03/02/2014 12:02PM

Exciting Gotham, and Other Notes

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For an immediate local stepping stone to a premier final prep for the Kentucky Derby, the Gotham Stakes has, frankly, underperformed. In its 61 years prior to Saturday’s renewal, the Gotham, Aqueduct’s prelude to the Wood Memorial, was won by only one horse who went on to win the Derby. And that horse was the incomparable Secretariat.

Obviously, history has taught us to temper our expectations when it comes to the Gotham’s impact on the Kentucky Derby. And that is important, because whether it is a truly meaningful one or not, the Gotham is still a milepost on the way to the first leg of the Triple Crown.

However, beyond the context of the Derby, the Gotham has shown over the years that it can be a stage for some very important horses. They may not have gone on to win the Derby, but no one can debate the impact made by such past Gotham winners as Native Dancer, Dr. Fager, Easy Goer, Lure, and Red Bullet, to name a few.

I’m certainly not suggesting that Samraat, winner of Saturday’s 62nd running of the Gotham, is the next Native Dancer. But Samraat’s performance Saturday was yet another indication that this colt, who is now 5 for 5, may well go on to be an important horse beyond whatever he might or might not accomplish in the Derby.

Right here, I should say I have a hard time talking about Samraat in the Gotham without also talking about narrowly beaten runner up Uncle Sigh, and equally narrowly beaten third place finisher In Trouble, because all three of them were terrific Saturday.

Even though he went off the favorite as by far the stronger half of an entry, there were questions concerning Samraat and the Gotham. It was fair to wonder how well Samraat would rebound from his tough battle with Uncle Sigh in last month’s Withers. And on top of that, Samraat was running back sooner than first planned. Samraat originally was going to pass the Gotham in favor of just one more pre-Derby start in a final prep.

Lost in the concern of what toll the Withers might have taken on him was the fact that not every horse is worse for having a tough outing. Sometimes tough outings make for tougher horses, and Samraat was certainly a better, tougher horse in the Gotham than he was in the Withers. For one, Samraat successfully came from a little farther off the early pace Saturday than he ever had before. He also had the wider trip than his two main opponents, getting caught three to four wide on the first turn, and three wide on the second turn. And for those who care about such things, Samraat took the worst of a five-pound weight shift with Uncle Sigh off of the Withers. Despite all of that, Samraat would not be denied.

Uncle Sigh ran just about as hard as Samraat in the Withers, and he faced the same question Saturday on how much that effort might have taken out of him. And like Samraat, Uncle Sigh instead was a tougher customer in the Gotham. Uncle Sigh saved a touch more ground prompting In Trouble’s pace, but he was in so tight between Samraat and In Trouble during the stretch battle that it had to compromise his performance to some extent. There were no fouls, but Uncle Sigh’s tight spot meant he couldn’t be ridden as strongly as he would have been with a bit more breathing room, and new jockey Corey Nakatani even suggested in post race comments that Uncle Sigh was unable to stride properly. And after that, Uncle Sigh was beaten all of a neck.

In Trouble had more questions than anyone going into the Gotham. In Trouble, who made it 2 for 2 last year when he won the Futurity, was coming off a five month surgery-related absence, and was going two turns for the first time. And though he got away with a somewhat easier early lead than expected (primarily because Uncle Sigh and Samraat took patient approaches), the way In Trouble fought back after being passed in the stretch to be beaten all of two necks was, under the circumstances, striking.

Here’s one other Gotham thought as we contemplate the exciting prospect of a rematch between these three in the Wood Memorial: Financial Mogul and Harpoon didn’t have the best 3-year-old form seen so far this year in Florida, but their Florida form was good enough for them to have plenty of wise-guy support in the Gotham. For what it’s worth, they couldn’t make a dent on the top three Saturday, finishing a soundly beaten fourth and fifth, respectively.

Quick notes:

Strapping Groom couldn’t have been at 100 percent when he won the Tom Fool on the Gotham undercard because of a foot issue that caused him to miss a start last month, and interrupted his training. But Strapping Groom, who, don’t forget, upset the Grade 1 Forego last summer, is a thorough professional. So the fact that the brilliant and undefeated Mean Season ran six furlongs 42 one-hundredths of a second faster than Strapping Groom did in his romp in the race before the Tom Fool just makes Mean Season’s injury hurt all the more.

I didn’t understand 2-5 on No Nay Never in the Swale at Gulfstream. At all. First time on dirt. First start since August. First time getting looked in the eye in a 22 second quarter on dirt. Unfortunately, I didn’t see Spot in the Swale, either. But as the fourth choice in a field of six, Spot ran away like No Nay Never was chained to the eighth pole.

Awesome Baby, who ran off with the Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita, and Teen Pauline, who dominated the Top Flight Handicap, also on the Gotham undercard, strike me as having similar profiles. Both were most impressive first out winners. Both were thrown to the Grade 1 wolves in their second starts, failed, and then required time to get their careers back on track. But the Santa Ysabel was Awesome Baby’s second straight stakes score, and the Top Flight was Teen Pauline’s third straight stakes win. One other thing both have in common. After capitalizing on uncontested leads Saturday, there will be those lining up to bet against them the next time they encounter contested pace scenarios.

