OXO Equine's undefeated Instagrand will make his 2019 debut in the Grade 3 $300,000 Gotham Stakes, slated for Saturday, March 9 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Part of New York's “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series, the Gotham, a one-turn mile, offers qualifying points of 50-20-10-5 to the first four finishers. The Gotham headlines a lucrative card that also includes the $250,000 Busher Invitational, offering 50-20-10-5 qualifying points to the top-four finishers towards the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 3 at Churchill Downs, the Grade 3 $200,000 Tom Fool, a six-furlong sprint for 4-year-olds and up, and the $150,000 Stymie at a mile for 4-year-olds and up.
The Gotham will be featured live on FOX Sports Saturday At The Races, airing on FS2 from 5 – 8 p.m., as part of a special broadcast offering three significant Derby preps, including the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, the Grade 2 San Felipe from Santa Anita and the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks from Turfway Park. Also featured from Santa Anita will be the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap.
A $1.2 million purchase at Fasig-Tipton's 2018 The Gulfstream Sale, Instagrand romped by 10 lengths in his June 29 debut when sprinting five furlongs at Los Alamitos. The Into Mischief colt followed up on that effort August 11 in the Grade 2 Best Pal by besting a five-horse field by 10 ¼-lengths, earning a 92 Beyer Speed Figure for the six-furlong sprint.
Hall of Fame conditioner Jerry Hollendorfer said the one-turn mile was an attractive alternative for Instagrand, who will arrive in New York on Wednesday, rather than the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe also set for March 9 at his home track of Santa Anita.
“The distance of the race seems to be a better place to start going a one-turn mile rather than a mile and a sixteenth at Santa Anita. He's been off for a while,” said Hollendorfer.
Instagrand's worktab shows a steady stream of works at Santa Anita including a February 25 effort in 1:26.60 for seven furlongs.
“He's training very nice. We think we have the horse good enough to run,” said Hollendorfer. “He was always a well-meant horse, and Larry Best [OXO Equine] spent quite a bit of money for him and he's proven to be worth it.”
Hollendorfer, who has conditioned notable Eclipse Award winners Blind Luck, Songbird and the ill-fated Shared Belief, said he prefers not to compare the talents of his trainees.
“I don't really like to compare horses. Each horse has their own individual way of learning and doing things and we think that he's a very good prospect,” said Hollendorfer.
With a Kentucky Derby winner one of the few missing bullet points on an impressive career resume, Hollendorfer said he will let his horse do the talking.
“We'd like to win it, but we'll have to have the horse to take us there,” said Hollendorfer.
Also arriving from the West Coast for the Gotham is Three Chimneys Farm homebred Much Better. Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Much Better is an improving son of Pioneerof the Nile, the sire of Baffert's 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.
A dirt winner on debut at Del Mar on September 1, Much Better came back to finish second in the grassy Zuma Beach at Santa Anita ahead of a disappointing effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf in November at Churchill Downs.
Much Better returned to dirt for his seasonal debut on January 5 when third in the Grade 3 Sham at Santa Anita and followed up with a front-running score when sprinting 6 ½-furlongs in an optional claiming tilt on the Santa Anita main track.
“We were thinking this might be a good race to stretch him back out and see his ability,” said Baffert. “I thought he ran solid in his last start and we'd really like to see what he can do at two turns. He's a Pioneerof the Nile and he has a lot of speed.
“Previously in the Sham when he went two turns he seemed to be moving well and just came up a bit short towards the finish,” continued Baffert. “He won his debut sprinting and then we tried him out on the turf, but he's shown us enough on the dirt where we want to give him another shot to stretch out and at a mile this could be a good spot to do it.”
In addition to Instagrand and Much Better, the prospective field for the Gotham includes Grade 1-winners Mind Control and Knicks Go, multiple graded stakes winner Call Paul, as well as stakes winners Not That Brady and Haikal.
The improving Federal Case, High Crime, Spun to Run and Tikhvin Flew are also under consideration to join the fray in search of Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
Knicks Go remains possible for Gotham
Speaking from his winter base in Tampa, Florida, trainer Ben Colebrook reported KRA Stud Farm's Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity winner Knicks Go,who finished fifth in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis last out, remains possible to make his next start in the Grade 3 Gotham.
“It's certainly a possibility that we enter for the Gotham,” said Colebrook. “He's seemed to come out of the Sam F. Davis well. He's had one breeze since then that we were happy with and he's remained healthy. We're still trying to pick our spots and find our way to the Derby.”
The Paynter colt broke his maiden in his debut last July at Ellis Park before going on to win the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland at odds of 70-1. Knicks Go capped his juvenile season with a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, earning a 90 Beyer Speed Figure.
Knicks Go kicked off his 3-year-old campaign on February 9 at Tampa Bay Downs with a fifth-place finish as the post-time favorite in the Sam F. Davis.
With 18 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to his credit, Knicks Go will looked to add to that total with the Gotham offering 50-20-10-5 qualifying points to the first four finishers.
Colebrook said the one-turn mile is appealing for his young charge.
“Obviously, cutting back to the mile [distance] for the Gotham could certainly work in his favor, but the race is also looking like it will come up real salty, so we'll weigh all of our options,” said Colebrook.
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