- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - At the start, trainer Jeff Mullins thought the worst. Jockey Joe Talamo knew better.

After I Want Revenge broke poorly and fell way behind his seven rivals, the big bay colt fought his way through a wall of horses in the stretch for a 1 1/2-length victory in the $750,000 Wood Memorial on Saturday at Aqueduct.

“I was already headed back to the barn at that point,” Mullins said. “But Joe was patient and that says a lot for a young rider. He saved his horse and waited for the right time to let him go.

“He looks like a pretty nice horse to me.”

To just about everyone else, too.

With a second straight stakes win on the dirt, I Want Revenge solidified his status as one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby in four weeks. Among the other top Derby contenders are Florida Derby winner Quality Road and Pioneerof the Nile, who won the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday.

I Want Revenge ran a remarkable race. When the starting gate opened, the son of Stephen Got Even was left flat-footed out of the No. 1 post and fell about five lengths back in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 1 Wood.

Talamo wasn’t worried.

“Looking back, it was a great trip,” Talamo said. “He was on the rail the whole way and got to save ground.”

Slowly but surely, Talamo moved his colt into contention as the field cruised along the backstretch, with Just a Coincidence setting the pace.

“You can’t panic,” the 19-year-old rider said. “You just have to go with Plan B. You can’t rush him up, just stay relaxed and let the race go like it is.”

On the turn for home, I Want Revenge was right in the thick of it but was blocked by Just a Coincidence Imperial Council and Lord Justice. Talamo squeezed through an opening, got bumped briefly by Atomic Rain, but still had plenty left to cruise to victory in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 7,209.

“Right down the stretch I found an opening and he kicked home like a real nice horse,” Talamo said.

Mullins, meanwhile, had a hard time believing I Want Revenge was able to rebound from such a disastrous start.

“I was sick. I thought we were done. I didn’t know we had a chance,” Mullins said. “This horse just shows me more and more every time.”

Talamo, a rising star based in California who appears on the new show “Jockeys” on Animal Planet, is now looking at his first trip to the Derby,

“It’s phenomenal,” he said. “I’ve never been in this spot before … it’s like a fairy tale.”

West Side Bernie was second, with Just a Coincidence third in New York’s major prep for the Derby on May 2. Atomic Rain was fourth, followed by Imperial Council, Cellar Dweller, Lord Justice and Lime Rickey.

West Side Bernie also appears Derby-bound, his trainer Kelly Breen said.

“The 2-horse (I Want Revenge) ran a great race _ got left and had a ton of horse left,” Breen said.

I Want Revenge returned $3 as the 1-2 favorite. The winning time was 1:49.49 over the Big A’s main track.

Now 3-of-7 for owner David Lanzman and new partner IEAH Stables, I Want Revenge won the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct by 8 1/2 lengths last month. IEAH owned Big Brown, last year’s Derby and Preakness winner.

I Want Revenge earned $450,000 to boost his graded stakes earnings to $774,000. The colt had won just once in his first six starts in California, all on synthetic surfaces. Two of the losses came to Pioneerof the Nile.

The decision was made to head East for a race over a dirt track _ the Derby is on the dirt _ and I Want Revenge flourished.

Mullins said plans call for the colt to be shipped to Churchill Downs on Monday.

The Wood has been used as a final prep for three of the past eight Derby winners: Funny Cide was second in the 2003 Wood, Monarchos was second in 2001 and Fusaichi Pegasus won it in 2000.

In earlier races at Aqueduct, Capt. Candyman Can ($4.40) won the Bay Shore Stakes for 3-year-olds and Giant Moon ($29.40) was the upset winner in the Excelsior. After the Wood, Kodiak Kowboy ($5.80) edged Fabulous Strike by a head to win the $300,000 Carter Handicap.

(This version CORRECTS Optional; corrects to No. 1 post sted No. 2)

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