How to make a buck off the Gotham Stakes
The calendar turns to March on Saturday and the Triple Crown focus is on Aqueduct in New York for the 62nd edition of the $500,000 Gotham Stakes.
A field of 10 (nine betting interests) is expected for the Grade 3 Gotham. Todd Pletcher already has announced that his entrant Monopolize will be scratched and pointed to a race in Florida. The Gotham is a scoring race on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” and offers 50 qualifying points to the winner (20 points to the second-place finisher, 10 to third, and 5 to fourth). The race will be contested at 1 1/16 miles on Aqueduct's inner dirt track.
While the Gotham has not recently been a premier Triple Crown prep (the last horse to win the Gotham and go on to win a Triple Crown race was Red Bullet in 2000), the race does own a rich history and has been won by champions such as Native Dancer, Dr. Fager, Secretariat, and Easy Goer.
Let's take a look at this year's Gotham:
1) Noble Cornerstone: A New York-bred son of Noble Causeway who won his career debut impressively on Nov. 3, 2013 on Aqueduct's main track. Trainer Wesley Ward then decided to ship this gelding to Remington Park for the $250,000 Remington Springboard Mile Stakes, in which Noble Cornerstone finished second by a neck in his first try around two turns. Noble Cornerstone has been stabled at Gulfstream Park in 2014 and has made one start as a 3-year-old — a disappointing effort as the favorite in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on February 1. Blinkers are being re-added for the Gotham, and perhaps he will return to his 2-year-old form with that equipment change.
1A) Samraat: An undefeated New York-bred colt by the same sire (Noble Causeway) as his entrymate, this colt is coming off a game victory in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct on Feb. 1. Prior to the Withers, this speedy colt won the $100,000 Damon Runyon Stakes for New York-breds on Dec. 18 by an eye-opening 16¾ lengths. Trainer Rick Violette has been training Samraat at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida but will ship him back to New York for the Gotham following a one-mile workout on Feb. 22. Samraat won the Withers off two similar one-mile breezes at Palm Meadows.
2) In Trouble: Aside from Samraat, In Trouble is the only other graded stakes winner in the field. He won the Grade 2 Futurity Stakes at Belmont in September for trainer Tony Dutrow. The problem is that In Trouble has not been seen since that victory, and he will now be making both his first start as a 3-year-old and his first start around two turns off a five-month layoff. This colt has also been stabled at Palm Meadows in 2014 and has been working steadily for his return. Joe Rocco Jr. clearly still believes in this colt, as he is up from Gulfstream to take the mount. In Trouble is Rocco’s only mount all afternoon at Aqueduct.
3) Financial Mogul: Another entrant from the Rick Violette barn, this colt enters the Gotham off a less-than-stellar performance in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 25. Perhaps Financial Mogul needed his last start - it was his first race around two turns, and he had not raced in nearly three months - and he has trained well at Fair Hill Training Center since the Holy Bull, including two bullet workouts. This colt likes to do his running from off the pace, so he may be at the mercy of the pacesetters on the inner dirt track.
4) Uncle Sigh: This New York-bred son of Indian Charlie has shown plenty of speed and talent through only three starts in his career, though he is still eligible for a first-level allowance race. Uncle Sigh won his second-career start at Aqueduct by 14 lengths in his first attempt around two turns on Dec. 27 of last year, and fought Samraat all the way around the racetrack in the Withers before finally succumbing to that rival near the finish line while finishing second, beaten only a length. Since the Withers, Uncle Sigh shows two more bullet workouts for trainer Gary Contessa and he looks to be in top condition entering the Gotham.
5) Monopolize: SCRATCHED
6) Deceived: Another colt bred in the Empire State, this colt makes his first start in a graded stakes in the Gotham. Deceived earned his first win in his fourth career start at Aqueduct on Dec. 7 and subsequently was trounced by Samraat in the aforementioned Damon Runyon Stakes only 11 days later. Since the Damon Runyon, Deceived dropped in to score in a first-level allowance/optional claiming race for New York-breds at Aqueduct on Jan. 31, and perhaps he gained a little confidence in that 8-length victory.
