OZONE PARK, N.Y - Undefeated Samraat will shoot for his fifth straight victory on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack when he heads a field of 11 for the Grade 3, $500,000 Gotham, a major prep for the April 5 Wood Memorial at the Big A and the Kentucky Derby one month later.
The winner of the 1 1/16-mile Gotham will be awarded 50 points under the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" point system, virtually guaranteeing a berth in the starting gate for the May 3 Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs. The Gotham will be run as race 9 on Saturday's 10-race card which includes the Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap and the Grade 2, $200,000 Top Flight Handicap for fillies and mares.
Samraat, a dark bay son of Noble Causeway, enters the Gotham off two consecutive stakes wins on Aqueduct's inner track: a 16 Â¾-length romp in the Damon Runyon against New York-breds on December 18 and a hard-fought one-length score over Uncle Sigh in the Grade 3 Withers on February 1, his first start in open company.
"There's no question more racing will help him," said trainer Rick Violette, who also will saddle Klaravich Stables' Financial Mogul in the Gotham. "If we're lucky enough to make it to the Derby, we felt two races [Gotham and Wood] would be the way to go and Mr. [Leonard] Riggio felt strongly about that. In the Gotham, we'll be racing out of our own stall on a racetrack he's familiar with. It's an upgrade as far as competition goes. He has to step up but if you watched the prep races over the weekend, there were a few horses who stepped up and a lot who didn't."
Jose Ortiz, who has been aboard for all four of Samraat's victories, will be in the irons again when they leave from post position 8. Coupled with the Wesley Ward-trained New York-bred Noble Cornerstone in the wagering, Samraat was listed at 5-2 on the morning line. Financial Mogul drew post position 2 at 10-1 on the morning line.
Uncle Sigh, who came off a maiden victory to duel saddlecloth-to-saddlecloth with Samraat before yielding in the final yards of the Withers, drilled a half-mile in 46.90 seconds Monday morning in preparation for Saturday's race. The New York-bred son of Indian Charlie drew post position 3 and will have Corey Nakatani aboard for the first time.
"I'm super pleased with the way he's coming into the race," said Gary Contessa, who trains the 3-1 second choice on the morning line for Wounded Warrior Stables. "I was hoping for a good post position because it can play a big part in the landscape of this race. He's trained good, had a good work this morning, and we'll see what happens."
Completing a quartet of New York-breds for the Gotham is Treadway Racing Stable's Deceived, who was third in the Damon Runyon behind Samraat and most recently defeated state-breds by 8 Â¼ lengths in an optional claimer on January 31. Trainer Leah Gyarmati has named Rajiv Maragh aboard the Broken Vow colt, who drew post position 6 and was listed at 15-1 on the morning line.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the 2011 Gotham with Stay Thirsty and the 2007 edition with Cowtown Cat, will saddle Let's Go Stable's Harpoon, most recently second in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, and Master Lightning, fourth behind fellow Gotham entrant Extrasexyhippzster in the Miracle Wood at Laurel Park on January 25. Mike Repole's Monopolize, who was sixth in an optional claimer at Gulfstream Park last time out, was entered, but, according to Pletcher, is 50-50 to run.
At 10-1 on the morning line, Harpoon drew the outside post 11 under Irad Ortiz, Jr., while Master Lightning (20-1) will leave from post position 10 with Cornelio Velasquez in the irons. Monopolize (20-1) drew post position 5 with Chris DeCarlo named to ride.
"Normally I wouldn't like the outside draw [for Harpoon] but after his last race from post position 1, I would say it's a good post position for him," said Pletcher. "We're hoping Master Lightning shows up with his 'A' game. He's shown in the past he's capable but he's been a bit erratic. This would be a good time for him to show up."
In Trouble, who won both starts as a juvenile, including the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont Park, will be making his 2014 debut and his first start beyond six furlongs.
"I don't know [about the distance], but I feel good about trying it," said trainer Tony Dutrow. "He's excellent; he's really, really happy. I feel the horse is ready to give us what he's got Saturday."
The Tiz Wonderful colt, 6-1 on the morning line, will leave from the rail with Joe Rocco, Jr. aboard.
Rounding out the field are Miracle Wood winner Extrasexyhippzster (4-1), who took the Don Rickles on December 21 in his lone New York appearance, and Classic Giacnroll (20-1), who was second in the Grade 2 Jerome to Noble Moon and fourth in the Grade 3 Withers.
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