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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 12:00 AM

Wood Memorial hero Wicked Strong breezes half-mile in 49.62 for Derby

In his first work since winning the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, Wicked Strong breezed a solid half-mile in 49.62 seconds this morning over the Belmont Park training track in preparation for his upcoming role as one of the favorites for the May 3 Kentucky Derby.

With exercise rider Kelvin Pahal in the irons, the dark bay son of Hard Spun stepped onto the training track shortly after the 9:30 a.m. renovation break accompanied by a pony and galloped a mile before breaking off. New York Racing Association clockers caught Wicked Strong in splits of 12.19 and 35.76, galloping out five furlongs in 1:02.84.

Jimmy Jerkens, who trains Wicked Strong for Centennial Farms, appeared genuinely delighted with the move.

"He did most of his work on the turns, which is what I wanted; I thought it would keep him from working too fast," said Jerkens, 55, who has never saddled a Derby starter. "He eased up a little bit in the stretch and then picked it before the wire. It was just what I was looking for."

Wicked Strong, who currently is fourth on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard with 102 points, is one of three New York-based horses pointing to the "Run for the Roses." Wood runner-up Samraat, winner of the Grade 3 Gotham and Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct Racetrack, is fourth with 100 points and Uncle Sigh, who was fifth in the Wood after finishing second to Samraat in the Gotham and Withers, is No. 20 with 24 points. Both Samraat and Uncle Sigh are scheduled to work Friday morning at Belmont Park.

Wicked Strong, who was 1-1-1 in three starts as a juvenile at Belmont and Aqueduct, did not fare well in two starts in Florida during the winter, finishing ninth in the Holy Bull and fourth in an optional claimer. Returned to New York for the 1 1/8-mile Wood, he came charging from sixth on the outside and went on to a 3 ½-length win over previously undefeated Samraat and favored Social Inclusion.

"He’s a little bit on the light side, but I don’t see him any lighter after running that hard and that tough a race," said Jerkens. "I didn’t think he lost a pound and I’m really happy about that."

The trainer said Wicked Strong - named in honor of the victims and heroes of last year’s Boston Marathon bombing - would have one more work at Belmont, most likely at six or seven furlongs next Thursday or Friday, before being vanned to Louisville..

"He’s never been on a plane, and he’s been up and down to Florida twice [on a van]," said Jerkens. "I’m not sure if he’ll go the day after he works, or two days after. We’ll have to see."

Wicked Strong, whose sire Hard Spun was runner-up in the 2007 Derby, probably will blow out over the Churchill Downs strip two days before the Derby, Jerkens added.

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