Ann More than 1 year ago
Is this Gotham the same as the Gotham won by Secretariat or Easy Goer or Red Bullet or Air Forbes Won or General Assembly or Cormorant or Lure/Devil His Due? Not on you tin-type. It is another example of how the NYRA prefers to cheapen the names of historic races by changing the track, time of year, and distance that they are run, rather than give them an honorable retirement. Like the way that Turfway's original name, Latonia, cheapened the name of the premier Kentucky track, "Old" Latonia, that closed in the 1930s, with its cards of cheap claimers. I do not see how the grading committee lets the NYRA get away with this fraud - a race name that earned a G2 ranking at Belmont in the fall gets to carry that same grade when it is slapped onto an early January race on the Inner? Insane. And don't get me started about Gulfstream cutting a quarter mile off of races but because the names were the same, they kept the grades of the original races. It is just old cronyism or are there payoffs of another kind?
John Sacco More than 1 year ago
The winner of the Swale SPOT was also broke at the castle CRUPI s new castle in OCALA another champion from the castle!!!!!
John Sacco More than 1 year ago
SAMRAAT was broke at the castle CRUPI s new castle in OCALA we are all very proud he is a champion!!!!
Jim More than 1 year ago
Mike, I loved your write-ups in the old Post Parade Magazine. May the glory of Ancient Rome smile down upon you.
Neil More than 1 year ago
Surprised not to see more love for In Trouble. I thought he ran the best race. First start off a 5 month break. Coming up from FL to a much colder NY. First time routing and first over the track. The other two had been there before in the Withers and he stuck right with them the entire stretch while being in a vulnerable spot on the rail. I don't think he wanted the lead but was left with no option when drawing the rail. Will really like to see him rate in the Wood. Would hit Derby third start off the layoff. I think he has a lot more upside than these other two. Although maybe I'm bias because I have him at 150/1 in a future.
Turnbackthealarm More than 1 year ago
Mr. Watchmaker, I was at Gulfstream on Saturday. If you had laid eyes on No Nay Never, 2-5 would have looked like a gift. He didn't look like $1,000,000 he looked like $10,000,000. Any purely physical handicapper would have bet with both hands. Having said that, I didn't, for exactly the same reasons you stated. But I'd sure be watching out for him in his next start. If he runs to his looks, watch out.
Green1John More than 1 year ago
Do you really believe that a horse runs to its looks?
Ann More than 1 year ago
The Swale was an experiment to see how NNN acted on dirt - his previous races were all on AW or turf - and a race to get him fit for the bigger ones down the pike. His connections are now analyzing all that data and will probably announce soon that he will return to Europe for his next race.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
I salute Samraat and Uncle Sigh for two very exciting and compelling duels. These are nice horses and they put on good shows. But..... Visually, Uncle Sigh looked either uncomfortable or spent though the lane yet was able to be right there at the finish. At the top of the stretch, Samraat looked 1-20 to win by at least 2. He appeared to have the race by the throat, but he just never really asserted full control. That acknowledged, the top 3 ran about as well as the horses in other regional preps have run this year. It seems like all the preps are producing Beyers in the 94-100 range. Lots of solid races, but no jaw droppers since the CashCall Futurity.
jttf More than 1 year ago
once again, the front end had the advantage all day long at two turns. samraat had the most aggressive works. three one mile works adds up to two stakes victories. the top finishers have india charlie, indian charlie and grand slam. this breeding says skip the derby. even mclaughlin is keeping cairo prince away from new york prep races this year. the $150,000 palm beach had better talent than the half $million gotham. there is a disadvantage coming from warm florida and going to cold new york. lasix has changed the gotham into a tight turn cold weather, low quality affair.
sk More than 1 year ago
I think if Samraat or Uncle Sigh run speed biased GP, they should run away with the Florida Derby. Breeding does not show they are KD horse , but they surely look promising prospects. Poiner Of Nile sire of Cairo Prince was beaten by Mine that bird in Derby and i don't remember if PON won anything big .
jttf More than 1 year ago
nile, bode and empire all finished second in the derby. what happened to he GP speed bias in the holy bull ? prince, titan and holiday came from off the pace. trainers are learning it is a bad idea to race a good three year old in new york this time of year.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
also wondering if Conquest Titan would be better off at the Fairgrounds with his style of racing. He would be on a more neutral surface not to mention that oh so long stretch FG has. GP is surely not in his best interest
Steven Rolf More than 1 year ago
samraat is really up against it historically. new York breds don't fair to well in the derby.
Chris Lowe More than 1 year ago
Funny Cide won, Went The Day Well "ran". Off hand, I can't remember too many NY breds entering the Derby the last 40 years. Historians out there?
Kevin Savage More than 1 year ago
tell that to funny cide u have to go against the odds in the derby
Kendall Daniels More than 1 year ago
The top 3 finishers in the Gotham basically ran around the track in the same order the entire race. The splits and the final half furlong were slow. Bill Mott's horse ran fast against the clock and even though Teen Pauline ran a slower uncontested opening quarter the splits prove the track wasn't playing that slow,. I anticipate several shippers for the Wood, maybe Mexikoma or Commissioner or more, since I don't believe any of the top 3 Gotham horses appear that tough. Samraat is unbeaten but also untested against higher level competition like Vyjack was last year.