The road to Kentucky continues and passes through Aqueduct with Saturday’s $300,000 G3 Gotham Stakes. The race will feature ten 3yr olds running over the inner dirt course for 1-1/16 miles. This race is worth 50 Derby points, and if you have been following along you will recall that 50 points has been enough to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate every year since the point system was introduced.
The Gotham Stakes is generally considered a prep race for the Wood Memorial, a 100 point Derby prep race. So I found it unusual that this “prep race for a Derby prep race” features 3yr olds in the beginning of March with not a single horse coming in off of a layoff. The longest span since their last race belongs to Doug O’Neill’s So Conflated who ships in from California after winning the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields on January 21st. Another note is that winning the Gotham has not translated to winning the Kentucky Derby since Secretariat in 1973.
According to our trusty Brisnet stats, 22% of 1-1/16 mile races at Aqueduct have been won wire to wire, with a fairly even distribution of winners across post positions. The only oddity is that horses breaking from post number 9 are 0 for 28 in route races through March 1st. Posts 8 and 10 combined are 5 for 63 but no wins from post 9. (The #9 post for the Gotham will hold Chad Brown’s Cloud Computing) It looks like the inner dirt course is running in a fair manner so we will be concentrating more on each horse’s form, pace, and condition.
The obvious horse to beat in the Gotham is El Areeb. Breaking from post #4, this Cathal Lynch trainee took a couple of tries before breaking his maiden, and then reeled off four wins in a row, including the G3 Jerome Stakes and the G3 Withers Stakes. Both of these graded stakes wins were at route distances over today’s Aqueduct inner dirt course. El Areeb has consistently posted speed figures that are significantly higher than the rest of the field, has won over an off track, and just posted a 5f bullet workout on Feb. 26th. With Trevor McCarthy up, El Areeb looks ready.
We have our work cut out for us to beat this colt.
The horse that I landed on to try and beat El Areeb is J Boys Echo. Breaking from the rail with Robby Albarado aboard, J Boys Echo finished 3rd in the Withers behind El Areeb and the #6, True Timber, beaten 4-3/4 lengths. This was J Boys Echo’s first start of the year, his first try at Aqueduct, and he was coming in off a 2-1/2 month layoff. J Boys Echo looks to come from behind and he lost all chance in the Withers when the pace was slowed to a crawl and he was forced 3 wide around the 1st turn. He broke from post 10 in the Withers and will break from the rail in the Gotham, assuring a better trip.
J Boys Echo’s morning works also show me that the longer the distance, the better. His 4f workouts are absolutely horrible and I almost thought he was unfit until I noticed a significant improvement between his 4f works and his 5f works. This horse wants to run and he wants to run late. Trainer Dale Romans may have a 1-1/4 horse on his hands.
The pace setup that I will hope for is that El Areeb will go to the front. El Areeb’s early speed pace figures are head and shoulders above this field, but I think that #3 Miggsy and #6 True Timber will try to go with him and force an honest pace. If any of the other up and comers try to leave with this group, we may have the pace scenario where J Boys Echo can pick up the pieces in the stretch.
If El Areeb beats me, I am fine with that. The bottom line is that I will shoot for the bigger price with J Boys Echo to win. We’ll be back to try and beat the favorite again next week.