Grade 1 winners Mind Control and Knicks Go, along with undefeated California raider Instagrand, headline a formidable field of eight in the Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham, a one-turn mile for 3-year-olds on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
As part of New York's “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series, the Gotham offers 50-20-10-5 qualifying points to the first four finishers on a stakes-laden card that also includes the Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap at six furlongs for 4-year-olds and upward; the $150,000 Stymie at a mile for 4-year-olds and up; and the $250,000 Busher Invitational, a one-mile test for sophomore fillies offering 50-20-10-5 qualifying points to the Kentucky Oaks.
All the action will be shown live on FOX Sports Saturday At The Races, airing 4-7 p.m. EST on FS2.
Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables' Mind Control, trained by Gregory Sacco, made his Aqueduct debut a winning one on New Year's Day, posting a front-running 1 ½-length win over a stubborn Our Braintrust in the Jerome, earning 10 points towards qualifying for the “Run for the Roses.”
“He still plays in a race a little bit and when that horse [Our Braintrust] came up to him in the Jerome, for a second I thought he was going to go by him. But, he does that in the morning as well and draws off,” said Sacco. “Going into the Gotham, this race appears to be a tougher race with Instagrand coming and Not That Brady was very impressive in the Withers.
“Our horse is going to have to improve, but we're expecting an effort like the Jerome,” continued Sacco. “He's going into this race better than he went into the Jerome in terms of maturity and filling out. He's really starting to put the muscle on in the right places.”
The Stay Thirsty colt graduated at second asking in a maiden sprint on August 12 at Monmouth Park before shipping to Saratoga to wire a field of eight in the Grade 1 Hopeful.
Mind Control completed his 2-year-old season with a deceptively good seventh in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile after encountering trouble at the break.
Sacco said Mind Control has trained well out of his seasonal debut in the Jerome.
“Everything has gone according to plan,” said Sacco. “For the most part, he hasn't missed a beat. He's filled out, he's stronger and his works have been well within himself. He couldn't be doing any better going into the Gotham.”
John Velazquez has the call on Mind Control from post 3 and Sacco is confident the Hall of Fame rider can work out a trip.
“He's really push button now,” said Sacco. “He understands what we want him to do and if Johnny elects to sit off a hot pace, I'd be comfortable with him doing that. I think he'll fire, and we'll see if we're good enough when the running starts.”
The 67th edition of the Gotham will feature Hall of Fame trainers Bob Baffert [Much Better] and Jerry Hollendorfer [Instagrand], shipping in from their California bases.
“The Gotham is a prestigious race,” said Sacco. “And with Baffert and Hollendorfer joining the cast this weekend, it makes for a really great event for NYRA fans. It's exciting for us to be in the race and we're hoping for a good outcome.”
OXO Equine's Instagrand is lightly raced but full of potential as he travels across the country to make his 3-year-old debut in the Gotham.
Instagrand, a $1.2 million purchase at Fasig-Tipton's 2018 The Gulfstream Sale, posted a pair of double-digit victories in an abbreviated juvenile campaign romping on debut by 10 lengths at Los Alamitos ahead of a 10 ¼-lengths score on August 11 in the Grade 2 Best Pal, a six-furlong sprint at Del Mar.
The Into Mischief bay, bred in Kentucky by Stoneway Farm, will stretch out to a mile for the first time in search of his first Derby qualifying points.
Instagrand, who left California early this morning for his first voyage to New York, worked four furlongs in 47.80 seconds on Tuesday over the Santa Anita main track.
“The workout went very nice. He went a very nice half-mile with a good gallop out. We think we have him prepared [for stretching out in distance],” said Hollendorfer. “We're very happy to have Javier Castellano riding. I feel like our horse has speed and I think he can also rate if we have to.”
Castellano will pilot Instagrand for the first time from post 6.
KRA Stud Farm's Knicks Go, a grey son of Paynter trained by Ben Colebrook, boasts a record of 2-1-1 from seven career starts including a memorable 5 ½-length score on October 6 at Keeneland in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at odds of 70-1.
“I was expecting him to run well, but that effort even surprised me. I don't think he should have been 70-1 and I thought he would run well because he trained so well over the track,” Colebrook said.
