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Wicked Strong Ready to Run For Boston From Outside Post in Kentucky Derby

Wicked Strong Photo

Wicked Strong's perfect scenario begins with him hanging near the back of the pack before closing from the outside and pulling away down the homestretch.

Wire-to-wire victories aren't his thing.

The three-year-old colt has the perfect opening to follow that dream scenario in the 140th Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., after having drawn the No. 20 starting position Wednesday. That's so wicked far outside the horse may feel closer to his home turf in Massachusetts than to the rail or the raucous Churchill Downs infield.

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For owner Donald Little, Jr., of Centennial Farms in Beverly, having Wicked Strong start at the most-remote point on the outside in the 20-horse field wasn't his first choice, or probably his 15th. Wicked Strong will be running for more than roses on Saturday. Little and his syndicate will donate five percent of Wicked Strong's earnings in the three Triple Crown races [the Derby, Preakness on May 17 and Belmont Stakes on June 7], to The One Fund.

"We know we can cover the [1 1/4-mile] distance. There’s a lot speed in the race. You'll try to get as close as you can to try to get position," Little, who grew up in Boston and now lives in Ipswich, told The OBF Blog Wednesday night. "The good thing about being in the No. 20 post is that we can let the race play out and take our time. We'll ease our way through the turn and down the stretch. Good horses overcome adversity. He's done it before and hopefully he'll do it again."

Trainer Jimmy Jerkens wasn't quite as diplomatic.

That inspiration may have come in the form of a text message:

Wicked Strong offers the first crack at the Kentucky Derby for both Jerkens and Centennial Farms, which purchased the colt at a yearling sale for $375,000 in 2012.

"He's a good horse and has overcome a lot of adversity," Little said of Wicked Strong, who is by Hard Spun out of Moyne Abbey. Wicked Strong has a Kentucky Derby winner in his mare's bloodline. Charismatic won the Derby and Preakness in 1999, but injured himself when running third in the Belmont.

Wicked Strong was a 9-1 upset winner at the Wood Memorial at New York's Aqueduct Park in April, "gobbling up ground" down the homestretch for a 3 1/2-length victory over the 1 1/8-mile course.

Wicked Strong broke its maiden at Belmont last fall but didn't win again until the Wood. He ran a tepid ninth at the Derby prep Holy Bull at Florida's Gulfstream Park in January and followed that with fourth-place finish. "A lot of people could have given up on him," Little told The OBF Blog earlier this month. "He put it together in the Wood. This is the horse we have been waiting for. He showed it as a 2-year-old but like a teen-aged kid, some develop slower than others. [Wicked Strong was an April foal and all horses turn a year older on Jan. 1]. He had to put it together mentally."

Wicked Strong got his name courtesy of Kim Jacobs, the wife of Charlie Jacobs and daughter-in-law of Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs after Little learned the name Boston Strong had already been chosen for a horse based in Manchester, N.H. Kim Jacobs and Holly Little, Don's wife, were at a Bruins game late last season and were discussing their dilemma in naming the horse in honor of those lost and injured in the Boston Marathon bombings and all that is Boston.

"Kim told my wife: 'Boston Strong' is great, but it should have been 'Wicked Strong' right from the beginning because everyone knows that 'Wicked' is so Bostonian.' I got a text that said: 'Kim just came up with a great name' and we submitted it," Little recalled.

Wicked Strong earned $590,000 and his spot in the Kentucky Derby with the win in the Wood. That meant a $5,900 donation to The One Fund. Currently, Wicked Strong has raised $7,046.10 for The One Fund, based on math and his career earnings of $704,610. But Little and his 27 partners who own a stake in Wicked Strong have upped the ante, starting Saturday.

"This name didn't come from any promotional angle," Little said. "We thought it would be great for the people of Boston, and for the victims of the attacks and their families, as well as the sport. This was another way to recognize the victims of the tragedy, and keep the message going. It's hard for people in this day and age to remember these things. People have to remember the victims, families and first responders. We did this to keep the message going. There's no way we could have predicted it would have gone like this."

Little and his wife were interviewed by NBC about Wicked Strong a few weeks ago and Little, on camera, compared the horse to Boston Bruins' left wing Brad Marchand. But don't expect Wicked Strong to miss any open nets or dramatize any contact with his fellow Derby entrants with a melodramatic dive.

"He’s a feisty fellow. It's funny. He came off the race track [Tuesday] and there was a group of about 10 or 15 horses coming on to the tack and he was coming off. It was like the parting of the Red Sea," Little said. "He started acting up with ponies and the other horses got intimidated. He's a scrappy little guy. He fights hard. But he's grown up on the past two months and has a ton of confidence. He’ll fight hard. He'll fight hard."

Little, when asked, did offer another Bruins' comparison for those who have grown wary of Marchand's play of late.

"He could also be Dougie Hamilton since he’s improved so much in his second year in the latter part of his young career."

The favorite and strongest entry Saturday will be California Chrome. He strolls into Churchill Downs on a four-race winning streak highlighted by the Santa Anita Derby. For those interested in wagering on Wicked Strong, he has been installed at 8-1, the No. 3 pick behind California Chrome at 5-2 and Hoppertunity at 6-1.

"There's a knock on every horse," Little said. "If [California Chrome] can duplicate his performance in the Santa Anita Derby, he'll be tough to beat. He does have some issues breaking. Sometimes he can be a little tardy, which you don't want to be in this race. If Wicked breaks a little tardy, that's OK."

Wicked Strong will be the final horse put into the starter's gate. "He's not even going to have to stand there and get comfortable. They're going to spring that latch. They let them out fast."

Now that the post position has been determined, Little's time between now and the Derby Saturday will be mainly consumed by "cat naps" - since he "no longer" drinks - and accommodating his 72 guests for the race, who are scheduled to arrive starting on Thursday.

Little said the horse has maintained the momentum it gained with the Wood victory and shows no sign of injury, illness or lack of confidence.

"He looked great on the race track [Wednesday] morning, handing the crowds. He schooled in the paddock. He schooled in the gate yesterday. Back him in for a couple of minutes and backed him out. He was fine," Little said. "We'll do a little three-furlong blowout down the stretch [Thursday] to open up his lungs. That will be it. He'll gallop twice around Friday and we may take him out once on Saturday morning because of the race's [6:24 p.m.] post time."

One criticism of Wicked Strong was his inability to run well outside New York. But Little said the colt has adapted to Churchill Downs racing surface and handled the traveling well.

The Kentucky Derby telecast begins at 4 p.m. Saturday on NBC. That immediately follows Game 2 of the Bruins-Canadiens series on the same network.

"With the Bruins game Saturday, that closes the loop," Little said. "Maybe that will be interesting. I truly believe in fate. A lot of good things have happened with this horse. Yes, we didn't get the greatest post position. But now they scheduled a Bruins game right before this. Maybe it will all carry forward. Hopefully the Bruins will blow them out and we can follow with a victory."

The OBF Blog is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Got a news tip, want to let him know directly what you think, have a complaint or compliment about his "aggressively relevant" content or hate people who speak about themselves in the third person, hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or hit him on at his
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