(Free Drop Billy winning the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last October / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland)
From the media team at NYRA / Anthony Affrunti:
This Saturday, the 70th winner in the history of the Grade 3, $300,000, Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack will try to become just the second horse since the mighty Secretariat to use the race towards a successful path before etching his name among the winners of the coveted Kentucky Derby. A field of nine will go to the post with the hopes of not only embarking on a successful journey through the one-turn mile, but making it to the gate for this year’s Run for the Roses on May 5.
One of the main contenders is the Albaugh Family Stable’s multiple Grade 1 winner Free Drop Billy, who was among three entered to run in last Saturday’s Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park until trainer Dale Romans called a late audible and withdrew the Union Rags colt from the race that morning to instead ship up to New York and use the Gotham, a race both Romans and the Albaugh Stable won last year with J Boy’s Echo, as the next step in his Derby preparation.
The Gotham offers the same 50-20-10-5 Derby point system as the Fountain of Youth, allowing Free Drop Billy’s connections to separate two of their runners, which worked to Romans’ benefit as his other entrant, Promises Fulfilled, wired the competition to upset the field of nine at 18-1, giving Romans his first Fountain of Youth victory. The Gotham is next on his Derby campaign calendar.
“I think it’s a wide-open race,” Romans said. “For most of the 3-year-old preps at this time of the year, they’re all wide open, everybody is starting to come together, but he’s doing great, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Turning back to the mile instead of the mile and a sixteenth he was scheduled to run last Saturday won’t pose a problem for Free Drop Billy, and going longer shouldn’t be a problem either, according to Romans.
“The distance doesn’t matter for him,” he said. “Even though it’s a different distance, and a different racetrack, it doesn’t matter. He’s a versatile horse. He’s a push button horse. He won a grade one at seven-eighths, and he won a grade one at a mile and a sixteenth, so the distance for him isn’t really a concern at all.”
Free Drop Billy began his 3-year-old season with a second place finish in the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream after ending his 2-year-old year with a disappointing ninth place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar. It was the first time the $200,000 Keeneland purchase was worse than second in his career, after he debuted with a three-length victory in his first outing at Churchill Downs. He then rattled off two second-place finishes in the Grade 3 Sanford and Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga before he returned to the winners’ circle in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Futurity at Keeneland.
The earner of $495,220 will be joined by stablemate Cove Blue, a colt by Ghostzapper who broke his maiden in his fourth start before finishing third behind the Romans-trained winner Storm Runner in a $75 000, non-winners of one lifetime open claiming contest.
“He’s a real fast horse, Romans said. “He’s real fast. He’ll be out there rambling.”
Free Drop Billy will break from post 6 and will be joined by Dylan Davis for the first time. Cove Blue will start from post 2 and will have Chris Landeros in the saddle.
Mr. Amore Stable’s Firenze Fire, a multiple graded stakes winner, will make his third start in 2018. The Poseidon’s Warrior colt kicked off his sophomore year with a half-length victory in the muddy Jerome before a runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Withers. Trainer Jason Servis said his seemingly under-the-radar Derby prospect is stronger than his billing among the others.
“We’ll see how it goes. I guess he doesn’t get a lot of respect, but his form is good. I don’t know if it’s because he’s not a high-priced yearling, but if you look, at one point he was four-for-six. He won the Sanford up at Saratoga, he won the Champagne, then the Jerome,” Servis said. “He’ll always give you a run, he always tries.”
After winning his career debut at Monmouth Park, Firenze Fire returned to win the Sanford a length over Free Drop Billy at Saratoga, but then tired late for fourth in the Hopeful. A victory in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont led him to Del Mar that fall where he failed to menace and finished seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to close out his 2-year-old season.
“In the Breeders’ Cup, he had a low-grade temp,” said Servis. “Not enough to call it a temperature. It was elevated for him. The blood work checked out, but if his white blood cell count was high then we wouldn’t have run him. His temperature was high for him the whole time in California.”
