Shadwell Stable homebred Haikal came from well off the pace to win Saturday's Grade 3 Gotham Stakes, earning 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby as trainer Kiaran McLaughlin saddled his second consecutive winner of the Aqueduct prep race. A 3-year-old son of Daaher, the 4-1 Haikal and jockey Rajiv Maragh came flying down the stretch to hit the wire a length ahead of Mind Control, finishing the one-turn mile over the fast track in 1:35.63.
“I felt like he was full of run, and I felt like we kind of had them measured,” said Maragh. “I just hoped he'd continue his run and not ease up, and he continued running, so it worked out good. It wasn't that close at the end.”
Even-money favorite Instagrand, previously undefeated, ran credibly in his 2019 debut to finish third, beaten a length for everything.
“I like the way he rated behind horses,” said Instagrand's jockey Javier Castellano. “He doesn't have to be on the lead now. We can play both games. He can be right behind the horses. It's true progress for his third race. I'm very satisfied. I got beat, but I'm satisfied with the way he did it today.”
Instagrand broke sharply, but was quickly overtaken by the front-running Much Better while Knicks Go moved up to press the issue. Through fractions of :22.36 and :44.42, Much Better led Knicks Go by about a length while there was a four-length gap back to Instagrand and Not That Brady. Meanwhile, Maragh had Haikal perfectly relaxed at the back of the stretched-out field, at least 10 lengths off the leaders down the backstretch.
Rounding the far turn, Mind Control made a move at the rail as Instagrand took a three-wide route to challenge Much Better. Haikal was moving best of all, however, and just as Mind Control took command on the inside, Haikal came flying by the three-way battle to win by about three-quarters of a length. Mind Control had to settle for second, while Instagrand denied a determined Much Better for third.
“Kiaran had spoken to Rajiv [Maragh] and that was actually the plan: let him settle early, and then make that run,” said Joe Lee, McLaughlin's assistant. “Rajiv rode him perfectly. When I saw him closing I was just hoping he'd get there. I knew he was going to come, it was just a matter of if he was going to get there in time. Even at the eighth-pole, sixteenth-pole, I knew from the way he ran last time that he was still going to fight it out. Rajiv said he didn't get tired the last time he ran, so I thought with a nice trip, he'd make a run but that was great.”
A fourth-generation homebred foaled in Kentucky, Haikal is out of the unraced Distorted Humor mare Sablah, making him a half-brother to Grade 1-winning sprinter Takaful. Second on debut, the colt won his next two starts including the listed Jimmy Winkfield Stakes on Feb. 9. Overall, Haikal owns three wins from four starts for earnings of over $300,000.
“He showed me every indicator that he'll excel the further the distance goes, so that's not anything that I'm concerned about,” said Maragh concerning the 1 1/4-mile Derby trip. “I'm actually looking forward to him running those long distances.”
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