03/10/2015 12:53PM

Road to the Derby analysis: Gotham Stakes

Tom Keyser
El Kabeir, ridden by C.C. Lopez, wins the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths Saturday.

Grade 3, $400,000 Gotham Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Aqueduct, March 7, 2015
(50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for a win, 20 for second, 10 for third, 5 for fourth)

Winner: El Kabeir
Trainer: John Terranova
Jockey: C.C. Lopez
Owner: Zayat Stables, LLC
Beyer Speed Figure: 89

EL KABEIR won his third points race on the road to the Kentucky Derby, following victories in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs last fall and the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct earlier this year. He fires every time and has braved a brutal winter, no doubt owing to both his fortitude and the care of trainer John Terranova and his wife, Tonja.

El Kabeir has shown versatility in his wins. He led from start to finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club, stalked the leaders and then kicked clear in the stretch in the Jerome, and came from well back here in the Gotham. His ability to handle all kinds of situations will serve him well in the inevitable 20-horse Derby field, in which he’s already guaranteed a spot with all the points he’s accumulated.

In the Gotham, El Kabeir dropped well back off what turned out to be a very hot pace over a track rated “muddy.” He was eighth, in front of just two horses, on the first turn but advanced sharply up the rail down the backstretch to enter a contending position. After patiently waiting for an outside seam on the turn, jockey C.C. Lopez was able to tip El Kabeir four paths wide entering the lane, and he accelerated sharply to roll past the leaders. El Kabeir drifted in through the lane and was near the rail by the time he finished, 2 3/4 lengths best over runner-up TIZ SHEA D. It’s also significant that El Kabeir gave 6 to 7 pounds to his nine rivals while carrying the top weight of 123 pounds.

Tiz Shea D was making just the second start of his career following a win against maidens going 5 1/2 furlongs at Parx. He was privately purchased after that race and moved to trainer Bill Mott. He fell into a perfect spot early, on the rail, behind two dueling leaders. He had to wait behind those horses entering the lane, then rallied up the rail and, though no match for the winner, held off CLASSY CLASS for second.

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Classy Class broke a tad slowly but was able to secure a good position along the rail around the first turn while racing in sixth place. He got shuffled back heading down the backstretch, yielding a rail position that El Kabeir was quick to seize. As a result, he wound up having to wait in traffic as the field neared the stretch. He knifed between horses, waited a bit again a furlong out, then got clear and had every chance to be second but couldn’t outfinish Tiz Shea D, giving the indication that he’s reached the limit of the distances he can best handle.

TOASTING MASTER, who was fourth, was sent aggressively from the gate to secure the rail and the lead heading into the first turn, where he was joined by BLAME JIM. Those two sped through fractions of 23 seconds for the opening quarter and 46.63 seconds for a half-mile. He got the best of Blame Jim but could not hold off the top three, though he only missed second by about a length.

TENCENDUR, who was fifth, was seventh early, racing outside Classy Classy, was forced to race three paths wide on the far turn and into the stretch, found a seam and got to the middle of the track for a clear shot to make a run but never changed leads down the stretch while still doing enough to miss second by about a length. He didn’t change leads in the Withers Stakes, either.

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DONTBETWITHBRUNO, who was sixth, was racing in the clear in fifth early, a good spot considering the pace, but was outrun on the far turn, was late to change leads in the stretch, and only passed tired rivals while never threatening.

Seventh-place finisher UNINFLUENCED raced in the clear in fourth early, behind the dueling leaders, ranged up menacingly three paths wide at the top of the lane but had nothing to offer thereafter and appeared intimidated in midstretch by Tencendur, who was trying to lug in while racing on his wrong lead.

Blame Jim, who finished eighth, rushed up from his outside post to battle for the early lead outside Toasting Master through a fairly quick opening quarter- and half-mile, remained prominent to upper stretch, then readily faded in his first try around two turns. He should return to sprinting.

COMBAT DIVER, who was ninth, has no early speed. He fell back to last early, hugged the rail throughout, and passed just one horse.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL, who finished last of 10, broke poorly, losing the early position it was assumed he would have since he was near the lead in his lone prior start, a maiden win at Gulfstream. He was near the back of the pack while three paths wide around the first turn, stayed three paths wide down the backstretch and around the final turn, began to tire at the quarter pole, then backed up quickly after being pushed aside by Tencendur in upper stretch.