When Godolphin Racing's Enticed ran a distant fourth in the Feb. 3 Holy Bull Stakes (G2), his connections admitted to being puzzled by his performance.
After displaying ample enough talent to win the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at 2, losing by 14 3/4 lengths caused trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and Godolphin USA president Jimmy Bell to wonder if Enticed regressed, or whether they should simply draw a line through the race, because the homebred son of Medaglia d'Oro did not like racing inside of horses in his 3-year-old debut.
"We came out (of the Holy Bull) with more questions than answers," Bell said. "Kiaran liked the idea of the one-turn mile, and we give him a chance to write his own ticket, feeling the Gotham was the best place for him to do it."
In the $300,000 Gotham Stakes (G3), the pen came out, and that ticket for a longer trip on the Triple Crown trail was signed, sealed, and delivered.
If there was doubt about Enticed after the Holy Bull, it was surely erased March 10, when he surged to a convincing 2 3/4-length win over longshot Old Time Revival in the one-mile Gotham at Aqueduct Racetrack.
"He really needed to show us something today, which, obviously, (he) did in fine colors," Bell said. "(He was) very professional, and we're very pleased. He's still learning. He's a big boy, but this is the time of the year you start graduating, and he probably made it to his next level."
A part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the Gotham netted Enticed 50 points, and with a total of 63, he's a safe bet to crack the field of 20 for the Run for the Roses—if all goes well in his next start, which is expected to come in a familiar spot.
"We'll sit down and assess where we'll run next, but he certainly enjoys New York," said Bell, who indicated the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2) April 7 at Aqueduct is at the top of the options for Enticed.
After he broke from the outside post in a field of nine, Enticed raced in sixth after the opening quarter-mile, about 3 1/4 lengths behind longshots Cove Blue, at 24-1, and Old Time Revival, at 35-1, who were battling for the early lead.
Fred Brei's Old Time Revival won the speed duel and opened a two-length lead at the quarter pole, but jockey Junior Alvarado kicked Enticed into high gear with a five-wide move on the turn. The Gotham turned into a two-horse affair in the stretch, and Enticed took command leaving the sixteenth pole and moved clear to cover the mile in 1:38.24.
"He's a big horse and has a nice pedigree to go along with it," Alvarado said. "I kept him outside, and each time I asked him to respond, he did. Turning for home, he took off right away and gave me what I wanted. The last part, I just geared him down. I didn't want to kill him. I know he's fine with more distance. I already won at two turns with him. He had a tough trip in (in the Kentucky Jockey Club), and he handled it. He's a very nice horse. Hopefully he stays sound and keeps going forward."
The win was the third in five starts for Enticed ($8.80), the 3-1 third-choice in the wagering, and increased his earnings to $410,680.
"It was a great run, and everything went perfect," said McLaughlin, who watched the race from Florida.
Enticed is the first foal from the now-deceased multiple grade 1-winning mare It's Tricky, which gave the victory special meaning to Godolphin.
"She was a phenomenal racemare," Bell said. "He's a homebred, and that's very important and very special to (Godolphin owner Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum). As a breeder this is what you dream about, to be able to replicate somewhat mom or dad, and he's filling those shoes pretty well on both sides."
Old Time Revival earned 20 points toward the May 5 Derby for his second-place finish in his graded stakes debut.
"He ran a nice race," said trainer Kenneth Decker. "He's learning, and he's getting better and better every time."
Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (G1) winner Free Drop Billy, the 8-5 favorite after he finished second in the Holy Bull, rallied from eighth to take third, four lengths behind the runner-up. He added 10 points to his Derby total of 24.
"If he belongs, we'll have enough points to get there. Right now that should be enough. He still has to come back and run well next time. I think he ran a clean trip. There was some good things to see, but I wanted him to win. I thought he would win," said trainer Dale Romans, who added that Free Drop Billy will most likely return April 7 in the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland.
Champagne Stakes (G1) winner Firenze Fire was another 2 1/2 lengths back in fourth, tacking on five points to his Derby total (29).