This weekend’s Horse Racing Race of the Week takes us back to Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, New York, for the 2014 Gotham Stakes. The 8 1/2 furlong, Grade: 3 race for $500,000 will feature a rematch between the unbeaten Samraat and the now once beaten Uncle Sigh. The last time we saw these two New York Breds was about four weeks ago in the Withers Stakes where they were locked in a pitched battle with Samraat edging clear in the final yards.
The Gotham, which is a prep race for the Wood Memorial which in turn is New York’s last and biggest prep race for the Kentucky Derby, has long been a hot spot for Kentucky Derby contenders. Past winners include the great Native Dancer, who won an incredible 21 of 22 career races, perhaps the fastest horse ever to grace a racetrack Dr. Fager, 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, his son General Assembly, the speedy Proud Appeal, who would later go off as the favorite in the 1981 Kentucky Derby and for whom yours truly worked hands on with, and the powerhouse Easy Goer.
More recent winners include I Want Revenge (2009), Stay Thirsty (2011), 2011 Two Year Old Champion Hansen, (2012) and last year, Vyjack.
Other notable stakes races being run this weekend include an intriguing match up in the Swale Stakes at GulfstreamPark. 2013 Champagne Stakes winner and Breeders Cup Juvenile runner-up Havana will make his three year old debut vs. the talented and perhaps the most handsome horse I’ve seen in a while No Nay Never.
Of Havana, who will be cutting back to seven furlongs from the BC 1 1/16ths miles race, trainer Todd Pletcher said:
“We just wanted to freshen him up a little bit after the Breeders’ Cup and we got behind schedule a touch, but we’ve been able to make up some ground with a solid work pattern over the past month or so. His fitness level looks good. I think he’s coming up to it well.”
No Nay Never, an almost black colt by Scat Daddy, won his career debut in a maiden race at Keeneland before being shipped to Europe where he won a stakes race at Royal Ascot in June and the six-furlong Darley Prix Morny in August at Deauville, is trained by Wesley Ward.
“His physical make-up is striking. It’s like the ultimate specimen of a horse,” Ward said. “He has a beautiful head, a beautiful shoulder. He has a beautiful hip on him. He’s pitch black, not a spot of bay on him. He’s gorgeous.”
No Nay Never’s has had five strong works for the Swale including his last where he went five furlongs in 1:00 flat and looked like a million bucks doing it.
“It seems to me that Gulfstream is his preferred surface. That’s a little scary with all he’s accomplished,” Ward said. “I’m really excited for this race. I usually don’t get too excited for races. I’m really excited that Havana’s going to be in there. Obviously, you’d like an easier race to come back in, but he is training so good right now. I think it will let him show his true class.”
One other race of note is the $100,000 Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita where Awesome Baby, wire-to-wire winner of the Santa Ynez Stakes going 6 1/2 furlongs, stretches back out to 1 1/16 miles against seven other 3-year-old fillies.
Trained by Bob Baffert, the good looking filly recorded a DNF in her only other try at two turns (Sept. 28 Chandelier Stakes).
The Gotham Stakes
For Three Year Olds
One and one sixteenths miles
|1||4||Noble Cornerstone||3/G||L||K J Desormeaux||116||W A Ward||
|1A||8||Samraat||3/C||L||J L Ortiz||123||R A Violette, Jr.||
|2||1||In Trouble||3/C||L||J Rocco, Jr.||120||A W Dutrow||
|3||2||Financial Mogul||3/C||L||S Bridgmohan||116||R A Violette, Jr.||
|4||3||Uncle Sigh||3/C||L||C S Nakatani||116||G C Contessa||
|5||5||Monopolize||3/R||L||C P DeCarlo||116||T A Pletcher||
|6||6||Deceived||3/C||L||R Maragh||116||L Gyarmati||
|7||7||Classic Giacnroll||3/C||L||M Franco||116||L Guerrero||
|8||9||Extrasexyhippzster||3/C||L||J Pimentel||123||M J Trombetta||
|9||10||Master Lightning||3/C||L||C H Velasquez||116||T A Pletcher||
|10||11||Harpoon||3/C||L||I Ortiz, Jr.||116||T A Pletcher||
1) Samraat- is unbeaten, and before the Withers, untested.
