The 57th running of the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct race course in New York on Saturday has attracted a wide variety of Derby hopefuls. Using the word “contenders” might be a stretch. The $250,000 purse for this Grade 3 event will be contested at 1 1/16 miles, featuring nine (9) runners whose last race was run in five (5) different states, including six (6) different tracks. These numbers alone should give you an indication that the field is not a strong one nor has an entrant labeled “one to beat”.
The likely post time favorite should be Haynesfield (#6; 5-1 Morning Line) who has toyed with his competition in winning four straight on the New York state circuit, the last three (3) being over this same Aqueduct inner dirt surface. How the Morning Line (M/L) track odds maker puts this one at 5-1 is beyond me.
The top invaders include I Want Revenge (#8; 3-1 M/L) in from Santa Anita fresh off a Grade 2 event 3rd place finish behind Pioneerof The Nile in his 2009 debut. Trainer Jeff Mullins has jockey Joe Talamo making the cross-country trip for the big race. The question mark here is how will he perform the first time on natural dirt after six career races on the California synthetic surface tracks?
Imperial Council (#7; 5-2 M/L favorite) ships in from Gulfstream Park (FL) for Shug McGaughey after an impressive 6 ½ furlong conditional allowance score. He’s bred to handle the added distance and stepping up in class here is the natural progression if he is to be a “player” for the Kentucky Derby crown. Last month he debuted in the 2nd annual GQ’s Derby Double Dozen as #3, prior to his most recent victory.
Other travelers are Naos (#1; 20-1 M/L from Philly Park), Russell Road (#2; 20-1 M/L from Laurel Park via Charlestown), Masala (#3; 5-1 M/L from Gulfstream Park) and Axel Foley (#4; 15-1 M/L from Golden Gate). Both Mr. Fantasy (#5; 7-2 M/L) and Giant Ryan (#9; 50-1 M/L) are local NY Breds who round out the field.
From a handicapping angle there are many factors to take into consideration and just as many educated guesses to make. For instance, Will I Want Revenge perform the same on dirt as he does on synthetic? Will taking blinkers off of Axel Foley help him relax and conserve energy for a late run? Will Haynesfield, Mr. Fantasy, Russell Road and Giant Ryan set a blistering pace, leaving nothing in the tank for the stretch drive? Can Imperial Council, Masala and Naos handle the necessary step up in class to vault into the Derby picture?
Here’s how I see it… Imperial Council does score a victory here over a stubborn Mr. Fantasy as I Want Revenge, Masala and Axel Foley vie for a minor share. It’s insane to leave Haynesfield off the board, but as my Dad and horse racing mentor often says, “You can’t play them all”.
Complimentary “Race of the Week” Past Performances for the Gotham Stakes are available at www.drf.com. Good Luck.