03/05/2010 12:00AM

Opportunity knocks for unknowns


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - One would be hard-pressed to find the name of any of the 10 3-year-olds entered in Saturday's Grade 3, $250,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on a top 20 list of Kentucky Derby candidates. But by 5:15 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, it is likely the connections of at least one of these horses will start thinking about the first Saturday in May.

Despite the allure of a two-turn 1 1/16-mile dirt race that offers $150,000 in graded stakes money to the winner, the Gotham failed to attract a single graded stakes winner. Peppi Knows, winner of the Whirlaway here last month, and Turf Melody, winner of the Springboard Mile at Remington Park, are the only stakes winners in the field.

The wide-open nature of the field is exemplified by the fact that New York Racing Association oddmsmaker Eric Donovan made Awesome Act, a horse that has never run on dirt, the 7-2 morning-line favorite. Awesome Act's one win came on turf. He has not run since finishing a fast-closing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita last Nov. 7.

"He's dirt-bred," said Wayne Tanner, who traveled to New York with the horse and who is the assistant to trainer Jeremy Noseda. "When we ran him on synthetic, Frankie Dettori rode him and he came back and said he wants real fast ground. His breeding suggests he's all dirt-bred."

Tanner said that in the Breeders' Cup Awesome Act "didn't turn too great."

"We put a lot of work in and that's all been sorted [out]," he said.

Awesome Act arrived in New York early Wednesday morning after shipping from England, where he trained all winter. He was scheduled to clear quarantine in time to train Friday morning at Belmont Park.

Julien Leparoux, the reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey, has the call from post 4.

Peppi Knows, who has won 4 of 6 starts, makes his third visit to Aqueduct after running second to Buddy's Saint in last November's Grade 2 Remsen and winning last month's Whirlaway. Tim Kreiser, the trainer of Peppi Knows, thinks a successful race over the inner track give his horse a "big advantage" over the competition.

"Plus last time that was a pretty tiring track and he handled it pretty easy, I thought," Kreiser said. "I was worried, especially having two months off. He was waiting for them to come at him down the lane, but nobody was there."

Despite being the most accomplished horse in the race, Peppi Knows is listed at 10-1 on the morning line.

"I'm sure he's not going to get no respect - he'll be 8- or 10-1 - he's just going to have to earn it," Kreiser said. "Hopefully, he'll run the same race he ran and improve a couple more points. That's what you'd like to see when you're in those type of races."

I've Got the Fever wheels back in the Gotham just two weeks after winning a two-turn mile race in front-running fashion over the inner track in his first race in blinkers.

While concerned about running I've Got the Fever back so soon after she ran a career-best race, assistant trainer Tonja Terranova said I've Got the Fever is "doing good, and sometimes you don't want to wait on them when they're doing really well."

Wow Wow Wow, who ships in from Arkansas for D. Wayne Lukas, figures to be part of the pace along with I've Got the Fever and perhaps Three Day Rush.

Yawanna Twist, 2 for 2 in New York-bred sprint races, will try open company and two turns for the first time. Edgar Prado comes up from south Florida to ride. Nacho Friend, who has not run since finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Sanford at Saratoga last July 30, is also stretching out in distance for the first time. Joe Bravo rides.

Shrimp Dancer, Turf Melody, and Afleet Again complete the field.

The Gotham will go as race 10 on an 11-race card that includes the Grade 3, $100,000 Toboggan for older sprinters and the $65,000 Fred "Cappy" Capossela Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters. The Gotham is also the third leg of a late pick four that will have a guaranteed pool of $250,000.