April 05, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) -- Unbeaten but untested, Gemologist is ready for his Kentucky Derby audition.

The 3-year-old colt is the 8-5 morning-line favorite in a field of eight for Saturday's $1 million Wood Memorial, a final prep before the Derby in four weeks.

Gemologist has yet to compete against some of the top Derby hopefuls, and his only start this year was a seven-length victory in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park.

Now is the time to step up. Trainer Todd Pletcher is looking for a big effort from Gemologist because the colt needs to earn enough money to qualify for the Derby if more than the maximum of 20 horses are entered.

"The situation we're in is there's not a lot of margin for error (in the Wood)," Pletcher said. "He could finish third and that's going to put him on the bubble of graded earnings. It's important for him to run first or second and give us a good effort."

The winner's share is worth $600,000. Second place is worth $200,000.

Entering a weekend packed with Derby preps, Gemologist ranks 30th on the Derby list of graded stakes earnings with $103,855.

Nonetheless, Pletcher rates Gemologist with the best 3-year-olds in the country. Earlier this week, when asked which horses would make his Final Four of Derby contenders, he chose Gemologist as a No. 1 seed, along with early favorites Union Rags, Hansen and Creative Cause.

Pletcher, as usual, has a large contingent of 3-year-olds still on the Derby trail. On Saturday, he'll send out Our Entourage in the Illinois Derby, and may run Stat in the Arkansas Derby on April 14. He also says El Padrino, who finished fourth in last week's Florida Derby, is probably headed to the Derby.

Gemologist will be ridden by Javier Castellano and leave from the No. 6 post.

Withers Stakes winner Alpha is the 5-2 second choice. The son of Bernardini is 2-for-2 at the Big A for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, but was held out of last month's Gotham and continued training in Florida.

"We couldn't be happier with him, he's such a professional," McLaughlin assistant Art Magnuson said. "Distance-wise, the longer the better for him."

Pletcher feels the same way about Gemologist.

"Having won twice at a mile-and-a-sixteenth at Churchill as a 2-year-old gives you real comfort that a mile and an eighth as a 3-year-old is going to be well within his scope," he said. "Being a son of Tiznow, he's got all the tools to suggest that any of the races, even up to the Belmont at a mile-and-a-half, should be within his range; 2010 winner Eskendereya developed a leg issue and was retired; and 2009 winner I Want Revenge was scratched the morning of the Derby with an ankle injury.

The field, from the rail out: Alpa (Ramon Dominguez, 5-2), Casual Trick (Corey Nakatani, 20-1), My Adonis (Elvis Trujillo, 8-1), Teeth of the Dog (Joe Bravo, 15-1), Street Life (Junior Alvarado, 4-1), Gemologist (Castellano, 8-5), Tiger Walk (John Velazquez, 15-1), and The Lumber Guy (Cornelio Velasquez, 8-1).

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