Proudoud Truth comes into the Wood Memorial Stakes with glittery credentials. He has classic breeding, a powerful stretch kick, a competitive spirit and a consistent record. He is the cofavorite in Las Vegas' future-book wagering on the Kentucky Derby, and he will be the solid favorite at Aqueduct on Saturday.
He doesn't have a prayer.
Proud Truth will not even finish in the money in the most important prep race for the Derby. His defeat is sure to be followed by a litany of excuses, but the simple fact is this: he is not in the same league with Rhoman Rule, Eternal Prince and Pancho Villa, his main rivals in the Wood.
Proud Truth made his reputation in the big Florida stakes this winter -- the Tropical Park Derby, the Everglades Stakes, the Florida Derby and the Flamingo. In most years, these events attract the cream of the country's 3-year-olds.
Some people were convinced that the Florida competition was strong again this winter when also-rans came out of these stakes to win the Louisiana Derby and the $350,000 Jim Beam Spiral Stakes. Nevertheless, I would argue that the quality of competition in the major Florida stakes was extraordinarily weak. For Proud Truth to build his reputation beating horses like Stephan's Odyssey, Irish Sur and Do It Again Dan every other week was the equivalent of a football team compiling a fancy record and big statistics in the Big Sky Conference.
One slow race might be an aberration, but the times of the stakes in which Proud Truth ran were all so slow that they suggested that this was a very mediocre group of horses. That hypothesis got its first real test when Do It Again Dan came from Florida to run in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct two weeks ago. After running within a length of Proud Truth in the Florida Derby, he was trounced by a dozen lengths in the Gotham.
The strongest contingent of 3-year-olds in America is based in New York. The only exception is Rhoman Rule, who ran away with a stake at Hialeah in which Proud Truth didn't compete, and has now shipped here to complete his Derby preparations.
My speed figures suggest the tremendous gulf that separates Proud Truth from his rivals. These are the recent numbers for the main Wood contenders (with two points roughly equaling one length):
Eternal Prince 122, 93, 97; Pancho Villa 112, 110, 99; Rhoman Rule 112, 111; El Basco 111, 102; Proud Truth 99, 105, 108.
A race in which the favorite doesn't have a chance ought to offer a wonderful betting opportunity, and for weeks, I have been looking forward to the Wood for just this reason.
Rhoman Rule, my pick to win the Kentucky Derby, has been overpowering in his eight- and 10-length victories this winter, but he is coming into the Wood after a five-week layoff. This is a Derby prep for him, and he might not be as sharp as his rivals, but he is such a talented colt that he still has an excellent chance of winning on Saturday.
Pancho Villa has given two straight solid performances over the Aqueduct track, winning the Bay Shore Stakes and finishing second in the Gotham. Having raced only five times in his life, he has room for further improvement. He is almost certain to run well on Saturday, too.
But Eternal Prince is a mystifying horse, and I don't know what to make of him. He had never won a stakes race or looked like a horse of real quality until two weeks ago, when he ran away with the Gotham by five lengths, covering the mile in an incredible 1:34 2/5. He improved so dramatically that the performance might be dismissed as a fluke, except that there were no fluky conditions accompanying it. Eternal Prince wasn't helped by any track bias; nor did he "steal" the race with a slow pace. On the contrary, he sizzled a half mile in :44 1/5 and six furlongs in 1:08 2/5, and simply ran away from Pancho Villa.
In the Wood, he must go an extra eighth of a mile, running around two turns for the first time, adding uncertainty to the race. Even so, his last race was so brilliant that if I had to pick the outcome of the Wood cold, I would take Eternal Prince to lead all the way with Rhoman Rule second and Pancho Villa third.
Fortunately, such precision isn't necessary, since exacta wagering is available on the Wood. I'm going to lock up a sure profit by boxing the three contenders in the exacta and capitalizing on the certain demise of Proud Truth.