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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, March 4, 2013 at 12:00 AM

GOTHAM STAKES PROVIDES MANY POSITIVES...BOTH ON THE TRACK AND AT THE WINDOWS

By Jim Hurley:

It has been a long time since I found myself rooting against a horse I had chosen to win a race. But that was the situation I found myself in this past Saturday in the Gotham Stakes...at least when they began to form its final construction inside the sixteenth pole. For those of you who were not with me on Saturday, here were my releases for the Gotham Stakes:

#8 Elnaawi -(Win/Place)
#11 Overanalyze
#7 Vyjack
#10 West Hills Giant
(Play an Exacta & Trifecta Box)

When the horses hit the sixteenth pole and you could see Vyjack flying and West Hills Giant digging in along the rail with Overanalyze simply running in place and out of the race, it was also obvious that my choice to win, Elnaawi was not going to catch Vyjack I realized that if the 33-1 West Hills Giant could hold off my win choice I’d be giving up that win/place bet BUT be in a position to CASH THE MUCH BIGGER EXACTA AND TRIFECTA COMBO with West Hills Giant behind Vyjack than Elnaawi as the place horse. Sometimes you the Betting Gods smile on you.

Change In Running Style Under Rosario Puts Vyjack In A Good Place

With no disrespect to Cornelio Velasquez, it would appear as though the long range and long distance prospects for Saturday’s Grade III Gotham Stakes winner Vyjack were improved dramatically when new jockey Joel Rosario got the son of Into Mischief relaxed and off the pace in the early going and guided the 3-year old through a sharp stretch run that is a more conducive style for the 10 furlong Kentucky Derby than his previous three wins, each of which came by pressing or setting the pace.

Prior to the Gotham (as is the case for many horses whose male side says mostly mile speed) there was a wait-and-see attitude as to his ability to get a classic distance. Of course the way Joel Rosario relaxed him early and then got the gelding to rally from 8th place and 7 lengths off the pace at the 5/16ths pole certainly debunked the idea that he is a one dimension speed horse.

His new-to-the game sire Into Mischief has certainly made a name for himself with the performances of Vyjack and Goldencents this season and despite only 21 runners as a first year sire in 2012 managed to finish third in money won with 8 winners and 3 repeat winners. He has moved up to second on the list of second crop sires in 2013.

On his male side he definitely has plenty of mile speed tracing back through grand sire Harlan’s Holiday and back through Harlan, Storm Cat and Storm Bird. Of course the female line of Harlan’s Holiday has plenty of stamina and class as that one’s dam, Christmas In Aiken was herself a terrific winning mare whose sire was Affirmed (Exclusive Native.) But it is Vyjack’s female side that is stacked with distance breeding. His dam, Life Happens, is a daughter of chef-de-race Stravinsky, who traces back through Nureyev, Northern Dancer and Neartic. So it is very possible that what we saw on Saturday was the real bloodlines translating into proper long distance running style.

Runner up West Hills Giant might have been a surprise to the bettors, but he wasn’t to me. In fact, here is what I wrote about him in the runner-by-runner preview of the race which was published on these pages last Thursday. What do you do with a Frost Giant (under the radar sire) colt who has run twice on dirt and three times on turf when the dirt races are the best but both were sprints and the turf races were slower but each at the Gotham distance? It is probably wise to keep him in your sights because even though the turf figures were softer, he has run competitively in 4 of his 5 lifetime races with only the Grade III Pilgrim over a yielding turf course being a throw-away. This will be his second start following an October layoff and the colt has worked very sharply both before and after the February 10th rallying third in the Java Gold Stakes. If you are looking for a live longshot you could do worse than this John Terranova conditioned NY bred.

As well as he performed in the Gotham it is difficult to know if he will be able to settle down and relax enough between now and his next start.  And unfortunately, given the new point system for qualification for one of the 20 starting berths in the Kentucky Derby trainer John Terranova would have to find another spot for the colt. Nonetheless, despite having to cross over from the 10 post to secure the lead, raced a bit greenly as he came across and caused a few rivals to shy inward, particularly Elnaawi, while taking the lead into the first turn. He did respond twice to pressure and actually seemed to be pulling away somewhat as they approached the 8th pole, but was no match for Vyjack while digging in to hold off Elnaawi.

