The battle of the New York-bred brawlers continued March 1 at Aqueduct Racetrack, with Len Riggio's undefeated Samraat edging Uncle Sigh to secure a hard-earned victory in the $500,000 Gotham Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) and 50 points on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
The rivals first met in the Feb. 1 Withers Stakes (gr. III), when Samraat emerged victorious by a length. They had company for their rematch, as pacesetter In Trouble stayed gamely with them in an exciting three-horse battle down the length of the Gotham stretch.
"This is a real horse now," trainer Rick Violette said. "We knew he had a shot to be a real horse after the Withers; he proved he is a real horse today."
Toting top weight of 123 pounds under jockey Jose Ortiz, Samraat broke alertly and eventually settled third on the outside while In Trouble struck out for the lead. The front-runner was hounded by Uncle Sigh to his outside from the start of the 1 1/16-mile event; Uncle Sigh stayed about a length behind opening fractions of :23.85 and :48.30 while Samraat tracked closely off Uncle Sigh's far flank.
None of the other nine sophomores would factor as those three separated themselves heading into the far turn, when Samraat closed ground with a sweeping three-wide move.
"This was a good field. It was a deep field of horses," Violette said. "The weight had me worried. We picked up five pounds from last time; that's a big shift...today, he graduated big time. His last race was a terrific race and this was a notch above that. He was pretty impressive today."
Samraat had the front two in his sights coming off the turn in the three path, and made up ground on them in a few strides to draw upon even terms with the length of the stretch to run. Uncle Sigh fought back gamely in the middle and In Trouble hung tough down on the rail through three-quarters in 1:12.30 and a mile in 1:37.56, but in the end Samraat inched forward to prevail by a neck under a confident hand ride from Ortiz, with In Trouble finishing another neck back of Uncle Sigh.
After a steward's inquiry into the spirited stretch duel, there was no change.
"He has a lot of heart," Ortiz said of the winner. "In the stretch when I showed him the whip a little bit, he was lugging in, but he never made contact with other horses. I just hand rode him and he responded very good, and I tried to keep him straight. He runs good when he's in the front, but I rated him the last two times and he responded and passed horses and kept running. That's a nice horse. I think he's going to handle (additional distance) very good."
Final time was 1:44.44 on the fast inner track. It was homebred Samraat's fifth straight victory and second graded stakes win for Riggio's My Meadowview Farm, improving his total earnings to $583,200. The son of Noble Causeway is out of the Indian Charlie mare Little Indian girl and. He won the Gotham and Withers after taking the Damon Runyon Dec. 18 to close out his 2-year-old season.
"We thought he might need a little more time after the Withers, but the horse bounced back pretty quick," Riggio said. "He's a magnificent horse, and that was some race."
Samraat returned $6.40, $3.90, and $2.40 as the 2-1 favorite along with entrymate Noble Cornerstone, who ran last. Uncle Sigh paid $4.20 and $3 at 7-2, while 9-2 In Trouble brought $3.70. Financial Mogul, Harpoon, Master Lightning, Deceived, and Extrasexyhippzster were the also-rans. Monopolize and Classic Giacnroll scratched.
Jockey Joe Rocco Jr., who piloted Team D's In Trouble, said he was pleased with the effort of the Tiz Wonderful colt in his first race since a win in the Sept. 29 Futurity Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park and just his third start overall.
"Coming off a layoff we were concerned he might need a race, but he ran very game," Rocco said. "He really dug in well and we're looking forward to see what he can do next time. Tony thinks we're going to move forward with him to the Wood."
Gary Contessa, trainer of Uncle Sigh, declared the Withers "Rocky I" and the Gotham "Rocky II" for the son of Indian Charlie who now has run tough in two stakes starts off his maiden win. Lightly raced Uncle Sigh has just four starts under his belt, and will head next to the April 5 Wood Memorial (gr. I), New York's marquee 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Derby prep.
"Samraat is a nice horse. Now I'm a believer," Contessa said. "We closed the gap on him a little bit today, and my horse is still very young. He was intimidated and he got bumped, and he might have been a little bit cautious down in there, but we're getting better. He's certainly developing. I love the distance (of the Wood). God willing, and if the horse is sound, we'll come back there."
While Uncle Sigh trains in New York, Samraat will return to Florida. He has been conditioned at Violette's winter base at Palm Meadows training center, prepping there before the Withers and shipping back to prepare for the Gotham. His latest victory vaults him to the top of the leaaderboard on the road to the Kentucky Derby with 60 points (10 earned for the Withers win).
"I'd be lying if I said we weren't already thinking (about the Kentucky Derby)," Violette said. "At this stage, we didn't want to do anything that would prevent us from going to the Derby. A couple of races before the Derby probably toughens him, but this was another stretch-long, hard duel—but Jose never hit him. He's an honest racehorse and there might be a little left.
"He leaves for Florida tomorrow. The Wood is a real possibility. That would be our best option as long as the horse cooperates and tells us that we should get on a plane and come up for it."