Obliterator has been scratched from Saturday's $110,800 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. He ran instead in today's eighth race, which is no way to prepare for Seattle Slew, the 1-to-10 favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Wood.
With Obliterator's withdrawal, seven horses are left to test Seattle Slew. It also means there will be only two owners' entries of two horses each in the field of eight that offers only six wagering interests. Originally, Obliterator was to be coupled in the betting with Iron Constitution.
The fewer the number of couplings in the Wood the better. Entries can get owners or trainers in big trouble in this race, as recent history clearly shows. Remembered is 1973, Secretariat's year.
Secretariat came into the Wood as strong a favorite as Seattle Slew. The Meadow Stables star had captured the Bay Shore Stakes and the Gotham Mile in impressive fashion, and Sham figured to be his only serious rival in this last prep before the Kentucky Derby. Sham had been the best 3-year-old that winter on the West Coast.
Lucien Laurin, Secretariat's trainer, decided to send Angle Light to the post along with the favorite. Angle Light was to assure an honest pace. There had been talk all that week of Sham's people trying to double-team or triple-team Penny Tweedy's champion 2-year-old of '72.
Angle Light went to the front all right, but he stayed there, defeating Sham by a head as Secretariat finished third, four lengths behind the runner-up. There was Laurin, wondering what in the world had gone wrong with Secretariat.
The big difference here Saturday is that Sigmund Sommer and Darby Dan Farm own both parts of their entry. Catalan and Very Distinguished will represent Sommer while Sanhedrin and Winterlock carry the fawn and brown silk of John galbreath.
None of the four is supposed to win. Nor are Fratello Ed, or Patelote supposed to reach the finish line before Seattle Slew. If they should, the shock would be as great as that of '73 when, we found out later, Secretariat had missed an important workout before the Wood because of a mouth abscess.
There are those who would have us believe that Seattle Slew is "another Secretariat." Even trainer Billy Turner isn't prepared to go that far when talking about his undefeated colt. "Seattle Slew hasn't begun to do what Secretariat did - yet," Turner cautioned.
"But I'm convinced I'm very lucky to be training a 3-year-old with the kind of potential Seattle Slew has."
A national television audience will be treated to Seattle Slew's performance in the Wood, courtesy of ABC. The derby is only two weeks away, May 7, at Churchill Downs and there is no reason for jockey Jean Cruguet to be "saving" Seattle Slew as much as he did through the late stretch of Hialeah's Falmingo.
Seattle Slew needs a tough race in order to be ready for a mile and a quarter. The opposition does not seem capable of pressing him. The most excitement, therefore, could be in Seattle Slew's race against the clock.