While the Derby trail continues along, the question of getting the Classic distance of 1 ¼ miles in the Derby becomes the focal point. For his part, Servis believes his colt shouldn’t have a problem.
“The mile and a quarter, from what I’ve seen it’s all about the ride,” he said. “If he’s ridden right he can get it. He can’t get an early middle move or a three-wide trip and then run. He needs to be ridden right.”
Servis will also pack a one-two punch in the mile-long affair with New Farm’s Dial Operator, who is making only his third career start, but does so undefeated. The Gotham will be a tough test for the Dialed In colt, but Servis likes his lightly raced runner.
“He’s alright,” said Servis. “He’s an okay horse. He’s lightly raced and a little immature, and he’s under the radar. He’s a big horse, a very big horse. I’ll leave it to the trip.”
Firenze Fire draws post 5 and will be ridden by jockey Manuel Franco. Dial Operator draws the rail with Trevor McCarthy aboard.
Godolphin’s colt Enticed will make his second start of the year after he fading to a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream on February 3. The Medaglia d’Oro colt owns two victories from four starts beginning with his career debut in the mud at Saratoga. A victory by a head in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs bookended a third-place finish in the Champagne. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee will benefit from drawing the outside post on Saturday.
“It’s a good post for him, we’ll see how it goes,” McLaughlin said. “He just has to break well, and we’ll see what goes on inside of us. We’ll watch what happens and be in the clear. He’s doing real well. We have Junior [Alvarado] back aboard him, so all is well.”
Enticed will run from post 9, and will be reunited with Junior Alvarado, aboard for all but his last start.
Calumet Farm’s Beautiful Shot is another in the field who is lightly raced but enters with a chance to make an impact. The California shipper makes his fourth start, and first of the year after a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Bob Hope at Del Mar on November 11. With a maiden win and a stakes victory in his first two starts, the competition will be tougher in the Gotham, and the Trappe Shot ridgling will be going farther than his career longest of seven furlongs, but is bred to handle the added ground.
Beautiful Shot drew post 3 and will be ridden by Angel Arroyo.
Black Cloud Stable’s two-time stakes winner Whereshetoldmetogo will bring the most experience by making his ninth start for trainer Anthony Pecoraro; Jacks or Better Farm’s Old Time Revival will make the trip from Maryland for trainer Kenneth Decker as he looks to score his biggest victory yet while owning a maiden win from five starts; and August Dawn Farm’s Nine Route is perfect through three starts at Aqueduct and looks to extend his streak after winning the one-mile Gander Stakes by three lengths in the slop for the Jeremiah Englehart barn.
San Felipe Stakes Could Feature Two Top KY Derby Candidates — If Rains Stay Away:
From the Media Team at Santa Anita:
It’s showdown time Saturday at Santa Anita, as top Derby prospects McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro head a field of eight sophomores in the Grade 2, $400,000 San Felipe Stakes at 1/16-miles. The final major steppingstone to the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby April 7, the San Felipe will award 85 all-important Kentucky Derby qualifying points–with 50 to the winner and 20, 10 and five points to the second, third and fourth place finishers.
Trained by Bob Baffert, McKinzie, a rousing 5 ½ length, first-out maiden winner going 7-furlongs here on Oct. 28, was subsequently second, beaten three quarters of a length in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity going 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 9, but was awarded the win when his stablemate Solomini was disqualified for interference in deep stretch. A Kentucky-bred colt by Street Sense, he’s trained in exceptional manner for Baffert since his Futurity victory and merits top billing on Saturday.
Owned and trained by Mick Ruis, Bolt d’Oro was undefeated in three starts, including a pair of Grade I wins, going into the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Nov. 4, but was compromised by an outside draw and finished third, beaten 5 ¼ lengths by eventual Eclipse Champion 2-year-old, Good Magic.
Sidelined by what was described as a muscle pull following the Juvenile, Bolt d’Oro had his first recorded work here on Jan. 27 and has trained forwardly, with his most recent drill a snappy half mile in 46.40 Monday morning with Victor Espinoza aboard.
