Five times in the last eight years the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct has produced the winner of the Kentucky Derby. History is unlikely to repeat itself this spring.
Of the 15 horses who contested the two divisions of the Wood this afternoon, only one, Slew O'Gold, looked even remotely like a Derby horse. He scored a narrow decision over the Maryland colt Parfaitement.
Bounding Basque was distinctly less impressive as he won the weaker and slower division of the Wood by a nose over Country Pine.
Slew O'Gold has had a lofty reputation throughout his career, more because of his breeding than anything he had done on the track. His sire, Seattle Slew, won the 1977 Wood and Kentucky Derby; his dam produced Coastal, winner of the 1979 Belmont Stakes.
He needed to start living up to those bloodlines today. Unless Slew O'Gold finished first, he would not have won enough money to get into the Derby, which is restricted to the 20 entrants with the greatest career earnings, and he was facing serious competition in Parfaitement, the Billy Boniface-trained colt who has lost only once.
Parfaitement broke alertly, sat just behind longshot Right Off on the backstretch and inherited the lead when the pacesetter predictably couldn't keep up the pace. The race could not have developed any better for him.
While Parfaitement had clear sailing, jockey Eddie Maple had Slew O'Gold in the back of the seven-horse pack, amidst heavy traffic. He constantly looked as if he were about to get into trouble that would knock him out of contention. But Maple winded his way between horses, angled to the rail and drove up inside Parfaitement. They battled to the wire and Slew O'Gold prevailed by a neck.
"I was proud of him the way he dug and the way he went up inside horses," Maple said. Indeed, it was a professional performance--but a slow one. Slew O'Gold covered the mile and one-eighth in 1:51, very mediocre time over a racing strip that was reasonably fast. Nevertheless, it was two-fifths of a second faster than Bounding Basque's performance.
Bounding Basque dueled with the favored Slewpy--another son of Seattle Slew--on the backstretch, and disposed of his challenge on the turn. Just as he did, Country Pine rushed up and drew abreast of him.
Gregg McCarron, Bounding Basque's rider, picked that less than optimal moment to drop his whip, but his mount nevertheless fought back with determination. Although bearing out through the stretch, he managed to hold off Country Pine for the prize.
McCarron said afterward, "I'm not afraid of anyone we'll possibly face in the Derby." There were listeners who thought he ought to be.