This colt by Noble Causeway won his first three starts by a combined (almost) 26 lengths including absolutely destroying the field (by 16 ¾ lengths) in the Damon Runyon Stakes a week before Christmas, proving he has immense ability. But did he have the much needed courage that I look for? The answer, in the Withers, was a resounding yes.
In the Withers, which was his first race in 2014, he and Uncle Sigh battled almost head and head the entire way around the track. As a team, they put over 10 lengths on the rest of the field with this colt inching away at the end….it was a very impressive exhibition of talent and determination.
I like that stamina building 1:45 mile work last week as well.
This race drew tougher than the Withers and he definitely has his work cut out for him, but being unbeaten, talented and having determination is a dangerous combination…one that I don’t mind betting on.
“In the Gotham, we’ll be racing out of our own stall on a racetrack he’s familiar with,” trainer Richard Violette said. “It’s an upgrade as far as competition goes. He has to step up.”…yes he does Mr. Violette.
2) Uncle Sigh- came off a 14 ½ drubbing of NY State Bred maidens and ran step for step with the top choice in the Withers before yielding in the final few yards.
“I’m super pleased with the way he’s coming into the race,” trainer Gary Contessa. “I was hoping for a good post position because it can play a big part in the landscape of this race. He’s trained good, had a good work this morning (Feb. 24), and we’ll see what happens.”
He recorded a big work last week (5F- :59.4) and I expect this colt by Indian Charlie to be on (or near) the early lead again, but he must not, under any circumstances, get caught up in an early speed duel with anyone else (In Trouble?) in order to be competitive in this spot.
3) Extrasexyhippzster- has improved leaps and bounds in his last two races.
Going back and looking at his Dec 21 race, he won the six furlong Don Rickles Stakes by five conclusive lengths over this very racetrack (the inner), then prove distance wouldn’t be a problem as he shipped to Laurel in Maryland and won the one mile Miracle Wood Stakes by almost four while getting the distance is a strong 1:36.3.
That and while doing my diligence this week, someone at the track told me this horse “is much better than he looks on paper”. My reply was “Really, cause he looks darn good on paper”….anyway, he merits respect in any betting scenario, especially with those soaring speed figures.
Harpoon recorded three strong seconds to a couple of very talented horses ( Cairo Prince, Matterhorn) to begin his career before he finally broke thru to break his maiden by five lengths back on Dec 26 at Gulfstream Park. This colt by fast becoming super-sire Tapit out of the powerhouse Todd Pletcher stable was then entered in the Sam F Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs where he kicked hard off the turn (after being as far back as sixth down the backside) and closed with a rush to get beat the smallest of noses….could easily better this rating. In Trouble is unbeaten (2 for 2) after he broke his maiden (Aug 10 at Saratoga) then came back some seven weeks later to win the Grade: 2 Futurity (at Belmont). That Futurity win was what really caught my eye. He laid second all the way around and was still second inside the sixteenth pole when he seemingly erupted and spurted away from the field to win by almost 3. I’m a little concerned that his connections chose this (very tough) spot for his three year old debut but his last two works (Feb 3- 5F- 1:00.3 and Feb 12- 5F- :59.1) may signal he’s more ready than I think. Noble Cornerstone, who is a stable-mate and coupled with the top pick, was a huge disappointment as the 9/5 favorite in the Sam F. Davis on Feb 1 where he never ran a step (He got no closer than 11 lengths to the lead). The first two races of the career of this stretch runner were very good, so the Sam Davis effort was a bit of a head scratcher. I won’t be surprised if he bounces back with a good race Saturday afternoon.
2014 Record: 4-12 = 33%
2013 Record: 20-59 = 34%
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Little Bets N’ Pieces:
**** Normandy Invasion, who was second in the both the 2013 Remsen Stakes and 2013 Wood Memorial Stakes, and fourth in the 2013 Kentucky Derby, set a track record in his first race since the Derby in a Gulfstream Park allowance race this past week.
He won by 7 3/4 lengths in blazing1:33 flat. The previous mark of 1:33.3 set by Commentator in 2008.
“I had a beautiful trip,” winning jockey Javier Castellano said. “I had so much horse. When the horses in front of me stopped, I had to go completely around the horses. I asked him a little bit, and he took off.”
