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The race within a race on Saturday afternoon at Aqueduct figures to involve whether Normandy Invasion -- one of the key contenders for the Kentucky Derby -- actually secures a spot in the starting gate for the opening leg of the Triple Crown.
If 20 horses are entered in the Kentucky Derby -- a pretty strong possibility at this moment -- a points system will be used to determine who gets to run and who gets to spend the first Saturday in May in their stall. At the present time, Normandy Invasion is more like the Bay of Pigs in that battle as he has just four Derby points and sits in 44th place on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard.
All of that can change rather abruptly Saturday when 100-40-20-10 points will be awarded to the top four finishers in the mile-and-an-eighth Wood. A first or second will be enough to pack Normandy Invasion's bags for Louisville. A third will leave him in limbo, depending on what happens in the remaining five preps on the schedule. A total of 24 points seems like it should be enough, but it's not a given. All of the above has some pertinence for a couple of reasons.
One involves what happened to Normandy Invasion in his only other race in 2013, the Risen Star at Fair Grounds.
Normandy Invasion came into this year for trainer Chad Brown as a highly touted Derby prospect based on a promising second-place finish in the nine-furlong Remsen at Aqueduct last November. The Grade 2 Risen Star, though, was a nightmare.
He got off to a slow start and found himself, eighth, 11 lengths off the lead, after the opening quarter mile. He was rank while racing five wide on the turn, losing considerable ground. He remained wide the rest of the way, racing seven wide in the stretch and closing belatedly to lose by only a length and a half.
On one level it was excellent race in terms of gaining conditioning and experience, which is best reflected in Normandy Invasion's No. 9 ranking in the latest ESPN.com Top 10 Kentucky Derby poll. Yet in the all-important points chase, an encore of that fifth-place fiasco and, well, there's always the Preakness.
The other complication is that the Wood just might be the premier prep of the year. The field includes Verrazano, No. 2 in the ESPN.com poll, and Vyjack, who is No. 4. Normandy Invasion could turn in a good effort and still only complete the trifecta.
The margin for error? Slim. Very slim indeed.
"He came out of the [Risen Star] in good shape," Brown said. "He probably needed that race for the last bit of fitness after the freshening. He's very fit right now, so I expect him to move forward off the race. We're confident he likes the track [at Aqueduct]. It takes away one element of guesswork."
The rest of the guesswork, as far as the Kentucky Derby goes, should be resolved when win, place or show carries added meaning for Normandy Invasion in the Wood Memorial.