This year, the Gotham Stakes will be run for the 67th time, offering a $300,000 purse as well as Kentucky Derby points (50-20-10-5) to its top four finishers. The race, which takes its name from an old nickname for New York City, was inaugurated at Jamaica Racetrack in 1953 before being moved to New York City in 1960. Long a one-turn mile on the Aqueduct main, it was moved to a mile and a sixteenth on the inner starting in 2006, and moved back to its historic one-turn mile trip for this year.
In its history, one Triple Crown winner counts the Gotham among his triumphs; the immortal Secretariat won it in 1973. Other Hall of Fame inductees to have won the Gotham include Native Dancer (1953), Dr. Fager (1967), Easy Goer (1989), and Lure (1992) -- who won it in a dead heat with Devil His Due. More recent stars to have won the Gotham include eventual Travers (G1) winner Stay Thirsty (2011) and 2011 Champion Two Year Old Male Hansen (2012).
Easy Goer lives up to his name in the 1989 -- blowing away Secretariat's one-mile track record at Aqueduct while running well within himself. The record still stands.
In addition to this race, there are two other Derby preps on Saturday as well. We will be on site at Tampa Bay Downs for the Tampa Bay Derby (G2); a separate piece previews that, and offers selections for all the day's stakes. Out west, we also tackle the San Felipe Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park.
The Oaks Trail also continues this week at Oaklawn Park; we preview the Honeybee Stakes (G3).
Aqueduct Racetrack: Saturday, March 10
Race 10: Gotham Stakes (G3), three-year-olds, one mile on the dirt, post time 5:42pm EST
The pace of the Gotham looks to be somewhere between hot and an old-fashioned pace collapse: NINE ROUTE, OLD TIME REVIVAL, and COVE BLUE all have serious early gas, and have done their best work right on the front end. Closers are the way to go, and this race has a pair of closers who both rank among the top of the East Coast sophomore set.
FREE DROP BILLY was originally going to go to the Fountain of Youth (G2), but trainer Dale Romans rerouted him to the Gotham at the last minute. That turned out to be a shrewd choice: FREE DROP BILLY is best with something to chase, yet the Fountain of Youth turned out to be a carousel, and Romans stablemate Promises Fulfilled took it gate to wire. Yes, there's another speedy Romans trainee here in COVE BLUE, but with the other two early speedsters drawn outside him, he looks better set (barring scratches, of course) to make pace for his better-regarded stablemate than have a legitimate shot at winning himself. FREE DROP BILLY was a credible second in the Holy Bull, his first race of the year, and should be tighter here. He should also appreciate the move to Aqueduct, a track that tends to play more fairly to closers than Gulfstream does. The biggest question for FREE DROP BILLY, and the reason he doesn't go on top, is the cutback in distance; his breeding screams "the longer, the better". That makes a stone-cold one-turn miler more attractive if one can be found.
The other class horse who should relish the hot pace, FIRENZE FIRE, is that horse. Last out in the nine-furlong Withers (G3), he didn't have his usual punch, suggesting he has some distance limitations. But, here in the Gotham he dials back to a one-turn mile: a trip over which he is two-for-two lifetime. Two back, in the Jerome, he ran down a loose leader in the mud to win. Manuel Franco was in the irons that day, and returns here. Furthermore, FIRENZE FIRE will catch a dry track and a pace battle -- an even more favourable scenario than the Jerome. With the right running style and an aptitude for the trip, it makes sense to take FIRENZE FIRE for the minor upset.
Particularly if the Aqueduct track plays kindly to horses a bit more forward, as sometimes it can on big race days, ENTICED merits a look. He disappointed badly in the Holy Bull, a distant fourth behind Audible that day. But, that was his first start since the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), suggesting the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee should be tighter and fitter this time out. ENTICED also gets away from Gulfstream, which perhaps he just didn't take to last out. On pace, though he is unlikely to be right on the front end, there's so much one-way speed that his likely stalk-and-pounce trip may get it done. Particularly as he won't be chalk here, it's worth giving ENTICED one more shot.
#5 FIRENZE FIRE (5/2)
#6 FREE DROP BILLY (9/5)
#9 ENTICED (7/2)
Longshot: This was a tight one between #1 DIAL OPERATOR (10/1) and BEAUTIFUL SHOT. The latter ships in for trainer Keith Desormeaux, always a dangerous angle to consider. But, BEAUTIFUL SHOT hasn't raced since November, and the distant third going seven furlongs highlights the pedigree concerns about him, even going a mile. DIAL OPERATOR also has some distance questions, both in pedigree and in record, as he hasn't raced past five and a half furlongs. But, DIAL OPERATOR has the recency edge, as his most recent race was an allowance win at Laurel in February. He also hails from the barn of Jason Servis, a 28% winner (with positive ROI) when sending horses a mile or more for the first time. As DIAL OPERATOR is an off-pace type, not a pacesetter, it doesn't appear likely that he is in as a rabbit for stablemate FIRENZE FIRE -- and, at the boxcar price, there's enough to consider DIAL OPERATOR on his own merits.
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