faced and beaten better.

Her primary rival is Glass Ceiling (8-5) who is a winner of her last three, including the Grade III Barbara Fritchie Stakes at Laurel Park where she beat a solid field with Jakarta and Fillie d’Esprit. Her trainer Charlton Baker and jockey Dylan Davis are teaming up to win 35% of the time at Aqueduct so the connections must be taken seriously even if they aren’t the household names connected with Search Results. While she’s stepping up against stiffer competition, she has been hard to fade at this distance as she’s seven for nine in her career at seven furlongs hitting the board with four wins.

While the top two are very strong, there is some nice value in this field with Easy to Bless (12-1) who provides great value on deeper exotics or to pair with one of the favorites in an exacta if you believe the other favorite will falter. Easy to Bless is coming off great efforts in two of her last three races and while she’s running off Lasix for the first time since October, she is also carrying last weight than the favorites and should have a nice trip sitting off the early speed of Dealing Justice (20-1). Her recently workouts look great and she’s a bit of a horse for a course as she’s hit the board five of six times when racing at The Big A with three wins.

Race 5 Picks

  • Win: Search Results
  • Place: Easy to Bless
  • Show: Glass Ceiling

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Race 8 – Kentucky Derby Prep Race (100 points to winner)

  • Distance: 1 1/8 miles
  • Name: The Wood Memorial – Grade II
  • Age: 3-years-old
  • Surface: Dirt

In recent years, the Wood Memorial has not been a particularly effective Kentucky Derby Prep race. In fact, over the last 18 years the 39 runners coming out of the Wood Memorial who competed in the Kentucky Derby are a combined 39: 0-0-1 with the one show placement coming via disqualification. Be that as it may, this iteration of the Wood is an evenly matched race that should produce an exciting finish even if you don’t believe the eventual winner will be in the upper echelon of Derby favorites.

Early Voting (5-2) and Morello (8-5) are going to test each other for early speed. The two have run in a combined five races and never lost. Morello romped to an impressive victory at the Grade III Gotham last time out while Early Voting shot out of the gate and wired the field at the Grade III Withers back in February. Early Voting, trained by Chad Brown, hasn’t run since that effort but did see his stature improve as the second-place horse that day, Un Ojo, went on to win the Grade II Rebel Stakes. Meanwhile, the fourth-place finisher, Grantham, ended up finishing a strong second at the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby. Morello has the better speed figures, but Early Voting has the better early tactical speed. Both are outstanding horses but since they both like to run upfront, they are likely to wear each other out. Morello is stretching out over a mile for the first time and Early Voting faced no pressure during his win at the Withers. Other two, I’d lean toward Early Voting having the better stamina and his Gun Runner pedigree has been highly effective on the Derby and Oaks trail this year.

The beneficiary of the hot pace set by the two favorites is Mo Donegal (5-2) who is the Todd Pletcher trainee that seems to crave extra distance. Last time out he finished strong at the Grade III Holy Bull where he finished behind Grade II Fountain of Youth winner Simplification and Grade I Florida Derby winner White Abarrio. He didn’t have a great trip that day and was pinned inside before getting in the clear late and making a massive run. He can do the distance as evidence by his victory at the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct last December. His inside draw should prove beneficial as he can save ground and his new jockey, Joel Rosario, is as good as it gets when it comes to weaving through traffic on a closer.

There is not much beyond the top three as Barese (8-1) is moving out of state-restricted races for the first time while stretching out in distance. A.P.’s Secret (20-1) was a non-factor at the Grade II Fountain of Youth and does not have the speed to contend with the two early frontrunners. However, there are two horses to consider playing underneath if you think Early Voting and Morello are going to fade down the stretch. First, Golden Rule (20-1) who finished third behind Morello last time out at the Grade III Gotham. He’s shown legitimate improvement every time out and the Pletcher-trainee is getting Kendrick Carmouche aboard who is winning at a 50% clip and has great success with Pletcher. The other to consider is Skippylongstocking (15-1) who is a Saffie Joseph Jr. horse who posted a career-best effort last time out. He can handle the distance and Saffie’s barn is firing strong right now in the wake of White Abarrio’s Florida Derby victory.

Race 8 Picks

  • Win: Mo Donegal
  • Place: Early Voting
  • Show: Golden Code
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Race 9

  • Distance: 7 furlongs
  • Name: The Carter Handicap – Grade I
  • Age: 4-years-old and up
  • Surface: Dirt

The Carter feels like a potential coronation for Speaker’s Corner (8-5) as he is looking for his first Grade I victory. The race sets up perfectly for him as he’s a one-turn horse and seven furlongs is a perfect distance. He drew the outside post and has the flexibility of using his tactical speed to get to the lead or sit right off the pace set by Bank on Shea (15-1) or War Tocsin (20-1). In his career, Speaker’s Corner has only finished off the board once, which was at the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby. Now that he’s back to his preferred distance he will be difficult to beat.

You can still find value in this race in the form of First Captain (8-1) who showed a lot of growth when coming back from a seven-month layoff in February in which he won a high-level optional claiming race at Gulfstream. He’s got the class as he won the Grade III Dwyer last year and his trainer Shug McGaughey is keeping him at seven furlongs instead of stretching him out. Also, while the pace is unlikely to be too fast upfront, he should still sit a nice trip and start picking horses off coming down the stretch.

