Grade 1 winners Mind Control and Knicks Go, along with undefeated California raider Instagrand, headline a formidable field of eight in the Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham, a one-turn mile for 3-year-olds on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
As part of New York's "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series, the Gotham offers 50-20-10-5 qualifying points to the first four finishers on a stakes-laden card that also includes the Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap at six furlongs for 4-year-olds and upward; the $150,000 Stymie at a mile for 4-year-olds and up; and the $250,000 Busher Invitational, a one-mile test for sophomore fillies offering 50-20-10-5 qualifying points to the Kentucky Oaks.
||Not That Brady
Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables' Mind Control, trained by Gregory Sacco, made his Aqueduct debut a winning one on New Year's Day, posting a front-running 1 ½-length win over a stubborn Our Braintrust in the Jerome, earning 10 points towards qualifying for the "Run for the Roses."
"He still plays in a race a little bit and when that horse [Our Braintrust] came up to him in the Jerome, for a second I thought he was going to go by him. But, he does that in the morning as well and draws off," said Sacco. "Going into the Gotham, this race appears to be a tougher race with Instagrand coming and Not That Brady was very impressive in the Withers.
"Our horse is going to have to improve, but we're expecting an effort like the Jerome," continued Sacco. "He's going into this race better than he went into the Jerome in terms of maturity and filling out. He's really starting to put the muscle on in the right places."
The Stay Thirsty colt graduated at second asking in a maiden sprint on August 12 at Monmouth Park before shipping to Saratoga to wire a field of eight in the Grade 1 Hopeful.
Mind Control completed his 2-year-old season with a deceptively good seventh in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile after encountering trouble at the break.
Sacco said Mind Control has trained well out of his seasonal debut in the Jerome.
"Everything has gone according to plan," said Sacco. "For the most part, he hasn't missed a beat. He's filled out, he's stronger and his works have been well within himself. He couldn't be doing any better going into the Gotham."
John Velazquez has the call on Mind Control from post 3 and Sacco is confident the Hall of Fame rider can work out a trip.
"He's really push button now," said Sacco. "He understands what we want him to do and if Johnny elects to sit off a hot pace, I'd be comfortable with him doing that. I think he'll fire, and we'll see if we're good enough when the running starts."
The 67th edition of the Gotham will feature Hall of Fame trainers Bob Baffert [Much Better] and Jerry Hollendorfer [Instagrand], shipping in from their California bases.
"The Gotham is a prestigious race," said Sacco. "And with Baffert and Hollendorfer joining the cast this weekend, it makes for a really great event for NYRA fans. It's exciting for us to be in the race and we're hoping for a good outcome."
OXO Equine's Instagrand is lightly raced but full of potential as he travels across the country to make his 3-year-old debut in the Gotham.
Instagrand, a $1.2 million purchase at Fasig-Tipton's 2018 The Gulfstream Sale, posted a pair of double-digit victories in an abbreviated juvenile campaign romping on debut by 10 lengths at Los Alamitos ahead of a 10 ¼-lengths score on August 11 in the Grade 2 Best Pal, a six-furlong sprint at Del Mar.
The Into Mischief bay, bred in Kentucky by Stoneway Farm, will stretch out to a mile for the first time in search of his first Derby qualifying points.
Instagrand, who left California early this morning for his first voyage to New York, worked four furlongs in 47.80 seconds on Tuesday over the Santa Anita main track.
"The workout went very nice. He went a very nice half-mile with a good gallop out. We think we have him prepared [for stretching out in distance]," said Hollendorfer. "We're very happy to have Javier Castellano riding. I feel like our horse has speed and I think he can also rate if we have to."
Castellano will pilot Instagrand for the first time from post 6.
KRA Stud Farm's Knicks Go, a grey son of Paynter trained by Ben Colebrook, boasts a record of 2-1-1 from seven career starts including a memorable 5 ½-length score on October 6 at Keeneland in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at odds of 70-1.
"I was expecting him to run well, but that effort even surprised me. I don't think he should have been 70-1 and I thought he would run well because he trained so well over the track," Colebrook said.
Knicks Go proved his Grade 1 breakthrough was no fluke with a prominent follow-up effort in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, at odds of 40-1, where the colt held a narrow lead at the top of the lane, holding off all but current Kentucky Derby favorite Game Winner, who went on to earn year-end honors as Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old champion.
"He ran great that day. He inherited the lead when Chad's horse [Chad Brown-trained Complexity] stopped and it looked like he might have got the jump on Game Winner and maybe had enough to hold him off, but Game Winner is so tough and so classy he came and got us. We made him run for it," said Colebrook.
Knicks Go arrives at the Gotham from a pair of disappointing efforts as the mutuel favorite when eleventh in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club and fifth, last out, in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs when making his 3-year-old debut.
