There is only one stakes winner among the cast of characters in the 64th running of the Grade 3 Gotham, contested at a mile and a sixteenth over Aqueduct’s inner track. That runner, Sunny Ridge, exits a win in the local prep for this race, the Withers. However, despite its overall lack of stakes experience, this field is not short on promise and intrigue. Horses like Shagaf, Adventist, and Rally Cry are just one impressive win away from being crowned the next darling of the racing world as we march towards the Kentucky Derby.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, Laoban (15/1): This colt not only lacks a stakes win on his resume, but he’s yet to earn a win of any sort. That’s not to say he doesn’t still merit consideration in this spot. The son of Uncle Mo clearly needed his debut, but took a major step forward second time out, running off to a large lead in upper stretch before losing focus and succumbing to the eventual winner in the final strides. He earned a competitive 107 speed figure that day, and was justifiably stepped up into stakes company in the Grade 3 Sham. Once again, he topped his prior effort by overcoming an uncomfortable trip that saw him steadied on a few occasions and losing ground around both turns. We obviously respect his talent, but we do think this distance may be a bit of a stretch for him considering his speed-oriented pedigree and the fact that he hasn’t exactly finished off his last two races with vigor.
On the other hand, he makes sense to end up as the controlling speed from the rail in a race lacking a confirmed frontrunner (note the cluttered 1/2 mile positioning on the Pace Projector), so he may work out a favorable trip.
#2, Shagaf (3/1): The morning line favorite is full of promise, having won each of his two starts by open lengths. He was visually impressive in his debut, at Aqueduct last fall, drawing away powerfully in the closing stages while earning a respectable 101 speed figure. His return at Gulfstream was fine, but we were hoping to see a bit more. He didn’t improve on the speed figure he earned in his debut, and he got an absolutely perfect trip stalking out in the clear while avoiding any kickback. That was hardly the case for his rival, Rally Cry, who may have actually run the better race that day. We’re also not quite convinced of the quality of the race those two are exiting, considering the other runners in the field. What this horse has going for him is that he’s bred to run all day, being out of a stakes-winning dam that’s a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner Eldaafer. His tactical speed should have him in a good spot early, but we have trouble getting past the feeling that quite a bit needs to go his way in order for him to win, assuming that he doesn’t take a huge step forward here. He’s an easy horse to root for, but he doesn’t figure to offer sufficient value, and we could never bet him as the favorite in this spot.
#3, Adventist (4/1):
This is the real wild card in the Gotham. He showed everything you’d want to see out of a first-time starter in his debut, sitting comfortably off another runner before unleashing a strong stretch kick. That win was impressive enough that his connections stepped him right up into a Derby prep in his second career start, a daunting move for any horse. Though he was beaten by today’s rival Sunny Ridge that day, anyone who watched the race knows that this horse is the one you want moving forward. Unlike in his debut, he was as green as can be throughout—ducking out into the first turn, getting rank under Kendrick Carmouche, and weaving his way through the stretch. All in all, he ran a remarkable race to be third, considering everything that he was up against. We acknowledge that the Withers was not the strongest Derby prep we’ve seen this year, but the 103 speed figure that Adventist earned was solid, and we would imagine that he can do better with a clean trip. Leah Gyarmati knows how to handle a talented young horse, and Kendrick Carmouche should benefit from his experience aboard this runner last time. A price of 7/2 or above would be fair enough on this exciting prospect.
#4, Vincento (20/1): As impressive as this New York-bred was in winning a state-bred allowance race two back, he was just as dull when wheeled back in a minor stake six days later. It’s hard to discount any runner sent out by Rudy Rodriguez at this meet, and perhaps this ambitious placement speaks to how well he’s trained since then, but we prefer the horses that have been keeping better company.
#5, Mo Power (6/1): One of two Todd Pletcher-trained entrants in this race, he could possibly scratch out of this spot in favor of a first-level allowance race on Sunday. That said, even if he does end up running here, we would have trouble building a strong case for him. He hasn’t exactly distinguished himself while racing against only maiden special weight company, and he has yet to try two turns.
#6, Conquest Big E (6/1): This horse was a disappointment in the Holy Bull. Considered to be one of the three major contenders going in, he never really got involved while finishing a lackluster fourth. However, that was a race that featured an extremely slow pace (note the fractions color-coded in blue) and Conquest Big E had little chance to make a late impact considering the way the top three finishers sprinted home. Previously, he had run a field-best 112 speed figure when winning an optional claiming race in the slop at Churchill, one race after confirming his quality when splitting the field in the Breeders’ Cup. This son of Tapit undoubtedly has talent, and we think he deserves another shot in this slightly easier Derby prep. His last effort may drive up the price just enough to make him playable.
#7, Sunny Ridge (7/2): There really isn’t that much to say about this honest son of Holy Bull that isn’t readily apparent from a glance at his past performances. He never shows up with a bad effort, is the most experienced runner around two turns, and possesses a running style that allows him to adapt to almost any pace scenario. That latter quality was on display in the Withers last time out, when Manny Franco was able to play the break and send him up towards the front when others—somewhat surprisingly—decided to rate their mounts. As admirable as this gelding may be, he doesn’t have much margin for error against a field of this quality. We’re certainly not against him, but we believe a couple of others will offer better value.
#8, Rally Cry (5/1): This one is a tough call. In some ways, we prefer his last race to the one Shagaf ran when beating him by over four lengths. Whereas Shagaf was racing out in the clear, Rally Cry got into all sorts of trouble racing along the rail, essentially getting shuffled out of the race around the far turn. The problem with him is that we’re not quite convinced of the quality of the race those two are exiting. They were both 4/5 odds that day, and there really weren’t any other runners in that field that figured to test them. Furthermore, we’re not in love with either of Rally Cry’s prior efforts. He was a disappointment at 1/5 in his debut and then was really staggering home going a mile after setting swift fractions when breaking his maiden. We have doubts about whether he really wants to go two turns, and we feel that he could be overbet off that obvious trouble line last time out.
The horse we’re most interested in betting is ADVENTIST (#3), who would be playable at or above odds of 7/2. Conquest Big E (#6) and Sunny Ridge (#7) would also merit consideration at the right prices, and we’ll use them most strongly with our top pick.
Win: #3, Adventist
3 with 6,7 with 1,2,6,7,8
3 with 1,2,8 with 6,7
6,7 with 3 with 1,2,6,7,8