OZONE PARK, N.Y. -- Following his authoritative victory in last fall's Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct, Nobiz Like Shobiz left New York as a highly ranked contender for the 2007 Kentucky Derby. He returns to Aqueduct for Saturday's Grade 1 Wood Memorial in hopes of retaining that position.
Nobiz Like Shobiz, who arrived in New York from Florida on Thursday, will square off against five rivals in the $750,000 Wood, run at 1 1/8 miles over the main track. Cowtown Cat, entered in the Wood, will scratch and instead run in Saturday's Illinois Derby. His stablemate Any Given Saturday heads the list of challengers to Nobiz Like Shobiz.
It's not that Nobiz Like Shobiz has run poorly in his two starts this year, both at Gulfstream Park - a win in the Grade 3 Holy Bull and a half-length loss in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 3. It's just that he has yet to show any improvement from last year.
He still has a tendency to lug in during races and seems to get distracted by the crowd - or something - in the stretch. In an attempt to get him more focused, trainer Barclay Tagg will equip Nobiz Like Shobiz with blinkers for the Wood. The horse will also race with cotton in his ears to prevent him from hearing any crowd noise.
"I've been trying to get him over some of his immaturities and get him a little more focused on running," Tagg said. "That's why I took this five-week period, so I could work on him a little bit. He really doesn't do anything wrong in the mornings - he never has - so it's hard to teach him something different when he doesn't do anything wrong."
Nobiz Like Shobiz drew the rail for the Wood. In a race without a true front-runner, he could be part of the early pace, though Tagg would prefer not.
"I'd like to sit in a stalking position," he said.
In last year's Remsen, Nobiz Like Shobiz received a perfect stalking trip behind two speed horses before making his winning move at the five-sixteenths pole and drawing off to a 6o1/2-length score. That race came in the third start of his life. The Wood will be the third start of his 3-year-old season.
Todd Pletcher, who sends out Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Any Given Saturday in the Wood, still sees Nobiz Like Shobiz as the horse to beat.
"As quick as everyone was to crown Nobiz Like Shobiz the next best thing, it seems like they just as quickly jumped off him for getting beat half a length," said Pletcher, who beat Nobiz Like Shobiz with Scat Daddy in the Fountain of Youth. "To me, he's clearly the horse to beat in the Wood."
Like Nobiz Like Shobiz, Any Given Saturday has three wins and two narrow defeats in his five-race career. He comes off a heart-stopping nose loss to defending juvenile champion Street Sense in the Tampa Bay Derby, which followed an easy victory by Any Given Saturday in the Sam Davis.
Any Given Saturday, who breaks from post 6, projects to get a good stalking trip under John Velazquez.
If Nobiz Like Shobiz doesn't go for the early lead, then Summer Doldrums probably will. Summer Doldrums won the Whirlaway Stakes over the inner track while racing on the lead, but regressed when he finished third in the Gotham, attempting to come from off the pace. His trainer, Rick Violette, said the horse came out of the Gotham with "crud in his lungs."
Jockey Mike Luzzi, who rode Summer Doldrums, noted that Summer Doldrums wasn't as aggressive in the Gotham as he was in the Whirlaway.
"In the Whirlaway he was pulling on me a little hard," Luzzi said. "At the three-eighths pole [in the Gotham] I was already pecking at him to get him to volunteer something, whereas [in] the Whirlaway his ears were [up]. He definitely was two different horses."
Sightseeing finished fifth in the Remsen and had a couple of tough trips in first-level allowance losses at Gulfstream Park. Reptilian Smarts has won two straight races, but faces a class test here. Flashstorm, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, is 2 for 10 and doesn't seem fast enough to be competitive here.
The Wood is the second leg of an all-stakes pick four that has a guaranteed pool of $400,000. The Wood and the Bay Shore, the first leg of the pick four, will be televised live in a one-hour broadcast on ESPN beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern. The Grade 1 Carter and the Grade 3 Excelsior round out the pick four.