English shipper Awesome Act, a fast-closing fourth in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. II), may be the wild card in a diverse field of 10 3-year-olds in the $250,000 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) March 6 at Aqueduct.
The 1 1/16-mile Gotham, run over Aqueduct’s inner dirt, is the local prep for the $750,000 Wood Memorial (gr. I) April 3. Along with the rescheduled Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita, it headlines 3-year-old stakes action from around the nation this weekend.
Owned by Susan Roy and Vinery Stables, Awesome Act made his U.S. debut in the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup and was near the back of the field until springing a late rally under Ryan Moore. The son of Awesome Again—Houdini’s Honey, by Mr. Prospector, missed by only 1 1/4 lengths to Pounced despite a wide trip.
A $240,000 Keeneland September 2008 yearling sale purchase, Awesome Act won just one of five starts in England during his juvenile campaign. He was ninth in his only stakes effort over there—the Oct. 17 Dewhurst Stakes (Eng-I)—but the colt’s blood came back poor after the turf race which gave trainer Jeremy Noseda reason to believe he would run better in the Breeders’ Cup.
Though Awesome Act has started once on a synthetic surface, this will be his first try on natural dirt and his seasonal debut. He has trained for the Gotham at Newmarket and shipped to New York March 2—a little later than Nodesa would have hoped.
“Unfortunately, due to bad weather in New York we were unable to ship him to America last week,” Noseda told the Racing Post March 2. “He had an easy breeze this morning and I'm hopeful this will set him straight, as due to quarantine restrictions and his late arrival he will be unable to train prior to the race.”
On March 3, Vinery general manager Tom Ludt confirmed that Awesome Act arrived in New York without incident. He is hopeful the chestnut colt will thrust himself into the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) picture with a big effort. If not, there are still many other options.
“It’s a tough spot," Ludt said. "There are a lot of obstacles but that’s the way it is. “This has been the plan all along. We sat down the Sunday after the Breeders’ Cup and Jeremy told us he thinks the horse will like running on dirt. He’s done it before with horses like (2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner) Wilko, so he knows what he’s doing.
“Hopefully he’ll win or hit the board and we’ll be able to move forward. It he doesn’t run like we think, we’ll regroup. We even talked about sending him to Kentucky to train and then run (in the grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes April 10 on the Keeneland Polytrack).
Julien Leparoux has been named to ride on the lukewarm 7-2 favorite and they will break from post 4.
Another shipper with a chance, this one from Oaklawn Park, is Wow Wow Wow from the barn of D. Wayne Lukas. Fifth in an optional claimer in his 2010 debut at Fair Grounds and then eighth in the Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 18, Wow Wow Wow rebounded in a big way Feb. 13 in an optional claimer at Oaklawn with a 4 3/4-length score going 1 1/16 miles. The Marylou Whitney homebred son of Broken Vow has turned in two fast works since that win, including a bullet five-furlong move Feb. 28.
Wow Wow Wow drew post 10 and will be ridden for the first time by Corey Nakatani.
The top local hopes for the Gotham are Philip Messina’s Peppi Knows, Cash is King’s Afleet Again, and Starlight Partners’ Three Day Rush, the first, second, and third place finishers, respectively, in the Feb. 6 Whirlaway.
Peppi Knows, a son of Stephen Got Even trained by Tim Kreiser, went wire-to-wire in the 1 1/16-mile Whirlaway when holding off Afleet Again by a length. Peppi Knows, who also won the Finger Lakes Juvenile Stakes, was runner-up to Buddy’s Saint in the Remsen (gr. II) in November and third to Noble’s Promise in the Fitz Dixon Jr. Memorial Juvenile Stakes at Presque Isle Downs in September. Richard Migliore stays aboard to ride.
Afleet Again, who is owned by Chuck Zacney, the managing partner of a group that raced dual-classic winner Afleet Alex in 2005, has produced a 2-1-2 record from eight starts. He is trained by Robert Reid Jr.
Three Day Rush, from the barn of Todd Pletcher, was only 1 1/2 lengths back in the Whirlaway despite being carried extremely wide on the first by Eightfiveinafifty, the even-money who was unable to navigate the turn and was later pulled up. Had it not been for that trouble, Three Day Rush may have won the race. The son of Harlan's Holiday went wire-to-wire in the slop at Gulfstream Park to win an allowance race by a head over another Pletcher trainee, Mission Impazible, in his 2010 debut.
Owner of the best Beyer Speed Figure in the Gotham is I've Got the Fever, who has already tangled with some of Pletcher’s top Triple Crown candidates. As a 2-year-old, he finished fourth behind Aikenite in his debut, fourth to Super Saver in his second start, and third behind Rule in his next outing, finally breaking his maiden on Feb. 20 at Aqueduct with a front-running victory while earning a 90 Beyer.
“I had been looking at the Gotham for him, but he was supposed to break his maiden about two weeks earlier than he did. He was entered a couple of times but it just didn’t work out,” said trainer John Terranova of the IEAH Stables colt. “He's really matured since his 2-year-old season, though, and he ran into some quality colts as a juvenile, so he's got some back class there."
Also based locally is Steel Your Face Stables’ Yawanna Twist, who is undefeated in two starts for Rick Dutrow Jr., and will be making his first start around two turns.
George and Lori Hall’s Nacho Friend has not raced since finishing fourth by a length in the Sanford Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga last summer.
Priscilla Graham's Turf Melody, with New York's top rider Ramon Dominguez in the irons for Graham Motion, enters off a sixth-place finish in the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds Jan. 23.
Secretariat, in 1973, was the last Gotham winner to go on to take the Kentucky Derby.
$250,000 Gotham Stakes (gr. III, Race 10, 5:12 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/16 Miles (Inner Dirt) PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey, Trainer
1. Three Day Rush, 116, Jara, Pletcher
2. Yawanna Twist, 116, Prado, Dutrow, Jr.
3. Nacho Friend, 116, Bravo, Breen
4. Awesome Act, 116, Leparoux, Noseda
5. I've Got the Fever, 116, Terranova
6. Peppi Knows, 120, Migliore, P Kreiser
7. Shrimp Dancer, 116, Lopez, Donk
8. Turf Melody, 120, Dominguez, Graham
9. Afleet Again, 116, Carmouche, Reid Jr.
10. Wow Wow Wow, 116, Nakatani, Lukas