Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby – The Grade 3 Gotham Stakes – By Eric Solomon

This year’s Gotham Stakes has turned into one of the premier betting races on the Derby Trail this year. While I don’t think the Derby winner is in this group, there’s a bunch of interesting horses with bright futures in front of them entered in this race. An overflow field of 15 filled the entry box, with as many as 14 going postward in this one turn one mile event. 

In recent history, this race has not produced a slew of great horses. The two best horses to have won this race this century would be 2000 Preakness winner Red Bullet and 2011 Travers winner Stay Thirsty. The last Kentucky Derby Winner to win this race was none other than Secretariat, fifty years ago. Easy Goer, Dr. Fager and Gone West all were winners of this race. One of the more memorable editions of the Gotham was in 1992 when Lure and Devil His Due went on to finish in a dead heat. Even though neither horse was a factor in the Triple Crown races, both horses would go on to be multiple Grade 1 Stakes winners and have highly successful careers.  

This year’s large field certainly has the potential to produce another memorable performance. Even though the winner of this race is essentially guaranteed entry in the Kentucky Derby, I think the story of this race is all of the runners that are stretching out. 8 of the 15 runners in this race have never raced farther than seven furlongs. There’s a lot of speed signed on, so how some of these promising horses handle the added distance will likely be what decides the outcome of this race. Post time for this race is 4:56 (ET) in what looks like one of the best betting races in New York so far in 2023.  

Aqueduct, Saturday 3/4/23, Race 9: The Grade 3 Gotham Stakes

100 Total Derby points (50/20/15/10/5)

1 – Clear the Air (30-1 ML): This outsider is cross-entered in the John Battaglia Stakes at Turfway this evening, however, he’s on the AE list in that race. He was an open length winner in maiden allowance company there two starts back when sprinting, but struggled at the two turn mile in allowance company last out. I assume the intent is to try to get him to qualify for the Derby, so I’m expecting him to make the trip here. While I think he’s better suited to one turn, there’s plenty of other options in this race that seem more viable. 


2 – Howgreatisnate (10-1 ML): This gelding is an undefeated son of Speightster who is making his first start of 2023. He was 4-4 as a two year old, winning four sprint races including two smaller stakes races at Delaware and Parx. He hasn’t raced in three months and is being asked to go an extra ¼ of a mile longer than he ever has before on raceday, while also taking a significant bump up in class. Despite his sterling record, 10-1 feels too short in a race like this.


3 – Mr. Swagger (10-1 ML): He has one career start and one win, breaking his maiden in open maiden allowance company on this oval at the end of January. While his win was impressive, this is a big step up in class for his second career try. Juan Avila, who has done well with the few runners that he has brought here, is going to try to get him to stretch out to the mile for his second career start. 


4 – Uncorrelated (10-1 ML): Chad Brown has a good history with his Klaravich runners in Derby Prep races at Aqueduct, Even if they don’t win their local races, they have gone one to greener pastures. Cloud Computing was the runner up in this race, which was his second career start, He would go on to be third in the Wood Memorial before winning the Preakness in 2017. Early Voting skipped this race last year after winning the Withers.  He too would go on to win the Preakness. He’s a son of Arrogate who is stretching out from a six furlong debut score in the slop. The track figures to be wet again after heavy rains came through overnight. While he could step up and run well here, there are other options that are more enticing. 


5 – Carmel Road (6-1 ML, 150-1 Caesars): He’s one of two former Baffert trainees that are now running for new trainers. Tim Yakteen, who is saddling five runners in the San Felipe today, is now the trainer or record for this three year old son of Quality Road.  He broke his maiden at the two turn mile at Del Mar back in August. He was empty at Keeneland when breaking from post 14 in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity in October. He ran a better race at Los Alamitos in the Los Alamitos Futurity in his most recent attempt. I do think the one turn mile suits him, but this is a big ask to ship across the country to face a wide open field of his contemporaries. 


6 – General Banker (30-1 ML, 225-1 Circa): He’s an experienced runner, making his 11th career start this afternoon. I thought that he had an outside shot in the Withers last month when he finished a distant third behind Hit Show and Arctic Arrogance when going nine furlongs. He cuts back to a flat mile today which should suit him better. It is worth noting that his best career speed figure came on a wet track here three back when crushing a field in the New York Stallion Series Stakes.I think he’s an interesting price horse for the bottom of the vertical exotics. 


