(Haikal wins the G3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday / Photo by Adam Coglianese & Courtesy of NYRA)

From the NYRA Media Team:

Following a win in his stakes debut, Shadwell Stable’s Haikal proved he could handle a step up in class, making a strong rally from the outside in the final furlong to run down three competitors and post a one-length win in the G3, $300,000 Gotham for 3-year-olds as part of a stakes-filled Saturday card at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The 67th running of the Gotham, part of New York’s “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series, offered 50-20-10-5 qualifying points for the Run for the Roses to the top-four finishers. Haikal, in his graded stakes debut, ensured he earned the highest total with a patient trip under jockey Rajiv Maragh.

The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee stayed off Much Better’s early speed as he led the eight-horse field through an opening quarter-mile in 22.36 seconds and the half in 44.42 on the fast main track.

In the stretch of the one-turn mile, Haikal was stationed fourth on the inside as Knicks Go, the Bob Baffert-trained Much Better and even-money favorite Instagrand vied for supremacy. Maragh angled Haikal to the outside, and the Daaher colt bolted to the wire, overtaking the three competitors before finishing in a final time of 1:35.63.

“I felt like he was full of run, and I felt like we kind of had them measured,” Maragh said. “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.”

Haikal, off at 4-1, returned $10.80 on a $2 win wager. Bred in Kentucky by his owners, Haikal notched his third straight win and is 3-1-0 in four career starts, all at the Big A. Haikal, who broke his maiden at six furlongs and won the seven-furlong Jimmy Winkfield on February 9, earned his first victory at a mile.

“He showed me every indicator that he’ll excel the further the distance goes, so that’s not anything that I’m concerned about,” Maragh added. “I’m actually looking forward to him running those long distances.”

Added Joe Lee, assistant to McLaughlin: “Kiaran had spoken to Rajiv and that was actually the plan: let him settle early, and then make that run. 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.”

Mind Control, a Stay Thirsty colt, rallied up the rail to edge Instagrand by a half-length for second, earning 20 additional Derby qualifying points. Trained by Greg Sacco and ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, Mind Control increased his total points to 30, adding to the 10 he earned for winning the Jerome on New Year’s Day at the Big A.

“He ran a huge race, but he got caught right at the wire. They went fast enough, and I was just trying to stay back and give my horse a chance,” Velazquez said. “He ran like a good horse today, but the other horse got up to beat him at the wire.”

Instagrand, conditioned by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, finished a nose in front of fellow California shipper Much Better, with Hall of Famer Mike Smith aboard, for third. The winner of the Grade 2 Best Pal last out had won his first two career starts.

“I was fine with how he did it today. I’m not disappointed at all,” said Instagrand’s Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano. “He was off a long time and to bring him back at a mile, he only got beat a length.

“I like the way he rated behind horses,” he added. “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.”

Family Biz, Tikhvin Flew, Knicks Go and Not That Brady completed the order of finish.