"I think he did need that last race, especially on that Tampa track which can be a little tiring at times," said Colebrook. "I think he'll like the configuration [at Aqueduct] but the surface is a question mark. He has tactical speed which will help him. Maybe now that he's in a race where he's not the favorite, like the last two, maybe he'll go back to the old Knicks Go.".
Jose Lezcano will guide Knicks Go from post 2.
Shadwell Stable's homebred Haikal, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, will look to make the grade after a dramatic trio of starts, all decided by a neck. After finishing second on his November 10 debut to Gotham rival Family Biz, Haikal returned with a dramatic late brush to graduate at the Big A on December 15 in a six-furlong sprint.
Last out, Haikal again demonstrated a strong closing kick to win the seven-furlong Jimmy Winkfield in his stakes debut.
McLaughlin said he is cautiously optimistic as Haikal steps into graded company for the first time.
"He's real sound and doing well. It's a tough race, especially with those California horses," said McLaughlin. "We'll see how he likes the mile and see how it goes. The mile is in his range, it's just that the company will be a little tougher."
Not That Brady, co-owned by Michael Imperio, Lianna Stables [Vinny Vivolo] and his trainer Rudy Rodriguez, enters the Gotham off a career-best effort when second on February 2, defeated by a head, in the Grade 3 Withers.
The front-running Big Brown chestnut was claimed for $50,000 out of his August 23 debut at Saratoga and after a pair of starts in off-the-turf maiden tilts, Not That Brady powered to an 11 1/4-length score on December 8 at Aqueduct.
Not That Brady, bred in New York by KatieRich Farms, then went gate-to-wire to win his stakes debut in the restricted Damon Runyon under apprentice rider Reylu Gutierrez. The gelding set a strong pace in the nine-furlong Withers and battled gamely with Tax the length of the Bia A stretch run, only giving way in the final stride.
Not That Brady will also be racing for the benefit of the Belmont Child Care Association [BCCA] on Saturday as his owners have committed 10 percent of the chestnut's Gotham purse earnings to the BCCA, who endeavor to provide a safe, supportive and academically inspiring environment for the children of parents working in the thoroughbred racing backstretch area at all three NYRA tracks. Gutierrez, along with his agent Jimmy Riccio, have promised 25 percent of their Gotham earnings.
Also arriving from the West Coast for the Gotham is Three Chimneys Farm homebred Much Better. Trained by Baffert, the dark bay son of Pioneerof the Nile graduated at first asking on September 1 on the Del Mar dirt.
After finishing second in the Zuma Beach on the Santa Anita turf, Much Better disappointed in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf when last of 14.
Much Better returned to dirt for his 3-year-old debut on January 5 finishing third in the Grade 3 Sham at Santa Anita and followed up with a front-running score when sprinting 6 ½-furlongs in an optional claiming tilt on the Santa Anita main track.
Mike Smith has the call on Much Better from post 4.
Bloom Racing Stable's maiden winner Tikhvin Flew, trained by Steve Asmussen, enters the Gotham from an encouraging third in his stakes debut in the Jimmy Winkfield. Dylan Davis will pilot the Street Sense bay from post 8.
Family Biz, trained by Ed Barker for Danny Chen, finished third in the Jerome after being bumped at the gate. The dark bay son of Fed Biz, a veteran of seven starts, failed to fire last out when fourth in the Jimmy Winfield. Kendrick Carmouche, recently returned from injury, will pilot Family Biz for the first time from the inside post.
First post time for Saturday's 11-race card at Aqueduct is 12:20 p.m.
Pre-Draw Gotham Stakes News
Undefeated Instagrand will make his 2019 debut in the Grade 3 $300,000 Gotham Stakes, slated for Saturday, March 9 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Part of New York's "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series, the Gotham, a one-turn mile, offers qualifying points of 50-20-10-5 to the first four finishers. The Gotham headlines a lucrative card that also includes the $250,000 Busher Invitational, offering 50-20-10-5 qualifying points to the top-four finishers towards the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 3 at Churchill Downs, the Grade 3 $200,000 Tom Fool, a six-furlong sprint for 4-year-olds and up, and the $150,000 Stymie at a mile for 4-year-olds and up.
A $1.2 million purchase at Fasig-Tipton's 2018 The Gulfstream Sale, Instagrand romped by 10 lengths in his June 29 debut when sprinting five furlongs at Los Alamitos. The Into Mischief colt followed up on that effort August 11 in the Grade 2 Best Pal by besting a five-horse field by 10 ¼-lengths, earning a 92 Beyer Speed Figure for the six-furlong sprint.
Hall of Fame conditioner Jerry Hollendorfer said the one-turn mile was an attractive alternative for Instagrand, who will arrive in New York on Wednesday, rather than the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe also set for March 9 at his home track of Santa Anita.
