Trainer Michael Matz said he has been impressed with how Visionaire, his 3-year-old Grand Slam colt, has “stepped up every time we’ve asked him.”
On March 8, Matz will find out if Visionaire can take his most important step along the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) trail when he takes on undefeated Giant Moon and eight others in the $250,000 Gotham Breeders’ Cup Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct.
The 1 1/16-mile Gotham is especially important for Visionaire because he needs the graded earnings. Matz said Visionaire would have only one more prep before the Derby, and with only $78,260 in earnings thus far, a good effort in the Gotham is imperative.
“He needs the graded-stakes money,” Matz said. “This race will tell us if he’s on the trail. So far he has done well. He has two wins, a second, and third from four starts. We’ll just hope that he keeps improving. He has a very good disposition and he wants to do well. He tries every time.”
Matz is also concerned about the weather forecast, which is calling for heavy rain. If the forecast is accurate, Matz may decide to scratch Visionaire and run him in the $300,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) the following weekend at Oaklawn Park.
Visionaire is coming off a third-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 9 at Fair Grounds, in which he was beaten 2 ¾ lengths by Pyro in his first two-turn test. His two victories came at one mile – a maiden score at Laurel Park and an impressive 5 ½-length allowance win at Gulfstream Park Jan. 4.
“I was pretty sure he would get the 1 1/16 miles,” Matz said. “He is by Grand Slam out of a French Deputy mare (Scarlet Tango). But until they do it, there is always a question mark. For his first try going two turns and getting beat by only 2 ¾ lengths to Pyro, I thought he did well. We’ll just hope he improves off of that. He is training very well.”
Visionaire, who is owned by Team Valor and Vision Racing and was bred in Kentucky by Reiley McDonald, has been training at Palm Meadows. He breezed five furlongs March 1 in 1:00.60, the third best time of 33 recorded works that day. Jose Lezcano will be in the irons for the Gotham.
Matz knows Giant Moon is likely to be his biggest threat. Undefeated in four starts, New York-bred Giant Moon is a son of Giant's Causeway out of the Capote mare Moonlightandbeauty. After breaking his maiden last September, he went on to take a pair of New York restricted stakes, both in gate-to-wire fashion.
Giant Moon, who is owned and bred by Albert Fried Jr., made his 3-year-old debut Jan. 5 in the Count Fleet Stakes, winning by a neck at Aqueduct. Trainer Richard Schosberg said his colt is in top shape, but he would like him to do something in this race that he hasn’t done yet: rate.
“Basically, he hasn’t done that yet,” said Schosberg, who won the 1993 Gotham with As Indicated. “In his last race, he was just off of Spanky Fischbein. He has a lot to prove in the Gotham, (but) I couldn’t be happier with him.”
Ramon Dominguez will be aboard Giant Moon, who has not acccumulated any graded stakes money. They will break from the rail and carry 120 pounds, four more than everyone else.
With Dale Romans trainee Eaton’s Gift dropping out, the Gotham does not have a graded stakes winner in the field. Instead, it includes several 3-year-olds looking to make a Derby splash. One of those is Larry’s Revenge, yet another promising colt owned by Robert LaPenta and trained by Nick Zito.
Larry’s Revenge began his career in California for Doug O’Neill, where he won only a maiden event in four tries. Since coming to Florida with Zito, the son of Vindication finished third in a first-level allowance test. Joe Bravo will get the return call.
Another possibility is Puglisi Stables' Roman Emperor, a son of Empire Maker who was third in the Count Fleet and second in the Feb. 2 Whirlaway.
Also, Todd Pletcher will send out three, including Texas Wildcatter (by Monarchos), a 10-length allowance winner at Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack in December prior to finishing third in the Whirlaway. Pletcher's other entries are Southern Terminus and Holidaze.
$250,000 Gotham Stakes (gr. III, Race 9, 4:50 p.m.), Three-Year-Olds, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Giant Moon (NY), 120, Ramon A. Dominguez
2. Laysh Laysh Laysh (KY), 116, Mario G. Pino
3. Roman Emperor (KY), 116, Jeremy Rose
4. Saratoga Russell (FL), 116, Eibar Coa
5. Southern Terminus (KY), 116, Stewart Elliott
6. Holidaze (KY), 116, Michael J. Luzzi
7. Texas Wildcatter (KY), 116, Norberto Arroyo, Jr.
8. Larrys Revenge (KY), 116, Joe Bravo
9. Ling Ling Qi (KY), 116, Rajiv Maragh
10. Visionaire (KY), 116, Jose Lezcano