(Deterministic / Photo by Chelsea Durand & Courtesy of NYRA)

From the NYRA Media Team:

St. Elias Stables, Ken Langone, Steven Duncker and Vicarage Stable’s Grade 3 Gotham-winner Deterministic vies to lock in his spot in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby when taking on 12 rivals in Saturday’s 99th running of the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino, a 100-50-25-15-10 Kentucky Derby qualifier for sophomores traveling nine furlongs, at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The Wood Memorial, slated as Race 10, tops a lucrative 11-race card that will also feature the Grade 2, $300,000 Carter Handicap presented by NYRA Bets, the Grade 3, $175,000 Distaff, the Grade 3, $200,000 Gazelle, a 100-50-25-15-10 qualifier for the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, and the Listed $150,000 Bay Shore. First post is 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

Deterministic makes his second start off a nearly seven-month layoff that followed a strong debut graduation sprinting seven furlongs in August at Saratoga Race Course for trainer Christophe Clement. He returned with gusto on March 2 to post a dominant score when making his stakes debut in the one-turn mile Grade 3 Gotham over sloppy and sealed footing, capturing the historic test by two lengths.

“He’s trained very well all year long and came back very well, very straightforward,” Clement said of Deterministic’s development from two to three. “All his works have been very good and he’s a very athletic kind of horse – the most beautiful mover. He barely touches the ground and moves like a cat. He’s good mentally, too.”

Ridden by returning pilot Joel Rosario in the Gotham, Deterministic stalked in fifth 1 1/2 lengths off the pace set by Maximus Meridius, who marked splits of 23.42 seconds and 46.63 before relinquishing command to the returning New York-bred El Grande O. Deterministic steadily improved position at each point of call and was within striking range in third at the top of the lane.

The Liam’s Map dark bay went four-wide in pursuit of El Grande O with Just a Touch moving in tandem with him, but Deterministic had the advantage and kicked clear in the final sixteenth to claim victory and the 50 Kentucky Derby points that accompanied it. He completed the mile in 1:36.37 in an effort that garnered a 93 Beyer Speed Figure.

“It was a very good race and a good field over a wet track – he handled the whole thing very well,” said Clement, who looks to make it to the Kentucky Derby for the first time in his accomplished career. “It will be interesting to see him going two turns. We’ll just go one step at a time. You never know until you try, but his style of racing and the way he trains makes you believe he should stay.”

Deterministic had his final work on Friday at Payson Park Training Center with Rosario in the irons, covering five furlongs in company in 1:01.60, the bullet of five works that day.

“He had a nice work with Joel,” said Clement. “It was a solid work and he came out of it in good shape. He settled behind and quickened nicely in the stretch moving well within himself. I was happy with the work.”

Bred in Kentucky by Hinkle Farms, Deterministic was a $625,000 purchase at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale and is out of the winning Speightstown mare Giulio’s Jewel. His third dam, the turf stakes-winning Amelia, produced graded stakes-winning turfers Rainha Da Bateria, Assateague and Kindergarden Kid.

Deterministic will emerge from post 4.

Michael Milam’s Uncle Heavy returns to the scene of his Grade 3 Withers score as the only horse in the field to have successfully tackled the Wood’s distance.

Trained by Butch Reid, Jr., the Pennsylvania-bred Social Inclusion bay was a thrilling winner of the Withers on February 3 when rallying late from 3 1/2 lengths off the pace under regular rider Mychel Sanchez to collar El Grande O at the wire and win by a nose. The effort, which was his first outside of his home base of Parx Racing, was awarded a career-best 84 Beyer Speed Figure.

“He’s a natural route horse – a big, strong horse,” said Reid, Jr. “He’s got a great head on his shoulders and he doesn’t worry about anything. He doesn’t use a lot of energy except in his races.”

Following the Withers, Uncle Heavy missed three weeks of training and was turned out on a farm due to an equine herpesvirus quarantine, but Reid, Jr. said the talented colt relished his short break.

“If anything, it did him good,” said Reid, Jr. “He got away from the rigamarole of the racetrack and it really helped him. He looks great and is coming into the race real fresh. It was a blessing in disguise, and it forced us to not try and fit another race in there, which was the smartest thing.”

