Saturday's $150,000 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct drew three strong Kentucky Derby (gr. I) contenders in Galloping Grocer, Naughty New Yorker, and Survivalist in the field of nine. While all three would prefer two turns, Galloping Grocer has the brilliance to bounce back off his fourth in the Whirlaway with a big performance.

The son of A.P. Jet was brilliant at two, winning three New York-bred races under wraps by an average margin of 10 1/2 lengths. In his first major test in open company, he and the undefeated Rockport Harbor hooked up in one of the most exciting stretch duels of the year in the nine-furlong Remsen Stakes (gr. II), with Galloping Grocer falling a neck short.

He was supposed to romp in the Feb. 12 Whirlaway at 1-2, but could do no better than fourth, beaten 1 3/4 lengths by Sort It Out. However, he was under pressure the whole way on the front end through a testing half in :46 3/5, and came out of the race with a gash on his leg. A short while later, he suffered a foot bruise that kept him out of the Fountain of Youth (gr. II).

He's come back with two sharp works -- five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 and six furlongs in 1:12 4/5 -- and there is no reason why he shouldn't return to his brilliant 2-year-old form. There is a good deal of speed in the Gotham, so he should be able to sit off the pace this time.

Galloping Grocer, who is owned by Robert Rosenthal and Bernice Waldbaum, will be ridden in the Gotham by Mike Luzzi and will break from post three.

"That last race did a lot for him," trainer Dominick Schettino said. "It really wasn't as bad as everybody thinks it was. Was it disappointing? Of course. You like to win all the time, but he came out of it with two minor little problems -- a gash in the back leg, and then he bruised his foot. But he's been working great and is 100% fine."

With Galloping Grocer coming off a 1 1/16-mile race, Schettino would prefer not having to drop back to one turn, but said his main goal right now is getting a prep for the April 9 Wood Memorial (gr. I), and he'd prefer not shipping out of town.

"He can get high strung at times when you do different things with him," Schettino said. "We don't really want to ship from cold to hot weather, and then ship him back on the plane and have him possibly spike a fever. We felt it was best if we just stayed here. I'd rather see him go two turns, but at least this is our own site and it's on the main track. Shipping all over takes its toll on a young 3-year-old."

Although the Gotham might be a bit short and speed-favoring for Naughty New Yorker and Survivalist, both horses are improving steadily and should make their presence felt in the final furlong.

Survivalist, owned by Ogden Mills Phipps, is coming off a second to top Derby contender Sun King in a one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park. In his 3-year-old debut Feb. 5, he came off a four-month layoff and finished second (moved up from third on a disqualification) in a seven-furlong allowance, in which he was soundly bumped at the three-sixteenths pole, but stayed on his right lead and never broke stride. He rallied to finish a half-length behind Around the Cape (placed first), who flattered Survivalist by coming off that race to finish second to the brilliant Lost in the Fog in the Swale Stakes (gr. II).

Trainer Shug McGaughey has named Richard Migliore to replace Jerry Bailey. Migliore was aboard the son of Danzig when he broke his maiden.

Naughty New Yorker, a New York-bred son of Quiet American, is as consistent as they come, and although he is coming off three straight two-turn races, he did break his maiden at a mile by 10 1/4 lengths. But he definitely is a two-turn horse who packs a pretty heavy punch when let go on the far turn. After destroying Sort it Out by 8 1/2 lengths in the state-bred Damon Runyon Stakes in December, he moved into open company and closed strongly in the Count Fleet and Whirlaway, finishing second each time.

Owned by Fox Ridge Farm and trained by Pat Kelly, Naughty New Yorker will be at a disadvantage in a speed-oriented race, which the Gotham has often proven to be. All he can hope for is a strong pace, with some of the stretching out sprinters making life miserable for Galloping Grocer. If he puts in his usual strong late kick and makes his presence felt, watch out for him in the Wood Memorial.

Those who could make life miserable for Galloping Grocer if he hooks them in a speed duel are Maddy's Lion, 6 1/4-length winner of the six-furlong Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, and Distinctive Trick, winner of the six-furlong Fred "Cappy" Capossela Stakes.

One colt who could be sitting on a big race at a price is Paraneck Stable's Pavo, who has distinguished himself in one-turn and two-turn stakes, and is coming off a solid second in the 1 1/16-mile Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park. The son of Marquetry was also a fast-closing second to Distinctive Trick in the Capossela, and captured the six-furlong City Zip Stakes at Aqueduct in December in 1:10 3/5.

Rounding out the field are Mr. Congeniality, Lieutenant Danz, third in the Winkfield and City Zip, and ByanoseJoe.

Gotham field:

PP, Horse, Wt. Jockey
1 -- Distinctive Trick, 120, Mike Luzzi
2 -- Mr. Congeniality, 116, Shaun Bridgmohan
3 -- Galloping Grocer, 120, Mike Luzzi
4 -- Byanosejoe, 116, Aaron Gryder
5 -- Maddy's Lio, 120, Pablo Fregoso
6 -- Naughty New Yorker, 120, Jean-Luc Samyn
7 -- Lieutenant Danz, 116, Julio Espinoza
8 -- Survivalist, 116, Richard Migliore
9 -- Pavo, 116, Alan Garcia

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