parx invasion of aqueduct

By Dick Jerardi

Saturday’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct will have a nearly full starting gate. And four of those 3-year-olds will have Parx Racing ties, each horse trying to get precious Kentucky Derby points during the final major prep weekend.

There are 600 points on the line between the Wood, Blue Grass at Keeneland and Santa Anita Derby. The Parx horses are after some portion of the 200 points in the 1 1/8-mile Wood (100 first, 50 second, 25 third, 15 fourth, 10 fifth).

At the moment, the top 20 Derby cutoff is 30 points, but that is obviously going to go up after the three races Saturday. Withers winner Uncle Heavy, trained by Butch Reid, is in the best position of the Parx horses to get a spot in the Derby. With the 20 points from the Withers, Uncle Heavy definitely gets a spot in the Derby with a top two Wood finish and likely gets a spot if third. Even fourth or fifth, which would give Uncle Heavy 40 or 35 points, might be enough.

Deposition, trained by Uriah St. Lewis has three Derby points from his fourth in the Withers and needs a top two finish as do Lonesome Boy (Hugo Padilla) and Evening News (Mike Pino), two of the nine late Triple Crown nominees ($6,000 fee) and new to the prep race scene.

Uncle Heavy, winner of three of four starts and very unlucky at the start of his lone defeat, clearly is Parx’s best Derby hope. And by the time he runs in the Wood, Reid could be in the midst of a historic day with Maximus Meridius in the Bay Shore and Carmelina in the Gazelle. All three horses will be ridden by Parx’s top jockey Mychel Sanchez who is fourth nationally in wins (67) behind the Ortiz brothers (Irad and Jose) and Paco Lopez.

“We’re feeling good with where we are (with Uncle Heavy),” said Reid who has won Grade I races and trained a champion in Vequist.

This Derby deal, however, is just different.

“It’s something that a trainer thinks about their whole lives,” Reid said. “I’ve never even seen the Derby live. I always said I didn’t want to go until I was in it, and I’m only going if I got a shot. Hopefully, it all works out. Things are going as planned so far.”

Carmelina will be dangerous in the Gazelle with most of the top 3-year-olds fillies running in Friday’s Ashland at Keeneland.

“She is all heart,” Reid said. “She tries every time.”

Maximus Meridius has unquestioned talent and gives Reid the strongest contingent of 3-year-olds he’s ever had.

“It’s been a little bit of an embarrassment of riches this year with the young horses,” Reid said. “It’s about having the right owners and the right guys going to the sales. These are a bunch of homebreds down at my brother’s (Mark) place. All three of them are Pennsylvania breds. Maximus is just doing fantastic. I like the turnback in distance.”

Sanchez is riding the form of his life. And he will be live on all three mounts.

“I think he’s really athletic now, more than what he was before,” he said about Uncle Heavy. “That’s huge for us. It shows that he’s getting better.”

To have a chance at the Derby?

“It’s a dream for every jockey all around the world,” Sanchez said. “Hopefully, we can make it.”

Sanchez said he will sleep just fine Friday night.

“I think for an athlete, pressure is always good,” he said. “You want the pressure. If you got no pressure…I’m really looking forward to it.”

Deposition has just one win in eight starts, but a lack of wins has never discouraged St. Lewis, whose horses have made a habit of outrunning their odds in stakes races.

“I like the (Wood) distance,” assistant trainer Uriah St. Lewis Jr. said. “This is a points race. We’re trying to get to the Kentucky Derby. I think he has a shot.”

Lonesome Boy has been in the money in seven of 10 starts. The Washington bred was very impressive when he dominated the City of Brotherly Love Stakes on March 5 at Parx, winning by 6 3/4 lengths. Regular jockey Adam Bowman will ride for Padilla.

“The owner feels like this is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Padilla said. “Who knows when he’s going to have another shot?”

Evening News was claimed for $50,000 on Jan. 18 at Turfway Park. The colt was so impressive winning an allowance race by 8 1/4 lengths on March 8 at Turfway that the owner put up the $6,000 to nominate and here they are in the Wood.

“Just being around him, he has the presence of a good horse,” Pino said. “The way he won his last start, I’m going to take a chance like everybody else.”

Exactly. It’s a month before the Derby, the race everybody in the sport wants to win. Even getting a spot in the starting gate is an achievement.

“It would be awesome,” Pino said. “I couldn’t tell you what it would be like.”

Four Parx chances for a spot in the Kentucky Derby. The Wood will be race 10, scheduled for 4:07 pm. Less than two minutes later, we will all have a really good idea if Parx will be represented in the Derby starting gate in 2024.

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