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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 12:00 AM

TWELVE DERBY HOPEFULS SET TO CONTEST GOTHAM STAKES

By Jim Hurley:

If the past performances of this year’s Gotham Stakes field are any indication (12 runners signed on for the Grade III event this Saturday) we’ll have a lot more contention and considerably better returns to the bettor than we have had in the last three running’s of the race.

Last year 4-5 favorite Hansen easily gained striking position and won in control while second favorite My Adonis checked in second in the field of 13. In 2011 another 4-5 favorite, Stay Thirsty rewarded his overwhelming number of backers and in 2010, despite another large field (11 runners met the starter) the favorite Awesome Act went on to victory while second favorite Yawanna Twist took place honors.

This year’s favorite, Overanalyze (5-2 ML) might very well prevail, but he will have to get the perfect trip from his difficult outside post (12) in the mile and a sixteenth test (the starting gate feeds into the first turn soon after the break) and do so while making his first start since winning the Grade II Remsen over the main track here at Aqueduct on November 24.

While Overanalyze is one of only two Graded Stakes Winners in the field...Vyjack won the Grade II Jerome Stakes over this Inner Dirt Track on January 5...there are, nonetheless, a number of 3-year olds who have shown plenty of potential as three others, Escapefromreality, Amerigo Vespucci and Siete De Oros are Grade Stakes placed. There are also a few other Stakes winners and collectively the 12 runners have posted a 46-19-7-8 career mark.

Let’s preview the twelve runners from the rail out:

Champion Boy - Still a maiden, the son of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown looks to be in a bit deep as he will be making just his career start after finishing a well beaten third vs MSW sprinters in his debut here on January 20 and then checking in fifth in the Grade III Withers Stakes over this oval on February 2. He was caught wide that day but will have to make up more than that ground for even a minor award and do so from a tough inside post.

Escapefromraelity - The NY bred son of Read The Footnotes turned in a very credible performance when he rallied from off the pace in the Grade III Withers and managed to beat all but the odds-on Revolutionary as he dropped a neck decision. The 8 ½ furlong Withers was just his third career start and first beyond 6 panels so it was definitely a big step up. Now he has to track considerably more speed and stayers and trainer Dominick Schettino has to hope that the four weeks and two 5-furlong breezes between races will avoid the potential "bounce" and move him forward yet again. 

Ore Pass - Trainer Michael Trombetta send the War Pass colt to the big leagues following three races in the minor leagues. He does ship north from Laurel following an impressive win as the 9-5 favorite in the 7-furlong Frank Whitely Stakes 6 weeks back. The colt is bred to get the distance but will have to overcome the suspicion that he might be a horse for the course (won twice at Laurel and clobbered in an allowance at PARX) and that he is going two turns for the first time. Trombetta is a sharp horseman so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the colt shows well, but this is by far his toughest assignment. 

Amerigo Vespucci - At this point the son of Henrythenavigator (a Classics winner at a mile in Ireland and England and runner up in the 2008 BC Classic) is as fit as you’d want a runner to be, having proved competitive in both the Grade II Jerome (1/5...third at 39-1) and the Grade III Withers (2/2...beaten 3 ½ lengths at 25-1) so can’t be discounted from a minor award as he once again meets the likes of Vyjack, Escapefromreality and Siete De Oros. On the plus side, the colt has worked a pair of best of the day 5 furlong breezes since the Withers but just as he did for the Jerome, shipped up to Aqueduct and then back to his home base at Laurel and now makes the trip once again. He can’t be totally tossed since he is a closer in a race well represented by speed but better than third is really a reach.

Transparent - Part of a Darley Stables entry with Now And Then and one of three Kiaran McLaughlin entrants, the well bred son of Bernardini just broke his maiden in his sixth career start. If it was any other sire or any other conditioner this guy would be easy to toss but he is either finally growing up or perhaps has taken a liking to the Inner Dirt Track (his last two have been by far his best.) All that being said Transparent got away with slow fractions in his maiden breaker and doesn’t figure to find clear sailing up front on Saturday.

Now And Then - The second part of the McLaughlin trained Darley entry this son of Tiznow is also a last out MSW winner. The only difference from his stable mate is the Now And Then broke through in his career debut in a 6-furlong test on January 20. Whether or not he has enough seasoning to make this jump remains to be seen, but it is noteworthy that the conditioner wins at a 28% clip first time going a route of ground and the breeding is definitely there for this 375K yearling purchase youngster to prove good things in a hurry.

Siete De Oros - Another veteran of both the Grade III Withers and the Grade II Jerome the Ramon Preciado trained son of A.P. Warrior is well conditioned (6 career starts) and showed more than enough in those two stakes races to be considered a player in the Gotham. Sent off at 41-1 in the Jerome after shipping in following 4 races at PARX which included a MSW and allowance win and solid third in the Pennsylvania Nursery, a race which propelled Smarty Jones on to winning three Stakes preps at Oaklawn and the 2004 Kentucky Derby, Siete De Oros came within a neck of pulling the upset behind the odds on Vijack, who he’ll face again today. In the Withers he once again showed his strong tactical speed and doggedly battled to finish a length and a half third behind odds-on Revolutionary and Esacapefromreality, another who he’ll meet today. Another well represented effort and a piece of the purse would not be a huge surprise.