7 – Transect (15-1 ML): Paulo Lobo brings this Gun Runner colt in from Turfway, likely to keep him separated from Bromley, who is starting in the John Battaglia Stakes this evening. Both horses are owned by OXO Equine, who has been sending horses out to several different race courses during this Triple Crown Prep Season. He’s bred to handle the dirt as his dam is Divine Escapade. She was an unraced daughter of Grade 1 winner, Madcap Escapade, who was bred to A.P. Indy. He has two sprints and two wins on synthetic, and is now stretching out to a mile while also trying a new surface. These horses that have run for Lobo this season are often interesting (Bromley, Event Detail), however, they have underperformed at this higher level thus far. Perhaps if his odds go up from the 15-1, I’d be more willing to take a shot. 


8 – Fort Warren (12-1 ML, 200-1 Circa, 75-1 Caesars): He’s the second former Baffert trainee that is owned by the SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket conglomerate. While most of these horses have gone to Tim Yakteen, I find it interesting that they sent this $550K son of Curlin to Brittany Russell. She’s a tremendous Maryland based trainer that won 100 races in 2022 (22%) and she’s had two wins with four starters at this meet so far. He was working in California, but did get a workout in over at Laurel in preparation for this race. He struggled in the San Vicente at the end of January, when he was beaten by two faster colts, Havanameltdown and Faustin. His debut at Santa Anita showed a lot of promise though, so I think he has an opportunity to rebound here. His Tomlinson numbers are strong, so an off track could be welcome here. How he handles being off the pace and the large field remain to be seen, but if he’s overlooked in the wagering, staying around his 12-1 morning line figure, I see him as an enticing option here. 


9 – Clubhouse (20-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): Todd Pletcher has had some longshots run big races in these Aqueduct prep races in recent history and he’s going to try to do the same here. He broke his maiden here two starts back when making his 6th career start. He followed up that effort with a second place finish in the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes here at six furlongs. He adds distance in a field that has a lot of early speed. He only faced four rivals last time and now he’ll be facing 13. Kendrick Carmouche has won with 25% of his starters at this meet and he wins at a 23% when teaming up with Pletcher here. However, I think he’s going to be up against it in this spot. 


10 – Lugan Knight (6-1 ML, 250-1 Circa): He’s one of four stakes winners in this race, taking home the trophy in the Jerome Stakes at this distance back in January. Michael McCarthy opted not to bring him back last month for the Withers at nine furlongs, using this spot instead. He broke his maiden in his second career start at Keeneland this fall and he was a game third two starts back in a very useful allowance race at Churchill. He ended up on the lead in the Jerome and took that field gate to wire that afternoon. He battled and bested Arctic Arrogance, who is sitting this race out due to a minor illness. I think this field is definitely deeper than that race, and there is more speed signed on here as well. I’d probably need to get a little better than 6-1 to use him here. 


11 – Slip Mahoney (5-1 ML, 100-1 Circa): The first of two runners for Brad Cox in this race is this son of Arrogate who is coming off a maiden breaking performance here at this distance in January. Two starts back, he fought gamely to narrowly lose to Tapit Trice, who is a highly touted Todd Pletcher runner that recently crushed an allowance field at Gulfstream. He’s a proven commodity at this distance, which is worth noting as there are only two other runners in this oversized lot that have won at a mile and only one other horse that has won at the one turn mile distance. Trevor McCarthy returns to New York to ride him for the first time, as Dylan Davis opts to ride Lugan Knight. I like him better than his stablemate and see him as a major player in this race. 


12 – Raise Cain (30-1 ML, 400-1 Circa): Of the bigger prices in this large field, I think this son of Violence might be the most interesting. He ran a respectable second to Jace’s Road in the Gun Runner two starts back, which was his first start at two turns. He broke his maiden at Keeneland going seven furlongs back in October. He has a few clunkers in his form lines though, running a dull third in the Bowman Mill Stakes when going six furlongs and running 5th in the Leonatus Stakes at Turfway on the Tapeta most recently. I like him at the one turn mile though in this race and think that he could be gaining late in a race where some of his rivals could be losing steam in the stretch. Jose Lezcano, who typically does his best riding on the turf, has had a very productive meet on the dirt here this winter, winning with 20% of his mounts.