Normandy Invasion, a stretch running son of Tapit, was put on the shelf after the Derby after developing a deep abscess in a front hoof
“It was a long wait, but it was worth it,” owner Rick Porter said of Normandy Invasion, who went off as the heavy 1-5 favorite. “We thought giving him the year off after the injury was the right thing to do. It’s hard to give them that much time off, but it turned out better than we thought it could. You can see how much weight he put on. We couldn’t ask for anything better than what we got today.”
Trainer Chad Brown was pleased with the performcance as well:
“When they train as well as this horse and they physically look that good—he’s never looked better in my opinion—you’re quietly confident they’ll go out there in the afternoon and do it,” he said. “That’s the final piece of the puzzle. They have to go out there and do it. As a trainer, I don’t care who you are, I don’t think you’re ever certain they’re going to do it until they cross the line and do it. We were confident he was sound and training better than ever. We were confident to put Javier right back on this horse. They get along well, and hopefully this is a start to a great year for this horse.”
Specific future plans race for Normandy Invasion’s next start were not release but a stretch out in distance is inevitable.
“This one-turn mile was a good starting point,” Brown said. “We’re looking to run the horse in those two-turn dirt handicap races, really anywhere.”
**** 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man worked five furlongs in 1:02.2 at Gulfstream Park last week in preparation for the March 8 Santa Anita Derby.
The enormous chestnut left for California on Sunday, where he will have one more work at Santa Anita Park before running.
Mucho Macho Man went in splits of :24.4 and :37.2, galloping out six furlongs in 1:15.3.
“The track was fast today, so we figured we’d take care of him,” trainer Kathy Ritvo said. “He went five-eighths off the fence, just nice and easy. He galloped out very well and he came back great, and he’ll travel tomorrow.”
“Hopefully, it will be the same as it was before, and he’ll have a good trip out there,” Ritvo added. “He likes it there. It’s cool at night and pretty nice during the day, so it’s good horse weather. It’s nice to go out there. He’s had so much success out there, so it’s nice to go. We’re looking forward to it, and he’s doing so well it’s hard not to be excited.”
The Santa Anita Handicap will be the first start for Mucho Macho Man since Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs purchased a share in the 6-year-old and the first since his lop sided 14 lenght win in the Sunshine Millions Classic last month.
Mucho Macho Man will continue to run in the Reeves’ colors and be trained by Ritvo. Upon his retirement, he will join the Adena Springs stallion roster.
“I’m really excited to be able to train for Mr. Stronach,” Ritvo said. “I have never trained for him before, so it’s exciting to be able to train for someone who has had so much success. It’s great to have a great partner, and we know that he’ll have a great place to retire and have a second career.”
**** 2013 Hollywood Starlet Stakes winner Streaming will undergo surgery to remove a chip in her left knee suffered in the Feb. 22 Rachel Alexandra Stakes at The Fair Grounds, trainer Bob Baffert said Monday.
The daughter of Smart Strike was sent off as the 3-2 favorite in the Rachel Alexandra, but tired badly after setting the early fractions, finishing seventh, beaten 19 1/2 lengths.
“After the race she had heat in her knee and it was discovered she had a chip that needs to come out.” Baffert said. “It’s really a shame, because we were looking forward to running her in the Kentucky Oaks.”
**** Two time Horse of the Year Wise Dan recorded his first breeze of 2014 last Monday, going three furlongs in :36 flat
“He went :12’s at every pole and still had more to give,” trainer Charles LoPresti said. “The way he breezed, I was really happy with him.”
The plan for Wise Dan’s season debut remains the April 11 Maker’s 46 Mile Stakes at Keeneland, a race the chestnut gelding won in 2013.
“If the weather stays good and he stays good and I don’t have any hiccups, I would like to run him at Keeneland, that’s my goal,” LoPresti said. “But I’m just going to take my time getting him ready. I know he’s doing good and I know we put him away good (at the end of 2013), and I know he came out of that breeze good. He looked awesome today.”
Also back in training is 7-year-old Wise Dan’s older half brother, 8-year-old Successful Dan. The grade: 2 winner worked an easy three furlongs in :39.1 last Saturday
**** Good luck to stable-mate Sensational Slam in Saturdays $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap at Aqueduct. Let me go ahead and tell you, this now six year old by Grand Slam has been training very well of late and at 15-1 on the morning line, he might be worth taking a flyer on even with crack sprinters Candyman E and Strapping Groom also in the race.
Thanks for reading…