"The distance of the race seems to be a better place to start going a one-turn mile rather than a mile and a sixteenth at Santa Anita. He's been off for a while," said Hollendorfer.
Instagrand's worktab shows a steady stream of works at Santa Anita including a February 25 effort in 1:26.60 for seven furlongs.
"He's training very nice. We think we have the horse good enough to run," said Hollendorfer. "He was always a well-meant horse, and Larry Best [OXO Equine] spent quite a bit of money for him and he's proven to be worth it."
Hollendorfer, who has conditioned notable Eclipse Award winners Blind Luck, Songbird and the ill-fated Shared Belief, said he prefers not to compare the talents of his trainees.
"I don't really like to compare horses. Each horse has their own individual way of learning and doing things and we think that he's a very good prospect," said Hollendorfer.
With a Kentucky Derby winner one of the few missing bullet points on an impressive career resume, Hollendorfer said he will let his horse do the talking.
"We'd like to win it, but we'll have to have the horse to take us there," said Hollendorfer.
Also arriving from the West Coast for the Gotham is Three Chimneys Farm homebred Much Better. Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Much Better is an improving son of Pioneerof the Nile, the sire of Baffert's 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.
A dirt winner on debut at Del Mar on September 1, Much Better came back to finish second in the grassy Zuma Beach at Santa Anita ahead of a disappointing effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf in November at Churchill Downs.
Much Better returned to dirt for his seasonal debut on January 5 when third in the Grade 3 Sham at Santa Anita and followed up with a front-running score when sprinting 6 ½-furlongs in an optional claiming tilt on the Santa Anita main track.
"We were thinking this might be a good race to stretch him back out and see his ability," said Baffert. "I thought he ran solid in his last start and we'd really like to see what he can do at two turns. He's a Pioneerof the Nile and he has a lot of speed.
"Previously in the Sham when he went two turns he seemed to be moving well and just came up a bit short towards the finish," continued Baffert. "He won his debut sprinting and then we tried him out on the turf, but he's shown us enough on the dirt where we want to give him another shot to stretch out and at a mile this could be a good spot to do it."
In addition to Instagrand and Much Better, the prospective field for the Gotham includes Grade 1-winners Mind Control and Knicks Go, multiple graded stakes winner Call Paul, as well as stakes winners Not That Brady and Haikal.
The improving Federal Case, High Crime, Spun to Run and Tikhvin Flew are also under consideration to join the fray in search of Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
Knicks Go a possibilty for Gotham Stakes
Speaking from his winter base in Tampa, Florida, trainer Ben Colebrook reported KRA Stud Farm's Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity winner Knicks Go,who finished fifth in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis last out, remains possible to make his next start in the Grade 3 Gotham.
"It's certainly a possibility that we enter for the Gotham," said Colebrook. "He's seemed to come out of the Sam F. Davis well. He's had one breeze since then that we were happy with and he's remained healthy. We're still trying to pick our spots and find our way to the Derby."
The Paynter colt broke his maiden in his debut last July at Ellis Park before going on to win the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland at odds of 70-1. Knicks Go capped his juvenile season with a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, earning a 90 Beyer Speed Figure.
Knicks Go kicked off his 3-year-old campaign on February 9 at Tampa Bay Downs with a fifth-place finish as the post-time favorite in the Sam F. Davis.
With 18 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to his credit, Knicks Go will looked to add to that total with the Gotham offering 50-20-10-5 qualifying points to the first four finishers.
Colebrook said the one-turn mile is appealing for his young charge.
"Obviously, cutting back to the mile [distance] for the Gotham could certainly work in his favor, but the race is also looking like it will come up real salty, so we'll weigh all of our options," said Colebrook.
Mind Control Prepping for Gotham
Mind Control (Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables) looks to be in fine fettle grinding out works at Belmont Park in preparation for the Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham for 3-year-olds on Saturday, March 9 at Aqueduct Racetrack, trainer Gregory Sacco said Friday morning.
"Knock on wood, he's right on schedule and we can't be doing any better," Sacco said.
An official prep race for the Kentucky Derby, the Gotham will award 50 points to the winner, 20 for second, 10 for third and five for fourth.
The Gotham is one of four stakes on a packed day, along with the Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap for 4-year-olds and up going six furlongs and the $150,000 Stymie for 4-year-olds and up going one mile. Also on the day is the Gotham's female counterpart, the $250,000 Busher Invitational for 3-year-old fillies that offers the same 50-20-10-5 points structure for the Kentucky Oaks.
Mind Control made a splash this summer at Saratoga Race Course. After running second in his debut on July 5 at Delaware Park, he finished strong for a three-length win at second asking on August 12 at Monmouth Park.
