When they came down the stretch at Aqueduct on April 5th in this year’s Wood Memorial, 85-year-old trainer Manuel J Azprua may have felt the weight of heartbreak when his big talented colt Social Inclusion got nosed out for 2nd place by Samraat. He may also have felt very satisfied that the inexperienced colt by Pioneer of the Nile ran such an impressive race and held on for the money. Certainly someone with Azprua’s experience in the racing game understands the nature of losing by a nose, it’s simply something you have to get used to in order to survive.
But in the big picture it may turn out to be a bit of good fortune for Social Inclusion, who undoubtedly has proven himself to be a talented horse, with more upside in his future. The third place he got in the Wood Memorial only gave him 10 points for the Derby, too few to qualify for the big race. Perhaps the Derby would have been too much too soon, after all, Social Inclusion never ran as a two year old, and didn’t run his first race until February 22nd at Gulfstream Park, a race he won convincingly at odds of 9-1.
In his next race he was immediately thrown into the deep end of the pool when he went up against grade II Remsen winner, Honor Code. It would be the first race back for Honor Code, who would be an early Derby favorite after an impressive two-year-old season. On that day Social Inclusion solidified his talent by breaking cleanly, setting solid early fractions and drawing off to beat the highly touted Honor Code by 10 lengths. In that race Social Inclusion succeeded in breaking the track record and earning a 110 Beyer Speed figure.
By the time he was entered to run in the Wood Memorial there was a buzz about the horse’s talent, but at the same time questions concerning his experience and running style. Not only was he lightly raced but he also had only shown to be a horse that likes running on the front end of the pace. The Wood Memorial would test both questions. Drawing the outside post in a 13-horse field, Social Inclusion’s hand would be forced to either gun it from the gate and wire the field, or show he could sit back, rate and make a winning move from off the pace. The later would take prodigious growth from a horse with natural speed.
What actually happened may turn out to be the best of scenarios for his career. As expected he did go for the lead out of the gate, floated 3 wide on the first turn, sat up front of a strong pace, make a solid but perhaps early move, and held well for the show purse.
Although third place that day may not have been good enough to get him into the Derby, the numerous obstacles he overcame that day may prove to bear fruit this Saturday at the Preakness Stakes.