NEW YORK - Nobiz Like Shobiz had a flawless final rehearsal for the Kentucky Derby.
Taking the lead in the stretch, Nobiz Like Shobiz won the $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct yesterday and will now play a leading role at Churchill Downs in four weeks.
The victory over a late-closing Sightseeing also puts trainer Barclay Tagg back on the Triple Crown scene four years after he won the Derby and the Preakness with Funny Cide.
"I'd love to win it again, who wouldn't?" Tagg asked. "Maybe people tend to think it's a fluke the first time. The second time would quell that."
This time, Tagg has himself a sensational 3-year-old colt who seems to have found his stride a month after ducking in during the stretch and finishing third in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.
Equipped with blinkers to keep him focused on running straight, Nobiz Like Shobiz dueled with Any Given Saturday around the turn for home. Under the urging of jockey Cornelio Velasquez, Nobiz moved into the lead and then held off Sightseeing by a half-length.
"I think he was more focused today," Tagg said. "I never get overly confident about anything but I had a pretty good feeling about him today. I thought he would do what he did and I would have been really disappointed if he didn't. Today, he showed up. He didn't gallop away by 10 but he had a pretty well-bred horse chasing him. He'll be fine now."
Nobiz Like Shobiz, a strapping son of Albert the Great, won for the fourth time in six starts, earning $450,000 and boosting his earnings to $804,900 for owner Elizabeth Valando.
Sent off as the 3-5 favorite in the field of six, Nobiz Like Shobiz covered the 11/8 miles in 1:49.46. Any Given Saturday, one of several Derby hopefuls trained by Todd Pletcher, finished third, followed by Summer Doldrums, Reptillian Smarts and Flashstorm.
Tagg had been concerned for weeks that his star was slow in maturing, and wondered why he would lug in and lose focus at the most critical point of a race. Tagg thought Nobiz Like Shobiz would have won the Fountain of Youth if he ran straight -- the colt finished third, a half length behind Scat Daddy and Stormello.
"The things that were happening to him were just immaturity. He'll come around," a relieved Tagg said in the winner's circle. "He'll get better each time."
Right from the start of his career, Nobiz looked like a star. He was bigger than many of the 2-year-olds around him and was an imposing horse on the Belmont Park training track.
He emerged as a Derby contender after his first race -- a 103/4-length romp at Belmont last September. Then, the colt finished second to Scat Daddy in the Champagne before Tagg chose to skip the Breeders' Cup Juvenile for the Remsen. Nobiz delivered a 61/2-length victory.
Nobiz opened his 3-year-old campaign by avenging his loss to Scat Daddy, taking the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. In the Fountain of Youth, over the same track, Nobiz Like Shobiz was moving well before his stretch woes slowed him down.
The Wood erased all doubts.