Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
It's now the time of year when 3-year-old racing in the Empire State gets down to serious business. The 2014 Kentucky Derby trail returns to New York, a.k.a the "Big Apple", for an important stop at the "Big A', a.k.a. Aqueduct Race Track, for the Gotham Stakes this Saturday. The 1 1/16 mile affair dangles a half-million dollars in graded cash, but far more significant are the 50-20-10-5 valuable points the Grade 3 race offers the eleven 3-year olds competing. The Gotham, the third prep on the N.Y. path to the Kentucky Derby, leads into the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on April 5th.
The previous two preps of the quartet were the Jerome and Withers, also Grade 3 status. The top two finishers from the latter event, SAMRAAT and UNCLE SIGH, both NY-breds, are back again. The two colts put on a dazzling display from gate to wire and finished practically an entire zip code ahead of the rest of the field. One of those also rans, CLASSIC GIACNROLL (4th), has returned for another try. The young Giacomo colt was the Jerome runner-up back in early January. Seven of the horses entered have raced over the inner strip with six being victorious at various levels. The great SECRETARIAT is the only winner of the Gotham (1973) to go on to be draped in the coveted roses. Let's take a closer look at the field from the rail out.
**SAMRAAT/NOBLE CORNERSTONE run as a coupled entry due to common ownership**
1-IN TROUBLE/Rocco/Dutrow--Tiz Wonderful colt is unbeaten after two starts, but hasn't been seen since winning he G2 Futurity at Belmont last September. His works have been regular in preparation for his first attempt around two-turns for a conditioner that boasts a high win percentage with horses away 90 plus days. Should sit a nice stalking trip from the rail and breeding indicates there should be no difficulties at the new distance. He'll probably need a race, but if there's enough improvement from his juvenile to sophomore year, he certainly can contend for the win.
2-FINANCIAL MOGUL/Bridgmohan/Violette--After breaking maiden ranks last summer at Saratoga, this colt has strictly kept graded company his last three outings with the best finish being runner-up in the G2 Nashua to Cairo Prince last November on the main track. That rival proved too much again last out in the Holy Bull, but is absent from this lineup. This colt had good position going into the stretch of that race, but flattened out, which could have been expected given it was his first start back. The quality of the Holy Bull was further verified in the Risen Star. With a race now under his belt, sharp a.m.works since his last, and a drop in class, it appears this colt is ready to fire a good performance.
3-UNCLE SIGH/Nakatani/Contessa--Destroyed state-bred maidens second out which earned him a shot in the Withers where he went off as the slight betting favorite. Took the lead from the outset, but could never break free from Samraat who provided unrelenting pressure. While trying to hold off his rival from the quarter pole through the stretch, Contessa runner fought stubbornly but was denied the victory in the final strides while 10 lengths clear of the third-place finisher. Speed, class, positive rider switch and impressive works make him a solid win contender.
4-NOBLE CORNERSTONE/Desormeaux/Ward--Won at first asking against state-bred foes on Aqueduct's main track as a juvenile, then closed out juvenile campaign with a neck loss in the Springboard Mile. As a barometer, the winner, Louies Flower, finished last in the Southwest Stakes. 3-year old debut a month ago as the favorite in the G3 Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs was certainly an outing to forget. Will don blinkers and try to rebound.
5-MONOPOLIZE/DeCarlo/Pletcher--One of a trio of runners from the Pletcher barn. Last outing saw him finish sixth to the very high rated Top Billing in a Gulfstream allowance race on the Holy Bull undercard. Another colt who adds blinkers and hopes for improvement as he makes his first foray into stakes company.
6-DECEIVED/Maragh/Gyarmati--Colt is familiar with the surface having started his last three right here, including wins by margins of 7 1/2 and 8 1/4 lengths. All his races have been against state-breds. This is the big time now as he attempts his first encounter in open company and graded stakes.
7-CLASSIC GIACNROLL/Franco/Guerrero--Shipped to Aqueduct to begin sophomore season and gave a solid runner-up showing in the Jerome, then was 14 lengths in arrears of the Withers winner. Was the last effort a case of declining form or was he strictly outclassed? To indicate he truly belongs with these, he will need to find a lot more in the stretch run Saturday.
8-SAMRAAT/J.Ortiz/Violette--Connections were going to wait for Wood Memorial, but have given their unbeaten runner the green light for this. Won first three races by a combined 25 lengths against state-bred runners, then answered the question of being competitive against open company in the affirmative manner with a strong show of determination before pulling away in the late stages after knocking heads with stubborn rival Uncle Sigh throughout the Withers at this same 1 1/16 mile distance over this surface. Looks to remain unbeaten. Speed and class make him a huge threat again.
9-EXTRASEXYHIPPZSTER/Pimentel/Trombetta--One of a half-dozen horses in this contest that has been successful over the inner track when he scored by 5 lengths in the Don Rickles Stakes two starts ago. Most recently, he was an easy winner in the 1-mile Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel. His speed figures from both mentioned races can get it done here if he can handle the class rise.
10-MASTER LIGHTNING/Velasquez/Pletcher--The new year hasn't been kind to this Pletcher runner who has never raced shorter than 1-mile in seven starts. His two poor recent outings indicate he's clearly off form. He does own a win over this track, but also over this very surface, he was uncompetitive in the G2 Jerome. In addition, he didn't fare well on the Big A's main track as a juvenile when up against graded foes.
11-HARPOON/I.Ortiz/Pletcher--Surprise!! Another Pletcher equine. Tapit colt has suffered a case of "seconditis" with four runner-up placings in his young five race career, including a nose defeat to his stable mate last out in the Sam Davis Stakes down in Tampa. It appeared this grey was calling it quits around the final bend in that event, but found his running shoes and came charging hard through the stretch. He's been handled by some top notch riders and gets the services of another one for this race. Has worked extremely well in the interim, and although he faces a couple of giant's in here, any continued improvement affords him a solid chance to be on the board.
Analysis: It's highly possible a similar early pace scenario could develop in the Gotham, with Samraat and Uncle Sigh showing the way. However, there are a few others with quickness that won't allow the NY-bred duo to steal away and keep them in their sights. The overall depth of the race makes me believe the fractions will be quicker than what unfolded four weeks ago in the Withers and that could be enough of a difference to cause the leaders to get weary and allow this race to be won from off-the-pace.
Selection: Financial Mogul to win. Saver exacta and trifecta boxes with Samraat and Uncle Sigh. Add in any of the others horses that suit your fancy to fill out your super's. Good luck and as always, enjoy the race!