Knicks Go proved his Grade 1 breakthrough was no fluke with a prominent follow-up effort in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, at odds of 40-1, where the colt held a narrow lead at the top of the lane, holding off all but current Kentucky Derby favorite Game Winner, who went on to earn year-end honors as Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old champion.
“He ran great that day. He inherited the lead when Chad's horse [Chad Brown-trained Complexity] stopped and it looked like he might have got the jump on Game Winner and maybe had enough to hold him off, but Game Winner is so tough and so classy he came and got us. We made him run for it,” said Colebrook.
Knicks Go arrives at the Gotham from a pair of disappointing efforts as the mutuel favorite when eleventh in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club and fifth, last out, in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs when making his 3-year-old debut.
“I think he did need that last race, especially on that Tampa track which can be a little tiring at times,” said Colebrook. “I think he'll like the configuration [at Aqueduct] but the surface is a question mark. He has tactical speed which will help him. Maybe now that he's in a race where he's not the favorite, like the last two, maybe he'll go back to the old Knicks Go.”.
Jose Lezcano will guide Knicks Go from post 2.
Shadwell Stable's homebred Haikal, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, will look to make the grade after a dramatic trio of starts, all decided by a neck. After finishing second on his November 10 debut to Gotham rival Family Biz, Haikal returned with a dramatic late brush to graduate at the Big A on December 15 in a six-furlong sprint.
Last out, Haikal again demonstrated a strong closing kick to win the seven-furlong Jimmy Winkfield in his stakes debut.
McLaughlin said he is cautiously optimistic as Haikal steps into graded company for the first time.
“He's real sound and doing well. It's a tough race, especially with those California horses,” said McLaughlin. “We'll see how he likes the mile and see how it goes. The mile is in his range, it's just that the company will be a little tougher.”
Not That Brady, co-owned by Michael Imperio, Lianna Stables [Vinny Vivolo] and his trainer Rudy Rodriguez, enters the Gotham off a career-best effort when second on February 2, defeated by a head, in the Grade 3 Withers.
The front-running Big Brown chestnut was claimed for $50,000 out of his August 23 debut at Saratoga and after a pair of starts in off-the-turf maiden tilts, Not That Brady powered to an 11 1/4-length score on December 8 at Aqueduct.
Not That Brady, bred in New York by KatieRich Farms, then went gate-to-wire to win his stakes debut in the restricted Damon Runyon under apprentice rider Reylu Gutierrez. The gelding set a strong pace in the nine-furlong Withers and battled gamely with Tax the length of the Bia A stretch run, only giving way in the final stride.
Not That Brady will also be racing for the benefit of the Belmont Child Care Association [BCCA] on Saturday as his owners have committed 10 percent of the chestnut's Gotham purse earnings to the BCCA, who endeavor to provide a safe, supportive and academically inspiring environment for the children of parents working in the thoroughbred racing backstretch area at all three NYRA tracks. Gutierrez, along with his agent Jimmy Riccio, have promised 25 percent of their Gotham earnings.
Also arriving from the West Coast for the Gotham is Three Chimneys Farm homebred Much Better. Trained by Baffert, the dark bay son of Pioneerof the Nile graduated at first asking on September 1 on the Del Mar dirt.
After finishing second in the Zuma Beach on the Santa Anita turf, Much Better disappointed in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf when last of 14.
Much Better returned to dirt for his 3-year-old debut on January 5 finishing 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.
Mike Smith has the call on Much Better from post 4.
Bloom Racing Stable's maiden winner Tikhvin Flew, trained by Steve Asmussen, enters the Gotham from an encouraging third in his stakes debut in the Jimmy Winkfield. Dylan Davis will pilot the Street Sense bay from post 8.
Family Biz, trained by Ed Barker for Danny Chen, finished third in the Jerome after being bumped at the gate. The dark bay son of Fed Biz, a veteran of seven starts, failed to fire last out when fourth in the Jimmy Winfield. Kendrick Carmouche, recently returned from injury, will pilot Family Biz for the first time from the inside post.
First post time for Saturday's 11-race card at Aqueduct is 12:20 p.m.
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2019 Paulick Report.