Stepping up in class when he arrived at the Spa, Mind Control went gate-to-wire to win the Grade 1 Hopeful. That win marked Sacco's first career Grade 1 victory and propelled him into a start in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November at Churchill Downs, where he ran seventh after a troubled start.
Following a two-month respite, Mind Control came back strong on New Year's Day, posting a front-running 1 ½-length win in the Jerome, a "Road to the Kentucky Derby prep" at Aqueduct, earning 10 points towards qualifying for the "Run for the Roses." That point total is tied for ninth-most heading into the weekend.
After earning a personal-best 89 Beyer Speed Figure, Mind Control will again be competing off a two-month break entering the Gotham.
"It always helps the horse to have time between races, it's just the way it worked out," Sacco said. "We skipped the [Grade 3] Withers [on February 3] to run in the Gotham. We're happy where he is with his training and where he's at physically. The two months is beneficial and we're coming in with a fresh, strong horse for the Gotham."
Since the win in the one-mile Jerome - the same distance as the Gotham - the Stay Thirsty colt has breezed four times at Belmont, including a four-furlong work over the training track in 49.25 seconds on Monday.
The Kentucky homebred has adjusted to the Empire State after spending the first half of 2018 stabled at Good Chance Farm in Florida before being shipped to Monmouth Park for the second half of the year, according to his conditioner.
"He's adapted to New York really well," Sacco said. "He's settled in nicely and it's been a real pleasure training here at Belmont. We can get a lot out of the works training on the deep track. He's matured and filled out. We're very happy we chose this New York path."
Sacco said Joevia came out of his stakes debut fine after running second in the Jimmy Winkfield on February 9 at Aqueduct. Owned by Michael Fazio and Jeff Fazio, Joevia won his debut on July 15 at Monmouth and dueled gamely in the stretch last week, finishing second by a neck to Haikal in the seven-furlong sprint.
"He really performed well and we're very pleased," Sacco said. "We're looking forward to his next race. That next stop isn't determined yet, but we'll see how he progresses and make a decision by the end of the month."
Joevia, a Shanghai Bobby colt bred by Ikhana Farm, is also stabled at Belmont.
New York-bred Not That Brady improving as Gotham looms
Not That Brady, co-owned by Michael Imperio, Lianna Stables and his trainer Rudy Rodriguez, went from claim to fame with his victory in the Damon Runyon, and will look to add a graded win to his resume when he steps forward in the Grade 3 Gotham on March 9, at Aqueduct.
The Big Brown gelding, out of popular stakes winner Lisa's Booby Trap, was claimed for $50,000 out of a fourth-place effort in his August 23 debut at Saratoga Race Course.
After faltering in his October 20 debut for new connections when last of ten in an off-the-turf sprint at Belmont Park, Not That Brady has posted two wins and two seconds, including a last out second, defeated just a head, in the Grade 3 Withers where he picked up four Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
"We were very disappointed with the effort at Belmont when he was eased. I still don't know why he ran so bad," said Rodriguez. "So, we put him back on the grass and it came off the turf, but he ran a big race to be second. So, we just kept going that direction."
In the Withers, held February 2 at Aqueduct, Not That Brady broke from the outside post in a field of seven under Reylu Gutierrez and was prominent throughout over nine furlongs when narrowly bested by Tax.
"In the Withers, he ran a very good race. He lost a lot of ground into the first turn. We broke to the outside and maybe if he had a horse outside of him, he would have broke better, but I was very encouraged to see him finish off the way he did. You don't expect to run that good first time going a mile and an eighth," said Rodriguez.
The veteran conditioner said he is not in a rush to put the chestnut back on the work tab.
"We might breeze on Monday or Tuesday. He's training good, feeling good and the Withers was a hard race for him, so I don't mind giving him a couple of weeks off," said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is cautiously optimistic about whether he's conditioning a potential Kentucky Derby contender.
"I'm not sure of that, but I know he's improving, and we have to keep our fingers crossed that he keeps improving. He's going very good right now," said Rodriguez.
Not That Brady, bred in New York by KatieRich Farms, will compete in the Gotham, which offers 50-20-10-5 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, for the benefit of the Belmont Child Care Association (BCCA). The owners have collectively committed 10 percent of Not That Brady's Gotham purse earnings to the BCCA, and his jockey, Reylu Gutierrez and agent Jimmy Riccio, have promised an additional 25 percent.
Not That Brady will turn back to a mile for the Gotham, a distance at which he owns a perfect in-the-money record.
"He has two wins and a second going a mile. Hopefully we break a little better and put ourselves in the race early," said Rodriguez. "He's got plenty of speed to put himself in a good position and if they leave him alone a little bit, he can carry his speed."