Four months after running Bourbonic in a $50,000 maiden claiming race – with no takers – Calumet Farm rolled the dice by entering him in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial, proving that even those at the highest level of this sport can be Derby dreamers.
Saturday at Aqueduct, those dreams came true and blew up the tote board in the process.
Despite sitting dead last while chasing a sloth-like pace that saw them go :24.88, :50.18 and 1:14.98, Bourbonic launched a furious stretch drive to nail stablemate Dynamic One just before the wire, earning 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points and a trip to Louisville on the first Saturday in May.
The time of 1:54.49 was the slowest in the 96-year history of the Wood – by 1.5 seconds – as Outwork won the 2016 edition in 1:52.92. Winning jockey Kendrick Carmouche said he wasn’t that concerned, even when trailing by double-digit lengths down the backstretch.
“I had my horse in my hand, so it didn’t bother me,” Carmouche said. “I still had the most horse underneath me.”
That doesn’t always equate to a trip to the winner’s circle, but just when it looked like trainer Todd Pletcher was going to win the race with his other horse, Dynamic One, along came Bourbonic to get up by a head at 72-1 ($146.50).
“I don’t have any winning tickets,” said Pletcher, when asked if he were surprised by the 1-2 finish that resulted in a $906 exacta for a $2 bet. “Mr. (Brad) Kelley and Calumet Farms wanted to try a race with Derby points. They’re always game to take a chance. We always felt he would handle the added distance. He was able to get a perfect trip and make one run.”
Chad Brown ran third and seventh with Crowded Trade and favorite Risk Taking, respectively, while Gotham winner Weyburn completed the superfecta. Brooklyn Strong, the feel-good story of the race as a $5,000 purchase knocking on the Derby door, didn’t have the best of trips and had to settle for fifth, ending his Derby pursuit.
“I’m always going to be confident in my horse, but it was a four-month layoff and we were running a mile-and-an-eighth against potential Derby contenders,” said Danny Velazquez, who trains the New York-bred for Mark Schwartz, who found the bargain at last year’s OBS Spring 2-year-old sale.
“It’s very disappointing, but we’ll come back and get them next time,” said Schwartz, indicating they may run in the Preakness if the opportunity arises. “I thought he had the chance to finish 1-2. I don’t think he had the best racing luck, so now we’ll point to something else.”
Brooklyn Strong, who was bred by Cheryl Prudhomme and her husband, Dr. Michael Gallivan, at Shamrock Hill Farm in Fort Edward, broke his maiden for a tag at Delaware Park and ran third and first in New York-bred stakes, before winning the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct Dec. 5. An illness after that race put him on the sidelines for an extended period and negated the possibility of a prep for the Wood. Velazquez did manage to get five works into him at Parx, including a 5-furlong bullet on March 20.
For Pletcher, the Wood completed a phenomenal week in which he went from the possibility of no Derby starters to now having four with enough points, after Known Agenda won the Florida Derby and Sainthood ran second in the Jeff Ruby Steaks last Saturday.
“Sometimes the worst thing you can have is a really hot hand in January or February,” he said. “We were hoping things would come together.”
Nothing seemed to come together for Bourbonic in his first two starts last year, when he lost two maiden special weights – one on turf – by a combined 28 lengths. That’s when they ran him for the $50,000 tag, a race which he won on Dec. 6 at Aqueduct. He prepped for the Wood by running first and second in optional claimers, in which he was protected, the latter of which was at Parx Feb. 23.
Carmouche, who had ridden him in the lone turf try, was determined to wait as long as he could to make one run, the antithesis of the style for which he is known.
“I told Todd, ‘I’m not moving. I’m going to sit, sit, sit.’ Even though they went slow, my horse had a good stride,” he said. “Each pole he was picking it up without asking.”
When the jockey asked, the horse answered and, no matter how slowly the Wood was run, they won the race to Kentucky.