As for Elnaawi, he may have the most upside of any of the Gotham runners. After all, the Gotham was only his third career start and his first since breaking his maiden over a muddy IDT at Aqueduct in a one mile MSW test on January 12. As a son of Street Sense he figured to get better the longer they went and certainly being in the care of trainer Kieran McLaughlin had every right to continue moving forward. Given his performance we should definitely await his next start. He admittedly got the worst of it when West Hills Giant came across heading into the first turn, but jockey Channing Hill seemed to be wrestling with a bear in the early going and the colt also found some bumping and crowding issues on his own as he was a bit aggressive in the early going before getting out four wide and away from the crowding down the backstretch. Seeing that the colt remained that wide and further out at points for the rest of the race he did well to rally as strongly as he did for the show. We’ll know much more once McLaughlin decides on his next move.

Morning line and post time favorite Overanalyze needed the race...at least that was the post-race commentary from owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher. Much was made before the race, and is probably solace for those who backed the horse, about his drawing the "difficult"outside post. But West Hills Giant left right next to the returning multiple graded stakes winner and he turned in a pretty solid effort and last year Hansen had no trouble winning the race from the same extreme outside post. Probably more to the point is that Overanalyze has thrown in this type of clinker twice before. He was used up in his second career start and was a well beaten 4th in the Grade II Hopeful at Saratoga and also seemed sluggish in a no threat third in the Grade III Iroquois at Churchill Downs in late October.

Fourth Place finisher Siete De Oros ran his usual race, closing enough to finish a neck behind Elnaawi without threatening. While his late run was a departure from the front running efforts that saw him fade late and get second in the Grade III Jerome and third in the Grade III Withers over the same surface, he appears to be one of those horses that do everything but get the job done.

Escapefromreality, who was a surprise second to the well-regarded but still perhaps suspect Revolutionary in the Withers last month briefly challenged for the lead before regressing and the high-priced yearling Transparent moved backwards after finally breaking his maiden in career start number six in his prior race.

None of the others showed any promise or had an excuse. 

San Felipe And Tampa Bay Derby On Deck This Saturday

The chase for Derby points and preparation for the Kentucky derby continues Saturday, March 9 with two more key preps, the Grade II San Felipe Stakes from Santa Anita and the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby.

The San Felipe features the anticipated meeting between a pair of colts that are well established among the leaders on most handicappers’ top Derby contenders list. Flashback, who made his 3-year old debut a winning one in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis on February 2, worked 5 furlongs on Sunday in :59 flat over the Santa Anita surface with regular rider Julien Leparoux in the irons. Not to be overshadowed, Grade III Sham winner Goldencents (a son of Into Mischief, the same sire of Gotham winner Vyjack) turned in a 6 panel work in 1:11 2/5 over the surface on Saturday.

While Flashback was brilliant in dispatching his rivals with a 6 ½ length victory in the Robert Lewis, Goldencents had to work a bit harder in winning the Sham. Flashback’s stable mate in the Bob Baffert barn, Den’s legacy, was second in both the Shame and the Robert B. Lewis. If both are on their toes we should be guaranteed a dandy pace and a hard fought battle.

In Florida we should see the long-awaited stakes debut of Verrazano, who despite a sparse racing career remains one of if not the top contender on a number of lists. Trained by (who else) Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez, the son of More Than Ready out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Enchanted Rock breezed 4 furlongs in :48 2/5 on Sunday at Palm Meadows after working a sharp bullet five furlongs over that training surface in :59 1/5 on February 25. Obviously he is still unproven, so we’ll find out much more following Saturday’s test.

As these two races take shape over the course of the next few days I’ll begin to construct what I hope will be another pair of winning tickets. Make sure you check back Friday morning as I post my previews.

Has The Revolution Stalled?