Prior to the Withers, Uncle Heavy graduated on debut sprinting six furlongs in October and captured his first win against winners two starts later when scoring by 1 1/4 lengths in the state-bred Wait For It in December. He made his final preparations for the Wood with a half-mile work on Saturday at Parx when covering the distance handily in 51.38 seconds.

“The work went really well,” said Reid, Jr. “He was well within himself and it was just what we were looking for. His major work was a few weeks ago, so this was a nice, easy half a mile. He finished up good and strong and galloped out beautifully. We’re very happy with where he is right now.”

Sanchez retains the mount from the outermost post 13.

Barry Schwartz’s New York homebred El Grande O [post 2, Dylan Davis] stretches back out to two turns after a prominent third-place finish last out in the Grade 3 Gotham. The Linda Rice trainee, who has hit the board in 9-of-10 starts, brings the most experienced resume to the field as he makes his 12th lifetime start.

“He’s doing well. He has experience, fitness, and he’s won a couple stakes at a flat mile, but maybe his best race was at a mile and an eighth in the Withers when he got beat three inches,” said Rice. “It will be a big field, so I’m sure the experience will help him there.”

In the Gotham, El Grande O battled for the early lead and was full of run at the top of the lane to take a 1 1/2-length lead with a five-wide bid, but was run down late and settled for show.

El Grande O vies for his first open-company victory after defeating fellow state-breds in the seven-furlong Bertram F. Bongard in September and the one-mile Sleepy Hollow in October, both over a sealed Big A main track.

The Wood will be the fourth Kentucky Derby prep the son of Take Charge Indy has contested this year, including runner-up efforts in the one-mile Jerome in January and nine-furlong Withers in February. He is currently 19th on the leaderboard with 30 points towards a spot in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby starting gate.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will have two chances to secure a record-equaling eighth Wood Memorial victory as he sends out the undefeated Tuscan Sky [post 9, Manny Franco] and the maiden Protective [post 5, Kendrick Carmouche].

Spendthrift Farm’s Tuscan Sky arrives from a two-length score on February 17 traveling 1 1/16 miles over sloppy and sealed footing at Fair Grounds. There, the Vino Rosso gray was patient as he tracked 2 1/2 lengths in second behind the pace set by Nash in the three-horse field. Tuscan Sky was given his cue by Luis Saez at the three-quarters call and went head-to-head with Nash to the top of the stretch before taking command as the trio straightened for home. He inched clear down the lane to finish two lengths ahead of Nash, who exited that effort to win Oaklawn Park’s Hot Springs impressively.

Pletcher said he was pleased with the effort from Tuscan Sky, who added to a 5 1/4-length debut victory sprinting six furlongs in January here.

“He’s done really well. It’s always a challenging situation in a short field with only three horses and generally in those type of situations it’s kind of a match race and the edge goes to the pacesetter,” said Pletcher. “But he was able to track Nash, who is a really nice horse, and beat him under those circumstances which I thought was really encouraging.

“We felt like the Wood Memorial made sense for him. He broke his maiden over the track there and I like the mile and an eighth for him,” Pletcher added. “I’m hoping it all comes together.”

A $200,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Select Yearling Sale, Tuscan Sky is out of the stakes-winning Sky Mesa mare South Andros and is a half-brother to the graded stakes-winning millionaire Private Creed.

Repole Stable’s Protective looks to graduate in style on the heels of a maiden special weight effort on March 10 at Tampa Bay Downs that saw him cross the wire third but disqualified to fourth for interference in the final turn of the one-mile and 40-yard route. The effort came nearly eight months after a runner-up effort sprinting six furlongs on debut in July at Saratoga when three-quarter-lengths back of subsequent multiple stakes-winner Valentine Candy.

“We like the way he’s been training. He was very green in the Tampa race,” said Pletcher. “We’ve worked him with blinkers twice since then and it seemed to make a difference. I thought his last couple of works were quite good. It’s ambitious but he’s shown talent all along and we think he’ll appreciate the mile and an eighth.”

Pletcher said the recently-added blinkers aided the son of Medaglia d’Oro in his latest work on Saturday at Palm Beach Downs when covering five furlongs in 1:01.35 in company with an unnamed Gun Runner colt out of Atala.

“It went well,” said Pletcher. “He was a length or so in front of that colt at the finish and galloped out well in front of him. It seemed like the blinkers kept him focused throughout.”

The $250,000 Keeneland September Yearling Purchase is out of the multiple graded stakes-winning Empire Maker mare Grace Hall, who won the 2011 Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga.

Trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr. will attempt a repeat Wood victory with Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds’ Kentucky homebred Merit [post 7, Edwin Gonzalez] after capturing last year’s edition with 59-1 longshot Lord Miles.

Joseph, Jr. has had great success at Aqueduct in the month of April, including in 2021 when winning the Grade 1 Carter Handicap with Mischievous Alex and the Grade 3 Bay Shore with Drain the Clock. His Wood Memorial history also includes a respective third and fourth with Skippylongstocking and A.P.’s Secret in 2022, and a fourth with Math Wizard in 2019.

While Merit and Lord Miles have their differences, Joseph, Jr. said he has the same faith in Merit as he did Lord Miles.

“They’re two different horses. If anything, Merit has a little more speed and he’s more into the bridle where Lord Miles wouldn’t pick up the bridle,” said Joseph, Jr. “But both of them we believed that they have the ability and that’s why we want to give him a chance. We’ve had good success shipping up to Aqueduct in April and hopefully it continues.”

Merit was last seen finishing a pace-setting second in a nine-furlong optional claimer on March 1 at Gulfstream Park where he was collared in the lane by the Shug McGaughey-trained Conquest Warrior and defeated five lengths. He was a romping 10 1/4-length winner sprinting seven furlongs on debut in November at Gulfstream ahead of a prominent third traveling one-mile in February at the South Florida oval.

“His first time out, he won as good as he could win. He missed a little time and came back with a decent third where he made a big middle move and then he flattened out,” said Joseph, Jr. “Last time, I thought he was pretty good, but he ran into a Shug McGaughey horse that was good on the day. He’s a horse that continues to get a little better, so we’ll take a shot and see where he’s at.”

Travin Stables’ Evening News [post 6, Jareth Loveberry] enters from an 8 1/4-length romp in a March 8 allowance traveling a two-turn mile over the Turfway Park synthetic in pacesetting fashion. Trained by Michael Pino, the Nyquist colt made every pole a winning one through splits of 24.74, 48.73 and 1:13.83 before powering home in the stretch to best his nine foes in a final time of 1:37.90 with returning rival Gettysburg Address in third.

Evening News makes his first start on dirt since a distant sixth on debut in August at Ellis Park when in the care of Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen. He graduated at fourth asking in a 6 1/2-furlong sprint at Turfway where he was haltered for $50,000 by his current connections.

Gervais Racing’s Gettysburg Address [post 10, Emmanuel Esquivel], who was purchased privately after his latest start on March 8, will make his first outing for conditioner Dallas Stewart on the heels of his third-place finish in the aforementioned Turfway allowance.

“It looked like he came out of that race good,” said Stewart. “He’s a solid horse and we’re glad to have him. The two turns is always a test, but he’s got a great pedigree and we’re hopeful.”

The son of Constitution made his first five outings for trainer Brad Cox, who sent him out to win on debut in August at Ellis Park with blinkers on. The bay is winless in four starts since, three of them without blinkers, but finished a game fourth in the 1 1/16-mile Smarty Jones on New Year’s Day at Oaklawn Park when 2 1/2 lengths back of the victorious Just Steel, who finished second in Saturday’s Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.

Gettysburg Address will race with blinkers on for the first time since finishing fourth in the Grade 3 Street Sense in October at Churchill Downs. Stewart said he wore them in his latest work and that he was encouraged by what he saw as Gettysburg Address covered five furlongs in 1:00.40 on Friday at Churchill Downs.

“He got there to Belmont this morning and he’s doing well,” said Stewart. “He’s a real good-looking horse and he had a really good work here at Churchill – it was push-button. We put the blinkers back on in the work and we’ll put them back on for the race. He’s won with them previously, so we’ll see how it plays out.”

Completing the field are the stakes-winning Lonesome Boy [post 3, Adam Bowman] for conditioner Hugo Padilla; the pair of two-time winning New York-bred Elysian Meadows [post 8, Jose Lezcano] and maiden-winner Resilience [post 1, John Velazquez] – who races with blinkers on – for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott; maiden-winner Society Man [post 11, Luis Rivera, Jr.] for trainer Danny Gargan; and maiden-winner Deposition [post 12, Dexter Haddock] for owner/trainer Uriah St. Lewis.

America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the spring meet at Aqueduct Racetrack on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.