How much wood would a Wood Memorial winner win if a Wood winner would win the Kentucky Derby?
That’s a silly twist on the woodchuck tongue twister, but it begs the question since Derby favorite Verrazano’s last win was the Wood Memorial on April 6: why do winners of that historic race never seem to perform well a few weeks later when they run for the roses at Churchill Downs?
And what is the recent hex that has seen three of the past four Wood Memorial winners sustain injuries and unable to fulfill their duty as leading Kentucky Derby contenders?
Since 2004, the Wood has been a springboard for 19 Kentucky Derby starters. But none of them finished any better than a fourth in those nine races.
“Maybe it is a curse or just really bad luck,” said veteran handicapper Michael Dempsey of TurfnSport.com, who has covered the New York circuit for three decades.
The last time a Wood Memorial winner turned out to be a successful bet on the Kentucky Derby, it was Fusaichi Pegasus back in 2000.
Verrazano, the top betting choice at 4-1 according to OddsShark.com Derby odds page, is unbeaten in four starts including the Wood and the Tampa Bay Derby back in March.
“Verrazano has been the early betting favorite for months, and is likely going to be sent off as the favorite on Derby Day, but his Wood was not that fast,” said Dempsey. “And remember his trainer Todd Pletcher has a bit of a curse going as well, as he is just 1-for-33 in the Derby.”
A year ago, Gemologist won the Wood but was a disappointing 16th in the Derby after going off at 6-1 odds. “He was highly regarded and was sent off as the third choice, and he just did not fire,” said Dempsey.
In the three years before that, Wood winners Toby’s Corner, Eskendereya and I Want Revenge all came up a bit lame on the first Saturday in May and did not run.
Since Fusaichi Pegasus’s win, no Wood runner has finished higher than fourth at Churchill Downs.
“Both I Want Revenge and Eskendereya would have been the betting favorites, and although Toby’s Corner would have been more of a price, I liked that colt too,” added Dempsey, who was recently introduced as the main handicapping voice at USRacebook.com.