Green Means Go (9-2) is the most likely other single-digit horse to finish on the board as I’m not sold on the recent performance from Reinvestment Risk (4-1) and Mind Control (7-2) is coming off a seven-month layoff. Green Means Go is a versatile horse who can sprint or route and is coming off consecutive wins at Aqueduct. He typically falls short of the winner’s circle at the graded stakes level, but he’s a reliable hitting the board in nine of 13 career races. If you’re looking for big value though, think about using Bank On Shea (15-1) who just defeated Baby Yoda last time out at the Pelican Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. He’s won both his races at the distance and has made a habit of exceeding expectations.

Race 9 Picks

  • Win: Speaker’s Corner
  • Place: First Captain
  • Show: Bank On Shea
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Race 10 – Kentucky Oaks Prep Race (100 points to winner)

  • Distance: 1 1/8 miles
  • Name: The Gazelle – Grade III
  • Age: 3-years-old (F)
  • Surface: Dirt

Morning line favorite Venti Valentine (7-5) is coming off a dominant seven-length victory in the Busher Invitational. While she has never won over a mile, she ran gamely at the Grade II Demoiselle Stakes two races back where she lost of Nest by a neck. Trainer Jorge Abreau and jockey Manny Franco have been an effective team at Aqueduct where they’ve won at a 35% clip. While she is an appropriate morning-line favorite, her performance at the Busher was quite a jump from her previous efforts in terms of speed figures and you may see some regression.

If she does slip, look for Classy Edition (5-2) to be a beneficiary. Last time out she finished second in the Grade II Davona Dale Stakes behind the very impressive filly Kathleen O. That was Classy Edition’s first race in four months and to perform that well against such good competition raised eyebrows. Given last week’s performance of Kathleen O., a potential Kentucky Oaks favorite, Classy Edition’s second-place finish looks more impressive and could spell base news given that her trainer, Todd Pletcher, is winning 25% of races where horses are making their second start after a layoff. Based on her past performance she should have no problems with extra distance and will track the field from a mid-pack position.

I’m skeptical of Nostalgic (9-2) who is coming off a career-best effort but that was using Lasix and she’ll have to run without it in this race. While you can draw a line through her turf attempt, she did not stack up at the Demoiselle. Meanwhile, Morning Matcha (8-1) is a heavily raced three-year-old who is running for the 10th time. She’s never missed the board in her previous nine starts while collecting three victories including one in her last race, which was a non-graded stakes affair at Parx in which she was the overwhelming favorite. She may not have the class of some of the other horses in the field, but she’s a game filly who will give an honest effort and should provide value on exotics. Shotgun Hottie (12-1) is another value play to consider. I’m not as sold on her liking the distance, but she finished second to Venti Valentine last time out and certainly can pick up some pieces at the end.

In my eyes, this race comes down to Kathleen O. I think she’s the best filly in the 3-year-old crop and the fact Classy Edition ran so well against her says a lot. Meanwhile, I’m not as sold on the competition Venti Valetine has defeated. Nest is a fine filly, but far from the class of Kathleen O. and the field Venti Valentine beat the Busher was hardly overwhelming.

Race 10 Picks

  • Win: Classy Edition
  • Place: Venti Valentin
  • Show: Morning Matcha

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Race 11

  • Distance: 7 furlongs
  • Name: The Bay Shore – Grade III
  • Age: 3-years-old
  • Surface: Dirt

Morning line favorite Wit (2-1) is highly vulnerable. He’s coming back from a six-month layoff and has a history of gate issues. Additionally, if you examine who he lost to as a two-year-old it’s not the most impressive list. Jack Christopher has been on the bench recovering from shin surgery since beating Wit at the Grade I Champagne Stakes while the second-place horse that day, Commandperformance, is still trying to break his maiden. Wit also was bested by Gunite who promptly turned in a poor performance next time out and hasn’t been seen since.

Looking beyond Wit, second favorite Dean’s List (5-2) offers a lot to like. He won his first two races and was bested by Wood Memorial favorite Morello last time out. He’s cutting back a furlong but until he demonstrates otherwise, he may be a “need the lead” type of horse and there are several other contenders for early speed in this field. Perhaps some of them will be content to sit right off of the pace he sets while applying pressure in the hopes he fades coming for home.

One of those who should be close early is Highly Respected (4-1) who cruised to an easy victory in his maiden and is looking to build on that in a graded stakes race. He’s got a great trainer-jockey combination in Chad Brown and Manny Franco who are winning 41% of the time at Aqueduct. Based on pedigree, Highly Respected should enjoy the extra furlong and his fractions are just as impressive as Dean’s List.

For value, I’d use Fromanothamutha (12-1) in my exotics as this is not a particularly deep field and while he’s gotten soundly beaten in his previous two graded stakes races, he’s run against far better and should have more than enough class to hit the board. He’s a bit of an “every other race” horse and this is set to be the good race on that cycle. The one-turn sprint should set up nicely for him.

Race 11 Picks

  • Win: Highly Respected
  • Place: Dean’s List
  • Show: Fromanothamutha

Article Author

Horse Racing

Matthew DeSantis is a horse racing handicapper with a fondness for lightly raced horses with improving speed figures. You can find him at the track playing surface changes and second off the layoff.


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