7) Classic Giacnroll: This colt is by Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo who comes into the Gotham after being soundly defeated by both Samraat and Uncle Sigh in the Withers. However, in his race prior to the Withers, Classic Giacnroll finished a game second in the Grade 2 Jerome Stakes on Jan. 4, so he has proven himself against graded stakes competition. Pay attention to the post parade on this one, as the front wraps were removed for his poor performance in the Withers. Perhaps this colt may be more effective with the wraps re-added in the Gotham. Classic Giacnroll’s two worst races on paper were the two in which he raced without front wraps.
8) Extrasexyhippzster: This improving colt makes his first start around two turns in the Gotham on Saturday. Extrasexyhippzster has certainly taken a step forward in his two most recent starts, beginning with a victory in the Don Rickles Stakes last December on the Aqueduct inner dirt track. He followed with a victory in the $100,000 Miracle Wood Stakes going a flat mile at Laurel on January 25. Popular mid-Atlantic trainer Mike Trombetta calls on Julian Pimental once again for the Gotham, and this colt figures to play a role in the early pace.
9) Master Lightning: One of two competitors in this race for trainer Todd Pletcher, who was most likely not thrilled with drawing the two outside posts for both Master Lightning and his other runner, Harpoon (see below). Master Lightning won his second career start going the Gotham distance of 1 1/16 miles at Belmont last October. This colt was obviously highly regarded after winning his second career race, as he was entered and soundly defeated in both the Nashua and Remsen Stakes in November on Aqueduct's main track. Perhaps class is the question with this colt. He has two wins and one second from three starts outside of stakes company, but he has not hit the board in four stakes races.
10) Harpoon: A striking gray colt by Tapit, Harpoon invades from the Sunshine State for champion trainer Todd Pletcher. It took Harpoon four starts to finally earn his first career win, which he did at Gulfstream on Dec. 26 going a flat mile at 4-to-5 odds in a field of 14 horses. Since that victory, Harpoon finished second, beaten by a nose, in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 1. Irad Ortiz Jr. rides this colt for the first time on Saturday.
While I absolutely hate the post position for Harpoon, I simply believe he is the best horse in this race, with the best breeding and the best connections. Harpoon has shown a little versatility through five starts. He showed speed in his maiden races before rating behind horses and swinging wide for stretch drive in his most recent outing. It should be noted that Harpoon is going from the rail to the extreme outside post today, but there’s no question that Harpoon did his best running in the Sam F. Davis when swung wide in the stretch, so perhaps he likes it out there. It should also be noted that Harpoon closed furiously in the Sam F. Davis while on his left lead all the way through the stretch. I’m confident that Todd Pletcher can correct that mistake for the Gotham and have Harpoon finishing the race on his right lead.
The question on this horse is the price. If you told me right now I could have 3-to-1 or 7-to-2 on Harpoon, I would tell you to be the $20 to win on Harpoon. However, considering the breeding and connections, I just don't see Harpoon going off that high and he may even end up being the favorite in the Gotham.
I was initially interested in Financial Mogul in this spot, but I believe that he will be left with too much to do at the top of the stretch. He could also simply be a plodder. I am not crazy about Uncle Sigh’s pedigree for two turns, and I will be trying to beat him on Saturday. I believe the main danger to Harpoon is Samraat, and I could see that colt taking his record to 5-for-5 in the Gotham. Samraat's entrymate, Noble Cornerstone, also merits consideration, especially if you think something went wrong last time at Tampa or that the re-addition of blinkers will really help him. In Trouble is trying to do too much off too long a layoff on Saturday for me to bet him.
Strategy A: If Harpoon is 3-1 or higher, $20 to win on Harpoon (#10).
Strategy B: $14 exacta 10-1; $6 exacta 1-10
Strategy C: $1 trifecta 10/1/ALL; $1 trifecta 10/ALL/1; $1 trifecta 1/10/3,6,8; $1 trifecta 1/3,6,8/10