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March 2nd, 2013 − Aqueduct
COUNTDOWN REWIND: GOTHAM STAKES
By Jeremy Plonk
Date: Saturday, March 2, 2013
Kentucky Derby Points Awarded: 50-20-10-5
Distance: 1 1/16 miles (2 turns) on the inner dirt surface
HANDICAPPERS’ RECAP: When you get the winners of the Grade 2 Remsen and repositioned Grade 2 Jerome in the lineup for the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes, you have to call it a pretty salty rendition of an otherwise steppingstone race. And while the Grade 3 Withers winner Revolutionary (Todd Pletcher) had motored south for tougher tasks, that race’s next four finishers all came calling to meet OVERANALYZE (Todd Pletcher) and VYJACK (Rudy Rodriguez). The two Grade 2 winners spotted the field seven pounds each (123-116 spread). While VYJACK impressed to win his fourth straight start without a loss, the wide-drawn OVERANALYZE failed to overcome his tall task off a three-month layoff as the 8-5 favorite.
ON THE CLOCK: The day’s trio of 1-1/16 miles races were eerily similar on the clock. VYJACK ran 1:44.09 in his Gotham score. Meanwhile, a $25,000 optional claiming race went in 1:44.11 earlier in the day, and the Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap, won by classy older mare Summer Applause, stopped the clock a tick quicker in 1:44.10. The track was not playing fast, as the Grade 2 Tom Fool Handicap for top sprinters clocked much, much slower than its past two years. By comparison, in the eight years since the Gotham returned to 1-1/16 miles, the final time here ranks fifth-fastest, smack dab in the middle. What’s most impressive in the takeaway here is that VYJACK ran a fourth quarter in just over 24 flat, where the race was won.
THE EYE TEST: VYJACK had been on or near the lead in each of his previous three wins, but he stretched out in distance for the fourth straight time and answered the call despite rallying from 10th of 11. He’s starting to remind me an awful lot of Smarty Jones in 2004, a horse who every time he ran early in the spring, I expected him to tap out. By the time April rolled around, he showed me gears and the ability to get in and out of a pickle, something only the stars can do. VYJACK treaded into that sanctuary with this performance. If he makes that Smarty Jones leap forward in the Wood like his predecessor did in the ’04 Arkansas Derby, batten down the hatches. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but it’s on the cusp. The brilliance of this trip came under the finish line the first time, when shuffled out of his normal forward position, VYJACK was able to take the cues from Joel Rosario, tap the brakes and back away from a total melee happening in front of him. Steered wide on the clubhouse turn, he was able to remain in the clear and won despite giving away as much or more ground than any horse in the race. VYJACK made me a believer; now it’s a matter if he can continue that onto a whole new world at 1 1/8 miles, which this effort hints that he could.
TRANSPARENT (Kiaran McLaughlin) was the race’s biggest disappointment to me, even more so than OVERANALYZE. Under a feathery weight and with a dream trip pressing an easy pace, TRANSPARENT looked like a winner at the half-mile pole, quarter pole and almost to the eighth pole. Then he just sputtered and rejected the gift. His much more lightly raced stablemate ELNAAWI (McLaughlin) ran awfully well to be third. A rugged start and trip was overcome by ELNAAWI, and you don’t see that often with horses making their third lifetime start and first time in a large field size. This $500,000 Street Cry colt can run as To Honor And Serve’s baby brother. OVERANALYZE lacked punch when it counted and was wide throughout, but a Remsen champ at nine furlongs would have figured to have more steady-plug in him in the stretch even if not brilliant enough to overcome his post and weight allowances. Perhaps the recent losses of his former rivals Normandy Invasion (Chad Brown) and Carried Interest (Rick Violette) served as harbingers of things to come. SIETE DE OROS (Ramon Preciado) had one of the race’s tougher trips and ran on nicely to be fourth. He’s so honest and has become a treat to watch, even if he’s probably never going to be a Grade 1-winning type.
PROJECTING THE GOTHAM STAKES FORWARD: The winter cast will be well-represented in the G1 Wood Memorial when unbeaten VYJACK returns as a legitimate contender. But since 1995, only one Gotham winner added the Wood (I Want Revenge in 2009). ELNAAWI looks like this race’s rising player outside the winner. He ran on very nicely, galloped out well and has only made three starts with a lot of ceiling. TRANSPARENT probably deserves another shot, but with an uninterrupted form cycle, I’m not sure he’ll be any more fit or capable to extend to nine furlongs against tougher in the Wood. WEST HILLS GIANT probably had his best chance at stealing one on the front end here and came up second-best. OVERANALYZE must get better next time, and likely should. But how much?