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Shagaf favorite in 8-horse field for Wood at Big A

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NEW YORK (AP) So far, Shagaf has been a picture of perfection on the race track.

The biggest test for the 3-year-old bay colt comes Saturday, when he takes on eight rivals in the $1 million Wood Memorial, New York’s major steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby.

Trained by Chad Brown, Gotham Stakes winner Shagaf was made the 2-1 morning-line favorite and drew the inside No. 1 post for the 1 1/8-mile race at Aqueduct Racetrack. No worries for Brown, who also sends out 8-1 shot Flexibility.

“Shagaf is doing well. His works have been good and so was his Gotham,” said Brown, a rising star in the training ranks, after Shagaf went for a morning gallop at Belmont’s training track Wednesday. “He’s certainly being doing everything right. He’s won all three of his races.

“We’ll be adding distance (in the Wood) and we’re looking for him to finish off the race strong. We’ll see the best of him the further he runs.”

Shagaf will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., the nation’s second-leading rider in earnings.

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Outwork, second in the Tampa Bay Derby after two wins to open his career, is the 5-2 second choice and drew the outside No. 8 post. Matt King Coal is next at 3-1, leaving from the No. 6 gate.

The Wood carries 170 Derby qualifying points, with 100 to the winner, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth. The Derby is limited to 20 starters. If more are entered, the field is determined by points. Earning points is not a concern for Shagaf, who has 50 for last month’s Gotham win.

All others need Derby points.

Outwork, trained by Todd Pletcher, has 20 points but still might need a top-four finish to make the Derby. Flexibility has 15 points and Adventist, trained by Leah Gyarmati, has 12.

Matt King Coal is making his stakes debut for trainer Linda Rice. The colt came off a four-month layoff from a fever and won a first-level allowance race last month.

Brown hopes Flexibility will rebound from his fourth-place finish in the Gotham. As a 2-year-old, the colt finished second twice to top Derby contender Mohaymen, and Flexibility won the Jerome in his first race this year.

“I think he’s coming into the Wood in great shape,” Brown said. “Hopefully, he can use this race to secure some additional (Derby) points.”

The field, from the rail out, is Shagaf (2-1), Adventist (10-1), Trojan Nation (30-1), Tale of S’avall (20-1), Flexibility (8-1), Matt King Coal (3-1), Dalmore (12-1) and Outwork (5-2).

Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap

Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming to skip Belmont Stakes

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NEW YORK — Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming will skip the Belmont Stakes next month after finishing eighth in the Preakness.

Trainer Todd Pletcher says the 3-year-old colt will be pointed toward either the $600,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 29 or the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth on July 30, according to the Daily Racing Form.

Trainer Chad Brown says he will wait until after the Memorial Day weekend to announce where Preakness winner Cloud Computing will run next. However, it appears unlikely he will run in the Belmont.

The Belmont field is limited to 16 starters. Besides Classic Empire, who came in second at the Preakness Stakes, other horses expected to run are Conquest Mo Money, Japan-based Epicharis, Gormley, Irap, J Boys Echo, Lookin At Lee, Meantime, Multiple, Patch, Senior Investment, Tapwrit, True Timber and Twisted Tom. Other possibilities are Irish War Cry and Hollywood Handsome.

With no Triple Crown in play, Belmont lacks a singular buzz

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BALTIMORE — Cloud Computing stole the Preakness, and any hope of a Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

The 13-1 shot did it on six weeks’ rest, having skipped the 20-horse roughhouse that is the Kentucky Derby even though he had enough points to get in that race. With another three weeks until the Belmont in New York, Cloud Computing could return to run on his home track.

“We haven’t ruled it out,” trainer Chad Brown said Sunday. “We’re just going to evaluate the horse this week and probably by next weekend we may have a decision.”

Cloud Computing didn’t race as a 2-year-old because of injury, so he is among the freshest horses out there.

Brown prefers to give his horses a month or more between starts. Trainer Todd Pletcher also favors long layoffs, although he made an exception to run Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming back in two weeks. The colt responded with an eighth-place finish – the worst of his career – on Saturday.

“He looks good, bright, alert, sound, healthy, happy,” Pletcher said. “We’ll head to Belmont and regroup.”

If the Derby and Preakness winners skip the Belmont on June 10, the likely favorite would be Classic Empire, who was runner-up Saturday after finishing fourth in the Derby.

It would be the first time since 2010 that neither the Derby nor Preakness winner run in the Belmont. That year, Derby winner Super Saver, trained by Pletcher, and Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky sat out the third leg.

Trainer Mark Casse said Classic Empire is being pointed toward the Belmont, barring any unforeseen developments.

“He was a better horse yesterday than he was two weeks ago for the Kentucky Derby,” he said.

Among other horses likely for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont – the longest of the Triple Crown races – are: Senior Investment (third in Preakness), Lookin At Lee (fourth in Preakness) and Japanese invader Epicharis.

Lookin At Lee finished second in the Derby, when Classic Empire was fourth.

Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee would face off for the sixth time in the Belmont, and they could be the only horses to run in all three Triple Crown races. Classic Empire has three victories against Lookin At Lee, including this year’s Arkansas Derby.

“You’re looking at horses that traveled at 2, ran at as high a level as we have, so you’re not surprised,” said Steve Asmussen, who trains Lookin At Lee and won last year’s Belmont with Creator.

“They’ve been able to maintain themselves physically. That puts them in a different position than horses who have not consistently run on that stage.”

Possible Belmont starters are Multiplier (sixth in Preakness) and Conquest Mo Money (seventh in Preakness). Gunnevera (fifth in Preakness) and Hence (ninth in Preakness) won’t run in the Belmont.

Epicharis, one of the top 3-year-olds in Japan, will make his North American debut in the $1.5 million Belmont. That would make him eligible for a new $1 million bonus offered by the New York Racing Association to any Japan-based winner of the race. The winner’s share of the purse is $800,000.

Epicharis would be the second Japanese horse to run in the Belmont. Last year, Lani finished third after running in all three legs of the Triple Crown.