Trainer Ray Handal has an improving horse in Celtic Striker
for Saturday's Gotham Stakes
(G3), the latest 2020 Kentucky Derby trail stop at Aqueduct.
Owned by Imperial Racing, the sophomore son of Congrats will return to a one-turn mile after shipping to Parx Racing to beat winners in a mile-and-70-yard first level allowance. That followed a fourth in the Jerome Stakes on New Year's Day, when he earned one point towards the Derby.
In his last out effort, also a two-turn debut, Celtic Striker broke alertly, set leisurely fractions on the front end and repelled a stretch challenge from heavy favorite Irish Cork to win by 1 ½ lengths.
"He was coming off a bit of a layoff in the Jerome. I thought I had him pretty sharp in there, but he came back pretty tired," Handal said. "He won the two-turn race after which was by design. I wanted to go in a spot where I knew he could win so we went out of town for the allowance race. The plan was to come back to the Gotham for a cut back, making sure we put a tight, stiff one into him. Coming back in four weeks and on the cut back, he should be well sharp and ready to go."
Handal said if the field came up too tough, he could alter course and point for the March 14 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) over Turfway Park's synthetic. As of Sunday, all systems were go for the Gotham.
"Right now, the plan is to march forward, get to the Gotham and see what we have," Handal said. "He's a horse that's shown some talent in the morning in his workouts. I put blinkers on last race because I felt that he wasn't giving me everything he had. His numbers jumped up a ton in that allowance race. His first time wearing blinkers definitely changed his game so we'll see where we stand with him."
Handal said Celtic Striker, purchased for $100,000 from the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale by Oracle Bloodstock, displayed a strong physical demeanor.
"He was just such an athlete," he said. "We bought him at the [Keeneland] September Sale as a yearling and he had the perfect hind end. His whole conformation down that back leg was beautiful from the gaskin down to the hock. Everything was perfect. Physically, he's as good as you can get a horse to look."
With only four starts under Celtic Striker's belt, Handal said it's still a bit unclear what the ideal distance for his horse.
"Looking at him, it looks like a one-turn mile is what he wants to do, but in his last race he just kept finding more," Handal said. "He kept on grinding and that was a legit field that day. The horse that ran second [Irish Cork] had just broke his maiden by 10 and ran second to [Grade 3 Withers winner] Max Player in the previous race. He doesn't show signs of fatigue from that race. He came back like it was nothing."
Bred in Kentucky by Stoneview Farm Inc. & Craig D. Upham, Celtic Striker is out of the Star Dabbler broodmare Shylock's Daughter.