So far, the formula has been a winning one, and Haynesfield will try to make it four straight stakes wins in Saturday’s 57th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Gotham for three-year-olds at a mile and a sixteenth over the inner track.
While the Gotham represents a big step up in class, Toby Sheets, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, says the colt is training well and expects he will be a contender.
“He’s stepping up and it’s different competition, but that’s the name of the game,” he said. “More money means better horses. I think he fits at this point and he hasn’t proven otherwise. I’m very happy about where I’m at with him.”
One major change in this race will be the jockey – Aqueduct’s leading rider, Ramon Dominguez, has been aboard Haynesfield in all three of his previous stakes wins, but is committed to ride Court Vision in this weekend’s Big ‘Cap at Santa Anita. Instead, C.C. Lopez, currently tied for second in the standings with 41 victories, has the mount.
“We have a great deal of faith in C.C.’s abilities,” said Carol Seaver, manager of Turtle Bird Stable. “Haynesfield is an honest horse, straightforward, and we think the two will be a good pair.”
What lies beyond the Gotham for Haynesfield, however, is still uncertain.
“We’ll wait to see how he stacks up against this company,” said Seaver.
The company is indeed diverse. Of the field of nine, two horses have run only on synthetic surfaces and three others are stretching out for the first time.
One of those going around two turns for the first time is Sequoia Racing’s Imperial Council, but Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey believes the extra distance will suit the Empire Maker colt.
“I look forward to running him two turns,” McGaughey said. “I think what we’ve been doing with him, sprinting, isn’t what he wants to do naturally so I don’t think the distance will be a problem.”
Imperial Council has come from off the pace to win his last two starts, including a good-looking two-length victory in open allowance company at Gulfstream. Rajiv Maragh, currently tied with Lopez in the local standings, has the mount Saturday as Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado is also committed to ride in the Big ‘Cap.
Also looking to go further is Mark Russell’s Russell Road, a West Virginia-bred who brings a six-race winning streak and the highest lifetime earnings ($232,905) of any horse in the field for the Gotham. While he’s never gone further than seven furlongs, the Wheaton colt is familiar with two turns, making six of his seven starts on the bullring track at Charles Town in West Virginia.
Last out, Russell Road won the six-furlong Dancing Count Stakes at Laurel Park.
“He’s a pretty nice horse at Charles Town and even though it was a short field [in the Dancing Count], he ran pretty good,” said trainer James W. Casey. “We thought we’d try him against better competition to get a better line on him. He looks like he wants to go farther and we know we’ll be meeting tougher horses here, but he’s beaten the ones we’ve had so far pretty easy and he’s running his best parts late.”
Casey’s son, James M. Casey, will saddle the horse in New York and Maryland-based jockey Travis Dunkelberger is set to ride.
Trying dirt for the first time is David J. Lanzman’s I Want Revenge. The Stephen Got Even colt ran second to Pioneerof the Nile at a mile and a sixteenth over Hollywood Park’s cushion track in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity two back, but appeared not to take to the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes at the same distance his last time out, finishing third.
“Joe [Talamo, I Want Revenge’s regular jockey] thought he didn’t get a hold of the synthetic that well [in the Robert Lewis] and might do better on dirt,” Lanzman said. “That’s been [trainer Jeff Mullin’s] opinion all along. We might as well find out now, sooner than later.”
Lanzman said that the timing and dirt surface were the deciding factors in the decision to point I Want Revenge toward the Gotham. If the colt takes a liking to the surface and runs well, Lanzman said I Want Revenge may stay on in New York to train for the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial on Saturday, April 4. Talamo will come East for the mount in the Gotham.
Another New York-bred in the field is West Point Thoroughbreds’ Mr. Fantasy. Two-for-two, the E Dubai colt has earned impressive speed figures both times and easily stretched out from six furlongs in his first start to a gate-to-wire victory at a mile and a sixteenth in allowance company in February.
“He is a very nice horse, and a very fast horse according to the sheets,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “But, you don’t really know who he has beaten yet, what the level of competition has been. Having said that, he has done everything we’ve asked of him so far and done it easily. He even won from post 10 last time out. The Gotham will be a big test for him because he is going to face tougher and even more seasoned horses.”
Jockey Alan Garcia, who rode Mr. Fantasy to a 10½-length victory in his first start at Aqueduct in December, will be aboard in the Gotham.
McLaughlin also conditions Axel Foley, a son of Officer who is owned by Jeff Singer. The colt is a recent addition to McLaughlin’s barn and the Gotham will be his third start as a three-year-old and the first on dirt. He ran last in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate, where he gave way in the stretch and finished fourth.
Trainer Todd Pletcher will also start two in the Gotham, delete this half brothers, both by Lion Heart. Peachtree Stable’s Masala got off slowly in his last start January 31 in allowance company at Gulfstream, tracked the pace and finished second. Stablemate Naos, owned by Starlight Partners, won his last outing, an open allowance at Philadelphia Park last month. Both horses are going a mile and a sixteenth for the first time.
Completing the field in the Gotham is Shivananda Parbhoo’s Giant Ryan, a New-York-bred son of Freud, trained by Parboo Bisnath. Giant Ryan made his last start in January’s Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, in which he finished fifth.
The Gotham Stakes is the featured ninth of 10 races on Saturday’s card at Aqueduct and is the third leg of the $250,000 guaranteed late Pick Four.