Unbeaten Gemologist now casts a large shadow as Derby nears

Even along the shedrows at Charles Town or Mountaineer Park in Chester the denizens believe that “the rich get richer.”

They were shown the worth of that bromide when WinStar Farm’s unbeaten goliath of a three-year-old, Gemologist, won the Grade I Wood Memorial stakes in preparation for the fast-approaching Kentucky Derby.

Gemologist was the winner of the Grade I Wood Memorial Stakes.

WinStar Farm in the gently rolling pleasure that describes the land just outside Lexington has risen to the top of the blueblood heap. WinStar is the “rich” getting richer every day they hold thoroughbred races or breed horses.

Winning individual jewels in the Triple Crown series will quickly boost a farm’s bank account status, and its popularity with owners of well-thought-of broodmares.

WinStar has sent the world Kentucky Derby champions Funny Cide and Super Saver and recent Belmont Stakes winner, Drosselmeyer. WinStar has stallions Tiznow, Distorted Humor, Bluegrass Cat, Speightstown, and Colonel John in addition to first-year sire Drosselmeyer. Tiznow commands a stud fee of $75,000 and that number isn’t likely to be diminished any with the emergence of the likely Kentucky Derby favorite, Gemologist.

A thoroughbred farm tour guide routinely gives his bus load of tourists the information that at the height of the breeding season WinStar stallions can bring in $6 million a day to their owners.

Gemologist is owned by WinStar . . . ah, the rich get richer.

Even after he had whirled his way to four wins in his first four lifetime races, Gemologist and trainer Todd Pletcher didn’t have the necessary graded stakes winnings to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. His only win in any sort of graded stakes had come in the 2011 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last November.

Trainer Pletcher had decided to open Gemologist’s 2012 schedule with an allowance race in Florida. Even though that was a seven-length win for Pletcher and jockey Javier Castellano, it did nothing to enhance the $103,855 the huge (17 hands high and already 1,300 pounds) thoroughbred had gained in graded stakes earnings.

Gemologist had a Pletcher-written schedule that had him go in the Grade I, Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York. The Wood Memorial was a $1 million race where the winner would get $600,000 and the runner-up would gain $200,000. Either of those dollar amounts would give the mammoth son of Tiznow the needed graded stakes money to put him in the Kentucky Derby field of 20 entries.

When Pletcher boosted Castellano’s into the irons, Gemologist was the 6-5 favorite in the eight-horse Wood Memorial grouping. Also in the Wood Memorial field looming as possible entries in this year’s Derby were Alpha (second-favorite at 5-2) and undefeated stakes winner The Lumber Guy.

The Wood Memorial is run at 1 1/8 miles, a full eighth-of-a-mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby.

Should Gemologist have fallen short of at least a third-place finish, he would not have enough earnings to be included in the sometimes untractable 20-horse field that is the Run for the Roses.

Castellano was able to get the graceful giant out of the starting gate with a quick burst of early speed. That twosome settled into third place and had no interference from others on the outside.

As the late track announcer Costy Caras and other race callers might have surmised, they were in “the perfect stalking position” or in the “catbird seat.”

Near the last yards of the final turn, Gemologist forced his way to the lead in a matter of yards and without using much energy or effort.

Alpha had been coming toward the front in much the same manner. Gemologist seemed to look around for any competition. He found it in Alpha, then at his side.

Castellano rallied Gemologist and the long-striding colt held off his competition by a neck . . . taking the $600,000 first-place money . . . and giving WinStar reason to get fully prepared for going to Louisville for the first Saturday in May.

When asked why he took such a chance by skipping an earlier graded stakes race and deciding on an allowance event instead, Pletcher said: “A lot of it had to do with timing. He was not ready for the Tampa Bay Derby the week before. I wanted one more work.

“The races that were suited for that weekend were the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park or the allowance race. We did not want to wait any longer to get his first start in. But when the allowance race came up, it gave us a better option.”

Without the necessary graded stakes earnings, Pletcher was actually painted into a corner when it came down to the Wood Memorial. There was little room for error. In-race trouble would have cost him his place in the Kentucky Derby. And WinStar doesn’t want to miss any of the Triple Crown jewels.

Even with the bleached-white Hansen and Union Rags in the probable Kentucky Derby field, the pre-race scuttlebutt has Gemologist as the race’s betting favorite.

“The rich get richer.” WinStar is curently the gold standard of thoroughbred racing. And placing another lot of hardware in the same corner as that already won by Super Saver and Funny Cide would make the people outside the stout iron fence surrounding the many-acred property of WinStar just a little poorer than those inside the windows of the stained-glass barns that look like fortresses of racing power and influence.

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