Updated on 09/16/2011 8:00AM

Gotham favorites both vulnerable


JAMAICA, N.Y. - While most of the money will be concentrated on Mayakovsky and Saarland in Sunday's $200,000 at Aqueduct, there is every reason to believe each one is vulnerable in what will be their 3-year-old debuts.

A field of seven will contest the one-turn mile of the Gotham, a Grade 3 race that serves as a prep for the $750,000 Wood Memorial on April 13. In addition to the two headliners, Tank's Expectation, Parade of Music, Rum Splasher, Heir D' Twine, and Two Shakes complete the field.

Mayakovsky, who set a Saratoga track record for 5 1/2 furlongs when winning his maiden last July, has not been out since last Sept. 1, when he chased Came Home around Saratoga while finishing second in the Grade 1 Hopeful. A hairline fracture to his left hind pastern and subsequent surgery has delayed his return to the races.

Although trainer Patrick Biancone said everything has gone smoothly with Mayakovsky since he returned to his barn in December, Biancone has concerns about his horse overcoming a 197-day layoff.

"He has not run for 6 1/2 months," said Biancone, whose horse arrived from California on Friday. "Don't be too hard on him this coming Sunday. I mean, at the end of the day, it's just his first race of the year."

Having not raced since winning the Remsen last November, Saarland is in a similar situation. And his trainer Shug McGaughey has stated more than once that the Gotham is a prep for the Wood.

"Saarland's future is in front of him," said McGaughey, who has won the Gotham twice. "I don't think a one-turn mile is his gig. I hope the Gotham gets him to the Wood and the Wood gets him where his best race will be in the Derby."

Another hurdle facing Saarland, who has defined himself as a one-run closer, is the apparent lack of pace in the Gotham. McGaughey said he has no plans to change Saarland's running style for this race. John Velazquez will ride from post 7.

"I don't want to take him out of his game," McGaughey said. "If I do, then maybe he won't finish up as well as I'd like, and I won't know where he stands,"

If Mayakovsky is fit to handle a mile, he could prove tough to catch. Edgar Prado, who rode Mayakovsky in both starts as a juvenile and who will ride Mayakovsky Sunday, flew to California on March 6 and worked the colt seven furlongs in 1:24.20.

"He's grown a lot since last year, but his ethic is still the same, very professional," Prado said. "I don't think the distance will be any problem."

Though he has only two races under his belt, Mayakovsky has impressed Biancone with his intelligence.

"He acts like everything you want to teach him he knew it before," Biancone said. "He's a very special horse in that regard."

Among the horses with the best chance to upset is Tank's Expectation. A son of Valid Expectations, Tank's Expectation finished second in the Best Turn Stakes, a race in which he encountered traffic on the turn. He figures to be stalking the pace under Aaron Gryder from post 4.

"I think a mile should be fine for him," said trainer Dale Capuano. "When we've run him he's never backed up. Hopefully, there's enough speed in the race."

Two Shakes has won his last two starts, but has to make the difficult stretch-out from six furlongs to a mile. Heir D' Twine owns two wins at a mile, including a maiden score at a mile over the main track, but faces a stiff class test - as do Parade of Music and Rum Splasher.

The Gotham, which goes as the final race on Sunday's nine-race card, will be televised live on ESPN2 (4-5 p.m. Eastern).

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