On paper, the $250,000 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) has turned out to be one of the most intriguing and highly-anticipated prep races of the season, as a number of promising 3-year-olds will attempt to answer questions about their ability to go on to the $750,000 Wood Memorial (gr. I), and possibly the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
A field of nine was entered for the March 7 Gotham, which will be run at 1 1/16 miles on Aqueduct’s inner track. Four colts with legitimate Derby potential – Haynesfield, Mr. Fantasy, I Want Revenge, and Imperial Council – lead the way, each of them with different hurdles to climb. The Gotham is race nine on the Aqueduct card and will go to the post at 4:18 p.m. EDT.
Turtle Bird Stable’s Haynesfield and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Mr. Fantasy are both New York-breds who have dazzled over the Aqueduct inner track leading up the race, but both of them will face top-notch talent, including each other, for the first time.
Haynesfield, who was bred by Barry Weisbord and Margaret Santulli, has won four consecutive races since finishing a distant third in his racing debut Aug. 29 at Saratoga. His last three victories were all in stakes competition at Aqueduct, beginning with a wire-to-wire, 5 1/4-length score in the restricted Damon Runyan Dec. 7 that closed out his 2-year-old season.
A son of Speightstown—Nothing Special, by Tejabo, Haynesfield stalked the pace and drew away for another easy win in the Count Fleet Jan. 3, and then romped by more than six lengths when taking the two-turn Whirlaway in front-running fashion Feb. 7. Those last two wins came under Ramon Dominguez, but Chuckie Lopez will get the mount for the first time in the Gotham. The chestnut will break from post 6 and carry 120 pounds – four more than his eight rivals.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Haynesfield has worked twice since the Whirlaway, including a five-furlong breeze in 1:03.06 Feb. 23 at Belmont.
“He’s stepping up and it’s different competition, but that’s the name of the game,” assistant trainer Toby Sheets said. “More money means better horses. I think he fits at this point and he hasn’t proven otherwise. I’m very happy about where I’m at with him.”
Mr. Fantasy has been sensational in the first two starts of his career. A son of E Dubai, out of the Spectacular Bid mare Twice Forbidden, the bay colt broke his maiden by 10 1/2 lengths Dec. 28 at Aqueduct while going six furlongs in 1:10.51.
Kiaran McLaughlin wanted to give Mr. Fantasy another sprint test before sending him two turns, but after one race failed to fill and another was canceled due to whether, the trainer decided to put him in a 1 1/16-mile allowance contest Feb. 1 on the inner track. It turned out to be fortuitous, as he went right to front despite breaking from post 10 and never looked back en route to an 8 1/2-length triumph.
McLaughlin is now anxious to see how Mr. Fantasy responds to this kind of class jump.
“He’s a very nice horse who has been training well. The question is, how will a New York-bred in open company do?” McLaughlin said. “We’ll have to see. This is a big step up. We just don’t know yet.
“He’s very fast and just outclassed other horses in his last two, but he’s not a runaway type horse who has to be on the lead. He can rate. We’ll leave a lot up to Alan (Garcia) as far as where he puts him.”
Bred by Corra Cavalo Thoroughbreds, Mr. Fantasy was a $230,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-old purchase. He is a half-brother to 2008 Big Apple Triple winner Tin Cup Chalice.
While class is the question for Haynesfield and Mr. Fantasy, it has already been answered by David Lanzman Racing Stable’s homebred I Want Revenge. But how will the son of Stephen Got Even respond in his first try on natural dirt?
When last seen, I Want Revenge had the lead into the stretch of the Feb. 7 Robert B. Lewis (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park, but was eventually tackled by Pionnerof the Nile, who has established himself as the top West Coast Derby prospect after winning by 1 1/2 lengths on Pro-Ride. It was the second consecutive race in which I Want Revenge dropped a close one to Pioneerof the Nile. In his 2-year-old finale, he lost by a nose in the two-turn CashCall Futurity (gr. I) at Hollywood Park after rallying well from off the pace.
I Want Revenge, who broke his maiden at Hollywood in his fourth start, has made all six of his career starts on synthetic surfaces. But trainer Jeff Mullins decided the colt might like a natural dirt track better and shipped him to New York. Bred in Kentucky, he already has $174,000 in graded earnings. Regular rider Joe Talamo will fly in from California for the mount.
“Joe (Talamo) thought he didn’t get a hold of the synthetic that well and might do better on dirt,” Lanzman said. “That’s been (Mullins') opinion all along. We might as well find out now, sooner than later.”
Distance is the main question for Sequoia Racing’s Imperial Council, who will make his first start around two turns for Shug McGaughey and was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite. The Empire Maker colt seems as if he might enjoy the added distance, based on his two-length victory in a Feb. 14 allowance at Gulfstream Park, where he edged clear late in the 6 1/2-furlong race. It came four months after breaking his maiden at second asking at Belmont Park.
Imperial Council, to be ridden by Rajiv Maragh for the first time, turned in a bullet work March 2 in Florida, getting four furlongs in :48.20.
“I look forward to running him two turns,” McGaughey said. “I think what we’ve been doing with him, sprinting, isn’t what he wants to do naturally, so I don’t think the distance will be a problem.”
Also worth consideration in the Gotham are a pair of colts trained by Todd Pletcher – both of them by Lion Heart. Starlight Partners’ Naos enters off an impressive 3 1/4-length score in allowance company at Philadelphia Park Feb. 15. He will break from the rail under Mike Luzzi. Peachtree Stable’s Masala broke his maiden in the mud at Aqueduct last November, and then finished second to Sham (gr. III) runner-up Take the Points in a Jan. 31 allowance at Gulfstream.
McLaughlin also conditions Axel Foley, a son of Officer who is owned by Jeff Singer. The colt is a recent addition to McLaughlin’s barn and the Gotham will be his third start as a 3-year-old and the first on dirt. He ran last in the grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate, where he gave way in the stretch and finished fourth.
There is a chance of rain in New York on Saturday.