Gotham returns to its old roots at a mile
By Bob Ehalt
The notion of everything old being new again should be the theme for Saturday’s $300,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.
This year, for the first time since 2005, the Gotham will return to a distance of a flat mile around one turn, bringing it back to days gone by when horses such as Easy Goer and Secretariat used the Gotham as a springboard to the Wood Memorial and then the Kentucky Derby.
The lengthening of the inner-track portion of Aqueduct’s winter meet forced the New York Racing Association to move the Gotham to a mile-and-a-sixteenth in 2006, because the track could only offer one-turn races at six furlongs or less. It stayed at that distance through 2016.
Then last year, when the inner track was replaced with a second turf course, Aqueduct’s main track was winterized for racing in harsh conditions and bitter temperatures. Once again seven furlong and one mile races at one turn could be contested at the Big A in the winter.
With the Gotham back at a mile, it has attracted a group of horses eager to sharpen their speed and regain their stature on the Triple Crown trail.
That’s surely the case with the three favorites, Free Drop Billy (9-5 morning line), Firenze Fire (5-2) and Enticed (7-2), all of whom are coming off losses.
Free Drop Billy, trained by Dale Romans, was second in his last start, finishing 5 1/2 lengths behind Audible in Gulfstream Park’s Holy Bull at a mile-and-a-sixteenth.
“I think it’s a wide-open race. 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,” Romans said. “The distance doesn’t matter for him. 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.”
Firenze Fire was also second in his last start for trainer Jason Servis, finishing two lengths behind Avery Island in the Withers at a mile-and-an-eighth.
“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. He’ll always give you a run, he always tries,” Servis said.
Enticed was the favorite in the Holy Bull but never fired for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and finished fourth, a distant 14 ¾ lengths behind Audible. He’ll need a much-improved effort on Saturday to stay on the Triple Crown trail.
“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 (jockey) Junior (Alvarado) back aboard him, so all is well,” said McLaughlin, whose 3-year-old drew post nine in a field of nine.
The rest of the field includes Dial Operator (10-1), Cove Blue (30-1), Beautiful Shot (8-1), Whereshetoldmetogo (15-1), Old Time Revival (15-1) and Nine Route (30-1).
Fans interested in watching the Gotham, and the other top stakes on Saturday afternoon, should tune in to FOX Sports 2 for Fox Sports Saturday at the Races, which will air a package of eight stakes from 4-6:30 p.m.
The show will present the Gotham, Tom Fool, Stymie and Heavenly Prize from Aqueduct, the San Felipe, Triple Bend and Frank E. Kilroe from Santa Anita and the Captiva Island from Gulfstream Park.