Photo: Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club
The 2014 Kentucky Derby Trail leads us back up to the Big Apple on Saturday as a field of eleven three year olds enter the gate for the Gotham Stakes (Gr.3) at Aqueduct. The field, while not star studded, does have some potential in my opinion and I found it be a very interesting race. The top pair from the Withers, Samraat and Uncle Sigh, return in this spot and if they decide to go at each other again like last time, we are in for another treat. Trainer Todd Pletcher will send out a trio of contenders headed by Harpoon who narrowly missed in the Sam F. Davis last out at Tampa Bay. This will also serve as a welcome-back race for a very talented two year old, In Trouble, who was last seen in September taking down the Futurity at Belmont in his second career start. There is also a new face on the scene, Maryland invader Extrasexyhippzster, who ran very well in his most recent start while winning the Miracle Wood at Laurel with ease. This is a fun field with some potential and I look forward to seeing how this pans out. Here’s my take on the pace scenario and a close look at the field…
Pace – The pace doesn’t appear that it will be super fast, but I feel it may be really contested with several that like to race towards the front. In Trouble is going from a sprint to a route and while I think he will press, he may be right in the mix. Uncle Sigh and Samraat both like to race on the lead and I can’t really see them changing their style. Monopolize is adding blinkers and he may show better speed today as well. I think given the possible pace scenario I will lean towards the pressers and stalkers today.
In Trouble – I am very intrigued by this Tony Dutrow trained colt. He will be making his 2014 debut here after flashing signs of talent in his perfect two year old campaign. He only raced twice, but one was in a very live maiden race at Saratoga that he took down that I was actually on hand for, and the other was in the Futurity (Gr. 2) at Belmont. He has been working well for this and I like the fact that Joe Rocco decides to fly up to stay aboard. While I do like him, he has a few major hurdles to overcome. This is his first start off of a layoff, and while he has shown he can fire fresh, this isn’t exactly the easiest spot for a return. He also will be racing around two turns for the first time and you really never know how they will handle it until they try. If he does handle it, I think he should be able sit a real nice trip pressing from the rail. I am going to consider him a contender, but I realize he does have some obstacles to overcome.
Financial Mogul – While I did not like his 2014 debut run in the Holy Bull, I am starting to think I may have been too harsh. It was his first start around two turns, in a really tough spot, while coming in off of a layoff. I do think he has a right to improve here and he has been working well for his second start off the bench. He should sit a nice trip stalking from the inside and for that reason I do view him as a slight contender in here. I do have concerns though, his only win has come in the slop going seven panels, but if he can improve I think he is the one who trips out in here. He may be worth adding into your multi-race wagers.
Uncle Sigh – While he was valiant in defeat in a game effort in the Withers, I think he may get the same type of trip today. Except this time Samraat won’t be the only one breathing down his neck. Nakatani flies in to ride, which I thought was interesting, but I am siding against today. I wouldn’t be mad if he proved me wrong, I do think he is a cool horse, but I can’t see him getting a nice trip today. I am against.
Noble Cornerstone – You must watch this gelding’s behavior in the paddock and post parade. He was not a happy camper in his 2014 bow in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa and he did not run well at all. He left his race in gate as they say. I thought he was your most likely winner that day as I really liked his first two starts. He adds blinkers back on for this and if the price is right, he may be worth another chance in here. I consider him a marginal contender, but he must act right pre-race. He is another who may get a nice trip.
Monopolize – He is the first of the Todd Pletcher trio and I think he would really have to improve to contend here. His only win has come on an off track and I thought his last start was very unimpressive. I think he could cause problems up front while adding blinkers for the first time today, but on the win end I just can’t see it happening. I will pass.
Deceived - This colt enters open company for the first time and I feel like he may be in over his head. He did win by eight lengths in his last, but that was against much lesser than these and I wasn’t visually impressed by that effort either. I will pass on him today.
Classic Giacnroll – I wasn’t impressed with either of his stakes efforts here in New York and I do not seeing him turning it around today. I will pass.
Samraat – This colt has done nothing wrong so far as he is a perfect four for four, but I feel the waters got a touch deeper today. In the Withers, he faced only five other foes and it essentially turned into a match race with Uncle Sigh. He got the job done that day, and I do commend him for it, but I feel today he will have to deal with that same stubborn foe again and a few others who may be gunning for him from behind. It’s hard to knock him, but I am taking a shot against him. If he beats me, fine. I can live with that. I wish all the best for him, but I won’t be backing him today.
Extrasexyhippzster – I feel like this is going to be the wise guy horse on Saturday, and I got to admit, I’m on board too. I thought his win in the Miracle Wood was really nice visually. He has never run poorly in all five of his starts and he does own a win over the strip, albeit on an off track. I think he should be able to work out a nice pressing trip right off the speed. He has been working well for his first soiree into graded stakes company and I am expecting a really nice effort. I give him a big chance.
Master Lightning – The second Pletcher charge in the field is coming in off getting trounced by the one above in the Miracle Wood. I don’t like his chances today at all. I consider him to be on Pletcher’s “C” squad and I think he will have to do some major improving to even hit the board. I will pass on him at this time.
Harpoon – And finally we come to the third, and last, of the Pletcher three. This guy’s story is a little more complicated than the others. He ran last out in the Sam F. Davis and I thought it was a pretty decent effort considering it was his first start verses winners and in stakes company (see S.F. Davis recap here). If he had drawn better for this, I would have really considered him on top. Since he has drawn widest of all, and considering the pace scenario, I have a feeling he is either going to get caught wide into the first turn, or he may have to drop back and be farther off the pace than he would like. I view him has having a slight chance, but I am against for the reasons stated. It would not shock me if he did end up winning, but I am going to use him underneath.
The Play – I am going to play against the top two from the Withers. If I were playing multi-race wagers I would use Extrasexyhippzster, In Trouble, Financial Mogul, and Noble Cornerstone. As for intra-race, I will play an Exacta keying Extrasexyhippzster and In Trouble on top, with that pair and Financial Mogul, Noble Cornerstone, Samraat, and Harpoon in the back.
As always, I hope I gave you folks some food for thought and either helped solidify your own selections, or turned you on to something you may have missed. I wish you all good luck at the windows and a fun day enjoying the races. Have a winning day, guys.