Todd A. Pletcher Racing Stables, Inc.

Outwork Outlasts Longshot in Wood Memorial

Outwork Outlasts Longshot in Wood MemorialFive years after Mike Repole's 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo   ran a disappointing third in the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) at Aqueduct Racetrack, Repole's homebred Outworksecured the prize that eluded his sire.

Outwork withstood a furious late charge from 81-1 Trojan Nation to take the Wood by a diminishing head April 9, giving the jubilant Repole another shot at the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Watch Video

When it was suggested to Repole that Outwork's gritty victory offered a measure of vindication for Uncle Mo's flop in the Wood amid high expectations, he replied, "It's not maybe. It is vindication."

Adventist took third for the third time in as many Derby preps at Aqueduct. Matt King Coal, who dueled Outwork for much of the mile-and-an-eighth contest on a sealed muddy track, weakened to fourth.

Outwork, making only his fourth career start, covered the distance in 1:52.92 for jockey John Velazquez. He paid $6.80 to win, $4.80 to place and $3.90 to show.

The Wood was worth 100 points to the winner, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth, according to the system established byChurchill Downs to select the 20 horses allowed in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.

Shagaf, winner of the Gotham (gr. III) and the 9-5 favorite in the Wood, ran a dull fourth but, according to trainer Chad Brown, will go on to the Derby. "If the horse is healthy, we'll hope for a dry track at Churchill Downs," Brown said.

Brown was extremely disappointed in Flexibility, who faded to seventh. "He is no longer under consideration for the Derby, that's for sure," he said.

As much as trainer Todd Pletcher welcomes the spot in the Derby starting gate, that was not foremost on his mind.

"Forget the Derby. Forget everything other than the fact it was a huge win for him in only his fourth lifetime start," Pletcher said. "To win a grade I in only his fourth start is extra gratifying for our team because five years ago Uncle Mo didn't win the Wood Memorial."

In fact, Uncle Mo, a brilliant winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), never quite made it to the opening leg of the Triple Crown. A downcast Repole was forced to announce that he was scratched due to a rare liver ailment.

Outwork made only one start as a 2-year-old, taking his debut by 2 1/4 lengths in a 4 1/2-furlong contest last April 23 at Keeneland. He returned at 3 to pull away from an allowance field at Tampa Bay Downs by 4 1/4 lengths Feb. 13 before losing a torrid duel with Destinby one length in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) March 12.

It turned out the Tampa Bay Derby perfectly positioned Outwork for the $1 million Wood.

 Todd was so confident. So was Johnny. They said he was 100 percent better from the Tampa Bay Derby to here," Repole said.

Matt King Coal took the Wood field through a snappy opening quarter of 22.91. He went the first half-mile in 46.93 and three-quarters in 1:12.31 with Outwork all but glued to his side. Outwork made the lead at the top of the stretch—and that is when the trouble began. Trojan Nation, a Patrick Gallagher trainee who shipped in from the West Coast and never ran better than third in five maiden special weight tries, rallied gamely on the rail but just missed.

"I think he lost focus a little bit when he made the lead," Pletcher said. "Johnny said he idled a bit on him. Plus he was getting a little tired."

Special horses fight through the fatigue, and that is what Outwork did. Repole, a native of nearby Middle Village, Queens, was so excited he almost knocked Pletcher off his feet when he ran to congratulate him.

For a moment, Repole coud not help but relive Uncle Mo's Wood failure.

"That was one of my toughest racing days," he said. "This was one of my best racing days."

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