The Gotham Stakes – Grade III, $250,000 – Aqueduct – 1 1/16 Miles, by Brian Nadeau
Another weekend along the Derby Trail and another deep and talented stakes race to decipher. Saturday New York reminds us that spring is indeed on the horizon when the Gotham Stakes is run at Aqueduct. The local prep for the Grade I Wood Memorial on April 4 drew a solid field of nine, with the majority of the runners trying to make a splash on the national scene. Let’s take a look.
Naos: The first of two from Todd Pletcher, this son of Lion Heart blossomed in his last start at Philadelphia Park, which marked his first go around two turns. He drew incredibly well here and his cozy rail spot should ensure a solid trip from just off the pace. The step up in competition is a big one, but maybe that last start was a hint at things to come? Luzzi knows him and you get Pletcher at a price, so there’s some reason for optimism here.
Russell Road: Win, lose or draw, let’s give kudos to his connections for trying the big boys. Far too often these classy sorts from the smaller tracks are content to be the big fish in the little pond. Not the case here, and this gelding figures to make his presence felt early after exiting nothing but sprints in his seven race career. There’s a lot to be said for a horse who likes winning, and this guy’s hitting at an 86% clip. He’s probably in a bit too deep, but one we can all root for nonetheless.
Masala: Pletcher’s second entry was flattered last weekend by Take The Points’ big performance out west in the Sham, as he was second to that foe in a Gulfstream allowance on January 31. Saturday he stretches out to two turns for the first time, but looks to be coming around for a barn is that taking a more patient approach with their Classic contenders this spring. The direct results are fresh and dangerous horses that have yet to reach their peak. It also doesn’t hurt that regular rider Coa sees fit to make the trip north, either. There should be ample speed to track and a stalk and pounce trip seems in order. Up and comer gets the call for the win in a wide-open Gotham.
Axel Foley: Well-traveled sort makes his first start for Team McLaughlin, first start on conventional dirt and first start in the Eastern Time zone. Yeah, that’s all. He hasn’t run that poorly in a trio of California stakes starts on the fake stuff and now he removes blinkers after being too close to the pace in the El Camino Real Derby in his last start. The wildcard in the field might be a bit overmatched, but you can never underestimate this barn.
Mr. Fantasy: McLaughlin’s other entry is the one they’ll have their eyes on early. Pricey son of E Dubai has simply annihilated state-bred foes in his two lifetime starts and enters untested up to this point. It’s not easy to go from a 6-furlong maiden win to a 1 1/16-mile allowance score, but he did it in a canter. The problem is that he meets much tougher in here and could get softened up early, not to mention the heavy cash this barn always takes at the windows. Scary indeed, but a short price and a lot of questions warrant taking a stand against in here.
Haynesfield: Does anyone remember me? I’m the one that’s gone through the inner dirt stakes schedule for 3-year-olds without breaking a sweat. Well, that may be the case, but the big boys have hit town and things figure to get a lot tougher. But this state-bred has a lot going for him; he’s beaten open company, has won from on and off the pace and has run fast in doing so. Not to mention he’s 3-for-3 over the inner, which should never be overlooked. And that 2-5 you saw last time? It’s a figment of your imagination in this spot. If you’re a believer, you’ll get a tremendous overlay on a colt that’s done little wrong so far.
Imperial Council: If Mr. Fantasy doesn’t go favored, this son of Empire Maker could be your chalk. Looked awesome winning his comeback at Gulfstream last month, which marked his first start since an easy maiden win in early October. The fact that Shug ships here instead of looking for a two-turn allowance down south is another positive. Mom Jaramar Rain could run all day, so the longer the better for this one. Lightly raced and in expert hands, so he must be respected, though I wouldn’t take too short a number.
I Want Revenge: Heads east after his running style was deemed non-conducive to the synthetics out west. That right there makes him a huge question mark in here. If he takes to the surface, he’s got a huge chance. If he doesn’t, he’s not going to threaten. So what’s your cutoff at the window? He’s going to take money, but not as much as some of the others. If he gets away in the 8-1 range, you could do worse than taking a flyer on a horse that’s obviously talented enough to win this.
Giant Ryan: The longest shot in the field got no help at the draw either, as he’ll break from the far outside stall. He does have speed, which he’ll need to use to secure position with a quick run into the first turn. He could cause problems to Mr. Fantasy up front early, but don’t look for him to hang around late.