Highly respected longtime private clocker Gary Young assessed “Bolt’s” work thusly following training hours on Monday: “He looked terrific,” said Young. “No one could knock the way he worked today, it was perfect. It looks like the stage is set for Saturday. McKinzie worked great yesterday (Sunday, seven furlongs in 1:23.80), so the two favorites come into this race really good.”
The only hiccup that could possibly derail the matchup is the weather. According to multiple sources, Ruis has said that he will scratch Bolt d’Oro if the weather turns nasty and the track turns soupy. Instead of racing, Ruis said he will train up to the Santa Anita Derby or look for another prep instead.
The weather could help the race, on another hand. Kanthaka, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, was expected to be on a plane and headed east for the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. However, due to heavy snow storms along the East Coast, his flight was delayed. Whether it be a precautionary move or not, Kanthaka — an impressive son of Jimmy Creed — was entered for the San Felipe Stakes, and it now appears he will run on the West Coast.
Here is a closer look at the top candidates:
Owner: Mike Pegram Karl Watson and Paul Weitman Trainer: Bob Baffert
A sentimental favorite for Baffert and many others, he’s named for longtime Los Alamitos executive and Baffert confidant Brad McKinzie, who passed away at age 62 following a lengthy illness this past August. Purchased as a $170,000 Keeneland September yearling, he would appear to rate an advantage over Bolt d’Oro at this point in time due to the fact Baffert has not missed any training with him since his Grade I win on Dec. 9. With “Big Money” Mike Smith set to ride him back, McKinzie is obviously in the best of racing hands, as he and Baffert are considered by many to be the best in their respective fields of endeavor. Although he was stretching out for the first time, the naturally quick McKinzie was relaxed early with Smith in his Los Alamitos win and it would appear he’s eligible to improve as the distances get longer.
Owner: Mick Ruis Trainer: Mick Ruis
A winner of the Grade I, seven furlong Del Mar Futurity in his second start on Sept. 4, this incredibly talented colt by Medaglia d’Oro breezed to a 7 ¾ length win here in the Grade I, 1 1/16 miles FrontRunner Stakes Sept. 30 and was the heavy 3-5 favorite among 12 horses in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Nov. 4. Parked wide the entire trip from his number 11 post position, Bolt d’Oro finished gallantly to be third and in the opinion of many, remained 2017’s top 2-year-old. With regular pilot Corey Nakatani and Ruis parting company in early January, Ruis sought out four-time Eclipse Champion Javier Castellano for Saturday’s San Felipe and flew Castellano west to work “Bolt” six furlongs out of the gate in 1:12 flat on Feb. 26–a work in which he broke tardily, which has been an issue in two of his starts. With Victor Espinoza hoping to take over in either the Santa Anita Derby April 7, or the Run for the Roses May 5, Bolt d’Oro was all business Monday morning, perhaps an indicator that his gate issues are behind him. Although he’s now had seven recorded works dating back to Jan. 27, Ruis indicated Monday morning that his primary objectives lie beyond Saturday’s San Felipe: “We’ve got a plan,” he said. “The San Felipe isn’t really the race we’re point for…He’s got a lotta talent. He’ll be really good in the Santa Anita Derby.”
THE GRADE II, $400,000 SAN FELIPE STAKES WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDER
Race 6 of 11 Approximate post time 2:30 p.m. PT
- Bolt d’Oro–Javier Castellano -124
- Lombo–Rafael Bejarano–122
- Ayacara–Kent Desormeaux–120
- McKinzie–Mike Smith–124
- Aquila–Martin Pedroza–120
- Calexman–Alonso Quinonez–120
- Peace–Drayden Van Dyke–120
- Kanthaka–Flavien Prat–120
Special early first post time for and 11-race card that will include the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap, the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile and the Grade I Triple Bend Stakes on Saturday is at 12 noon. Admission gates open at 10 a.m. For additional information, please visit www.santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.