13 – Eyeing Clover (4-1 ML, 100-1 CIrca): Brad Cox sends out the lukewarm morning line favorite, who is looking to win his third career race in as many starts. He was a gate to wire winner of a strong maiden special weight race at Oaklawn on New Year’s Eve, where the second and third place finishers came back to win in their next starts. He shipped to the Fair Grounds for his next start where he was a dominant winner in allowance company, beating another next out winner. He’s a half to graded stakes winning sprinter, Heavenhasmynikki, and most of the dam’s horses to race were better in one turn races. The fact that Cox has shipped him here, tells me that he sees the potential distance limitations with this son of Lookin at Lucky. In addition to going a ¼ farther than he ever has before, he’ll also likely have to contend with a wet track for the first time. He definitely has a shot, but I don’t love him as the favorite, so I’ll be trying to beat him.


14 – Recruiter (12-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): He’s another undefeated Parx shipper that is 4-4 in his career. He wants to be on the front end, which has served him well when winning at Monmouth, Laurel, and Parx thus far. He has two stakes wins to his credit, and has never really had victory be in doubt. He can handle an off track, but he;ll have some company on the front end. I don’t love the wide draw for him, but if he’s good enough, he’ll be able to create enough separation between him and the others going into the far turn. He’s one of many with a reasonable chance in this race. 


15 – Radio Red (50-1 ML, AE): This recent maiden breaker was excluded from the body of the field. He’ll need someone to defect to allow him to participate. He doesn’t stack up on speed figures though, and a state bred N1X allowance feels far more appropriate for him. 



The Verdict: 8-11-12


There are many ways to go in this race, but looking at the value on the morning line, I’m leaning toward Fort Warren (#8) on top. He was outsprinted by two superior horses when going seven furlongs last time. Both horses were trained by Bob Baffert, and once it was clear that he was not going to catch those runners, John Velasquez tried to give him a little education, and was able to get him up for third. He beat a nice horse in Spun Intended in his debut, which was sparkling. I might back off him if his odds fall too far from his 12-1 morning line price, but around that number, he feels like a strong value play in this wide open race. 


From a Futures wagering perspective, he’s one that you can get value on by shopping. He’s sitting at 200-1 at Circa, whereas he’s only 75-1 at Caesar’s. If you think he’s going to win this race, 200-1 is not a bad swing to take, figuring that the winner goes to the Derby. These connections clearly want to win the Derby, so if he has the points and is healthy, I presume they’re going to run. If he’s in the field on Derby Day, it’s pretty much guaranteed you won’t be getting 200-1, seeing as how Rich Strike was only 80-1 last year. 


I’m also hoping to get a little better price than 5-1 on Slip Mahoney (#11), who is the “other”  Brad Cox horse in this race. Cox won the Risen Star with his longer priced runner, Angel of Empire last month. He has a win over this course at this distance, which feels very meaningful in a large field where many are unproven at this trip. He has the best Tomlinson Figure in this race, which could matter after there was a decent amount of rain in the New York area overnight. 


I see Raise Cain (#12) a horse that could be coming hard late in this race. I’m willing to forgive his dull efforts in both the Bowman Mill and Leonatus Stakes. One was in a six furlong sprint when facing a six furlong specialist that went on to win two more times at that distance. The other race was a two turn contest on a different surface. He was second best to Jace’s Road two starts back in the Gun Runner Stakes when that one had a very easy, front running trip. I think the one turn could suit him well, and his two turn races might set him up to be rolling late here. 


We’ll have coverage of every North American Derby Points Race, along with plenty of coverage leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6th, 2023. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.

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  • Efic nice call on exacta thanks. Do you think Raise Cain is a threat in the Derby or was the Gotham just a bad slow field. Forte looked awesome. Will not back any Calif horses I think Arabian Knight will hit the Derby wall and finish out of the money. Any thoughts

  • Eric nice ex call thanks Is Raise Cain a Derby threat or was the Gotham field just slow. Forte looks awesome and I feel all the Calif horses a not gonna make the Derby distance they will fade in the stretch.

    • Thank you, Ron! With the scratch of Fort Warren, I keyed Raise Cain and Slip Mahoney in the tri as well, and connected with General Banker getting up for 3rd.

      I think Raise Cain is a nice horse that had some warts in his form line that could be excused. He ran a career top while getting a great set up on a muddy sealed course. I also think the majority of the runners in that race didn’t want to go that far. I want to see if he can build off that effort in one of the nine furlong prep races before deciding where he fits in a race like the Derby. His lone two turn race was ok in the Gun Runner. If he can close with same interest in longer races, he has a chance of being an exotics horse in the Derby. I do wonder if he’s going to be more effective as a closer in longer one turn races though. If he flops next month in the Wood or Blue Grass, perhaps the Pat Day Mile might be a better race to have on his radar.

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