Following the (too say the least) adventuresome trip in his Grade III Withers victory at Aqueduct on February 2, a few red flags have possibly been raised behind the Revolutionary ramparts. First and most obvious was his very green run to victory in the Withers. Yes he did managed to overcome all sorts of crowding and stoppages to get up in the final strides, but it is noteworthy that most of those troubles were ones he brought on himself. It is also worth noting that the three runners that finished behind him in the Withers, Escapefromreality (who he just nosed), Siete De Oros and Amerigo Vespucci had little or nothing to say in Saturday’s Gotham, finishing 9th, 4th and 7th respectively.

Finally, Revolutionary, who is pointed to the March 30 Louisiana Derby as his next and final Derby prep, went 23 days after the Withers before posting his first public work, going a half mile in :48 2/5 on February 25 and the same distance in :49 4/5 on Sunday.

My observations might turn out to be much ado about nothing...but I’ll keep watching.

And speaking of watching...watch for my soon to be published offer for this Saturday’s big day of PREP RACING PLUS right here on these pages.

WAS LAST SATURDAY’S BEST DERBY PREP RUN ON SUNDAY…ON THE GRASS?

Rydilluc Takes Awesome Form To Turfway Polytrack Or Keeneland Synthetic…Look Out Pletcher, Baffert, Et Al Here Comes Gary Contessa.

No sooner had the excitement of Vyjack’s impressive Gotham Stakes win or Clearly Now’s dominant performance in the Swale Stakes at Gulfstream on Saturday begun to get reviewed than Team Stallion Racing Stable’s Rydilluc turned in what could be considered an even more complete Kentucky Derby audition as he toyed with a solid group of rivals in the Grade III Palm Beach Stakes on the Gulfstream Turf course on Sunday.

When it comes to finding the right form for the Kentucky Derby, running style is a huge component and there is no huger component of running style than how a horse strides out in shorter races…and in the Palm Beach, Rydilluc was nothing but perfect stride.

What might be the most impressive manner in which the son of Medaglia D’Oro won the Palm Beach, especially playing it forward to either the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park (March 23) or the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland (April 13) was the in hand workmanlike fractions in the mile and an eighth test.

Keep in mind that it was 9 furlongs and not the 8 ½ that the most extended Dirt Derby Preps have been run at so far and that the race was also run around somewhat tighter turns with the artificial rail set at 72 feet. Essentially this means that the colt not only had to be in form, and able to get a distance of ground, but also experienced and versatile enough to negotiate the course sharply…which is exactly what he did under jockey Edgar Prado.

Rydilluc turned in the kind of even and accelerating splits that are just what a trainer would dream of for Derby necessity. He bounded out a length off the pace setter with an opening quarter mile in :25 flat. He kept right off the front runner with a second quarter in :24 3/5 and by the time they hit the three-eighths pole Rydilluc had accelerated to travel his third quarter in :24 flat. Not even close to being finished he stride out even stronger as he got his fourth quarter in :23 flat and the final furlong in :11 2/5. Ask any trainer if he wants a horse that can turn :24 flat quarter miles and run a final three-eighths in :34 2/5 and he’ll look at you as though you were dreaming.

There should also be no question that Rydilluc’s bloodlines prepare him for the rigors of the 10 furlong Kentucky Derby distance since sire Medaglia D’Oro has nothing but classic bloodlines. On his male side Medaglia D’Oro’s sire El Prado traces back through Sadler’s Wells and Northern Dancer.  Medaglia D’Oro’s dam, Capuccino Bay is a daughter of Bali Jumper (Damascus) and dam Dubbed In (Silent Screen.) So obviously Rydilluc is the kind of 3-year old that should make it to the Kentucky Derby.

Of course the colt will still have to not only pass the test on whichever synthetic surface he chooses, but because of these stupid (yes, stupid…more on that in a future article) points system for Kentucky Derby qualification will probably have to actually win the Spiral or Blue Grass in order to get into the Derby.

By the way, should you be wondering if there is any precedent for a horse winning on the turf early on, moving to a final prep on the synthetic and then turning in a successful effort in the Kentucky Derby you need only go back to 2011 and Animal Kingdom. After he made his 3-year old debut in a one mile turf allowance at Gulfstream Park in early March, Animal Kingdom returned 23 days later and triumphed in the Spiral Stakes at 3-1 before going on the win the Kentucky Derby at $43.80.

Sort of sounds as though it wouldn’t be so Rydillucous to follow this guy.

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