Kentucky Derby Prep Series – The Grade 3 Gotham Stakes – By Eric DeCoster

One of four Kentucky Derby preps this upcoming Saturday, the Gotham S. (G3) gives 50 points and essentially a guaranteed spot in the Derby starting gate to the winner. The final prep in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series to go as short as a mile, and the only 50 or 100 point prep to be run at one turn, the winner of the Gotham has failed to run in the Derby since 2019. However, there have been some notable also rans like Mind Control and Knicks Go, as well as some future Triple Crown race starters like Crowded Trade, Highly Motivated, Attachment Rate and Necker Island. A deep field of 10 is signed on to tackle this assigment, with major trainers Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert, and Steve Asmussen all sending out chief contenders. Let’s dive in.

Aqueduct 3/5/2022, Race 10: The Grade 3 Gotham Stakes 

85 Total Derby Points (50/20/10/5)

1 – Runninsonofagun (30/1): The co-longest shot on the morning line, former claimer Runninsonofagun has rattled off two wins in a row, including a solid starter allowance victory in late January. After debuting for a $30,000 tag at Churchill Downs and running 3rd, he was claimed from trainer Chris Hartman by high percentage trainer William Morey and shipped to Aqueduct, where he took out a $40,000 maiden claimer. Once more he was claimed, this time by John Toscano Jr., and then went on to post the victory last time out. He takes a gigantic class hike in here and will need to show massive improvement to factor.

2 – Glider (8/1): Mark Casse ships in this son of Quality Road after three starts in Florida. Glider broke his maiden in emphatic style two starts ago at Gulfstream over their Tapeta surface, which was then followed by a strong runner-up effort behind likely Fountain of Youth S. (G2) favorite, Emmanuel in a Tampa Bay allowance. That run in late January was his dirt debut and he certainly handled the surface just fine and posted a pretty good figure in the process, so I think he’s worth a look in here. It also helps that he likes to come from off the pace, as this race is littered with speed from all sides.

3 – Golden Code (12/1): One of a couple for Todd Pletcher in here, Golden Code is exiting a 10-length victory in a New York-bred maiden special weight a month ago. That was his second start, as on debut he was a well-beaten second by Bold Journey, who also turns up in the Gotham. He was up against it from a pace perspective that day as Bold Journey got away with easy fractions and a speed biased surface, so I can’t fault Golden Code too much. The only issue is there isn’t a ton to go off with this colt and now he has to take the rise up to open company and face winners for the first time.

4 – Fromanothamutha (6/1): A consistent and hard trier who has never found an easy race, Fromanothamutha finally made it to the winners’ circle in his last start, an extremely powerful wire-to-wire win at Aqueduct. Two starts back he was thrown to the dogs in the Remsen S. (G2) where he sat the pace before fading on the far turn, most likely because the 9 furlongs was a bit too far outside his wheelhouse. Trainer Ray Handal has stated he thinks his charge is more suited for the one turn and I’d definitely agree, my problem with him in this spot is the amount of challengers he’ll likely have for the early lead.

5 – Dean’s List (7/2): Dean’s List ships in to New York after shedding his first two conditions impressively at Gulfstream Park. On debut, going 6 furlongs, he went out to the lead and dominated, scoring by 5 1/2 lengths without too much asking from Luis Saez. He had to work harder for career win number two, fighting the length of the stretch to get the job done. The big positive out of that race is the horse he dueled with, Dean Delivers, came back to nearly win the Swale Stakes, and distant third-place finisher In Due Time aired in an allowance in his next start and is expected to be one of the leading contenders in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth. However, Dean’s List is another one who will likely be vying for the early lead, so use at your own risk.

6 – Life is Great (15/1): Back-to-back stakes placings for this son of Tapiture who has only missed the board once in seven starts and has never been worse than fourth. After getting stuck in salty maiden special weights he was finally able to break through in start number five, winning by nearly seven lengths going 7 furlongs at Aqueduct. Those two stakes placings have come since, one a gritty third in a minor stakes at Laurel, and the other being the Jimmy Winkfield S. (BT), one of the local lead-ins to the Gotham. Life is Great was well handled by Morello on that day without any clear excuses, so I don’t really know what angle exists for Life Is Great that can make him better than that rival in here.

7 – Noneedtoworry (30/1): The only horse in the field who exits the Withers S. (G3), Noneedtoworry won two in a row at Parx before shipping in to New York in February. Those wins were strong and came at a similar distance to this, but obviously was against weaker company. In the Withers S. (G3), he was almost 16 lengths back at one point, but still managed to pick off a handful of horses to cross the wire fifth. We must note that the runner-up in that race did come back to win the Rebel S. (G2) last weekend, but the form of that race is still a little suspect in my opinion. A very big positive in Noneedtoworry’s corner is the likely quick pace, as it would set up very well for his big late kick. He’s not there on talent in my opinion, but could move forward a little if they go at each other early on.

8 – Bold Journey (6/1): Maybe the speed of the speed? Bold Journey has absolutely scorched in his last two starts, which included an open length win against New York-bred maidens. He ran in the Gander S. last time out, a New York-bred restricted race, where he went out to the front and looked home clear until a late surge from Barese saw him finish second. His figures have been lights out in every single run and he’s clearly very zippy, the issue I find is dealing with the other speed as well as a step up in class. Might be a low priced horse to fade.

9 – Morello (3/1): Our morning line favorite for Steve Asmussen, Morello enters with a perfect two-for-two career record with both victories coming at Aqueduct. He looked to have potential after breaking his maiden going 6 1/2 furlongs, but really took it to another level in my opinion with his win in the Jimmy Winkfield S. (BT) on February 6th. He once again sat a very favorable stalking trip and took advantage entering the stretch, ultimately opening up on the field and winning by 5 lengths. He posted very strong figures in relation to this field and marked himself as a key contender for the Gotham that day. Now, sizing up the competition and seeing how the race will shape up for him, it’s easy to envision another favorable trip at a distance he should take to well over a surface we know he likes.

10 – Rockefeller (4/1): The lone graded stakes winner in the field, Bob Baffert’s Rockefeller takes his second trip out East and will have to break from the outside post. The well-bred son of Medaglia d’Oro broke his maiden in stylish fashion at Del Mar and followed that up with a mundane fourth behind eventual juvenile champion Corniche in the Del Mar Futurity (G1). HE was then sent to Belmont where he won a very light edition of the Nashua S. (G3), and then following a few months off finished a distant second behind Newgrange in the Sham S. (G3). I’m just not sure Rockefeller really has the talent to win this race. His wins have come against horses who clearly are not of stakes caliber, and he’s been easily mitigated at this level or stronger. In addition, he’s another one who has early speed and his post does him no favors on that front.

The Verdict: 2-9

Only two horses that I genuinely like in the Gotham S. (G3) and I think you can use them interchangeably. I think on top I’ll go with Glider since he will have a much more favorable price come post time. The race will set up nicely for him, his debut win was really strong, and last time out he showed a capability to handle dirt against a good horse. Morello is going to run a big race and has answered all the questions for me which is why he’s a must use, I’m just looking for more upside and value in taking Glider.

There is truly nobody else I like in this race. I think the speed will take each other out and it’s hard for me to predict which one of those speeds can hold on to fill out any exotics. As for the few remaining off-the-pace types, they have not shown the ability to run at this level and therefore aren’t worth any chances.

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