Vyjack - The son of Into Mischief (an emerging sire after an injury shortened Graded Stakes career) puts his perfect three-for-three resume on the line in the Gotham and given the way the Rudy Rodriguez trainee has carried his tactical speed from 6 ½ furlongs to 7 panels to a mile and 70 yards in winning the Jerome in his most recent there is no reason to expect he won’t continue moving forward. He’ll definitely have company in here as Escapefromreality, Ore Pass, Siete De Oros, Now And Then, Elnaawi and perhaps West Hills Giant figure to be in the mix by the time they exit the backstretch. Rodriguez has kept the colt busy with five published works since the Jerome, including a nifty 6-furlong breeze on 2/21. This gelding has been professional in all three starts and nothing less should be expected on Saturday.

Elnaawi - Could this be the sleeper? The third McLaughlin entrant might only be coming off a MSW win in career start number two but the ease in which the colt survived a bumping, managed to move inside and then get back outside to win virtually without urging going a mile over a sloppy IDT race track was much better visually than it appears in the charts. On the down side it must be mentioned that it has taken the conditioner another 7 weeks to get him back to the starting gate and though the works have been steady (all 4 and 5 furlong breezes) they haven’t been the kind of drills that wow the racing world. Just the same, his sire Street Sense was lightly raced and took time to develop, and Shadwell had little trouble ponying up a $500K yearling purchase price, so maybe you might want to check this guy out as they warm up. 

Sky Captain - Scratched out of the Fountain Of Youth last week (a race in which trainer Mark Casse might not have wanted to face the well regarded Violence...remember, the new points system makes picking spots crucial to Kentucky Derby eligibility) the son of Sky Mesa shows up here following a second place finish in an entry level allowance at Gulfstream Park behind Cerro in his most recent...a 9 furlong race run in very good time. Cerro is well-regarded but got caught up in that feverish speed duel in the FOY so judging Sky Captain through Cerro is difficult but likely positive. This is the third start off a July layoff and number three is many times the best so he is another that would not surprise.

West Hills Giant - 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 throwaway. 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.

Overanalyze - The well-deserved likely favorite makes his first start since winning the Grade II Remsen back in late November. The son of Dixie Union has been well prepped for his return by trainer Todd Pletcher and other than the layoff the only hurdle would appear to be the extreme outside post. That being said you only have to look back one year to when Hansen got position early and won the Gotham from this very same post. Already a two-time Graded Stakes winner, Overanalyze has by far faced the best completion, battling the likes of next out Stakes winners Shanghai Bobby, Uncaptured, Weekend Hideaway and Bern Identity during his juvenile campaign. John Velazquez, who has ridden the colt three times and claimed two of his victories, makes the trip from Gulfstream to take the assignment.


JIM HURLEY’S DERBY TOP TEN PREVIEW

It is March 1 and obviously there is much yet to do, both on the part of the barns and on the part of yours truly before there begins to form a plausible assessment of the serious contenders for the 2013 Kentucky Derby.

Nonetheless, the 10 week process that winds through prep races, workouts, training methodology and historical patterns of preparedness is well underway.
With that in mind it is time to begin my ANNUAL DERBY TOP TEN. But this year my Top Ten will not be as conventional as it has been in the past because I am going to break it up into two segments. One segment will be the 5 three-year olds that are well thought of, well bred, well-trained and for the most part are among the top youngsters considered among the leading consensus favorites right now.

The second segment consists of 5 three-year olds that might be "off the radar" a bit, so to speak. These five are runners that I believe have a potential that has not yet alerted the gurus of the writing and handicapping world.

Keep in mind that this list will be updated every week as different prep races are run; workouts indicate breakouts and injuries lead to declarations.

With that brief intro in mind, let us proceed to my first DERBY TOP TEN of 2013,

SEGMENT ONE - THEIR REPUTATIONS PRECEDE THEM.

1. Shanghai Bobby
Yeah, I know, his breeding says he won’t get a mile and a quarter. But I still vividly remember Bodemeister was repeatedly questionable at the distance yet almost stole the Derby last year and that going back through the recent annals neither Funny Cide or Smarty Jones (many questioned the latter’s female line right through the late winter and early spring until he just kept winning) were believed capable of marathon capability. Even gritty runner up finishers such as Hard Spun and Pioneer Of The Nile were dismissed as ill-bred for 10 furlongs so at this point I’ll do what I always do and rate this guy based on what he has accomplished...and it is plenty. He has already forged a solid foundation with an unbeaten 5 for 5 two-year old campaign that culminated with a victory in the BC Juvenile. In his three-year old debut he wasted little time assuming the lead from the rail in the Grade III Holy Bull, vied with quick competition from the more recently raced Clearly Now and Itsmyluckyday through 6 panels in 1:10 3/5. Itsmtluckyday eventually caught him and went on to victory, but it was a terrific blowout in his first race in 12 weeks and the fact that he has come right back with a pair of half mile breezes for Pletcher since that race is a good sign. Yes he might be distance challenged, but at this point he still has to prove it on the race track and remains the most accomplished three-year old in training.

2. Verrazano
The only thing that kept me from putting him on top is that he has yet to run in a stakes race. And if truth be told there are probably a lot of trainers who would be happy if he never ran in one. Alas, the coming out party is scheduled for the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on March 9. So far so good for the dominantly fast son of More Than Ready as he has exhibited an aggressive turn of foot in winning his debut in a 6 ½ furlong MSW test on January 1 by 7 ½ lengths in 1:16 after a 1:09 4/5. He returned on February 2nd and won a one mile entry level allowance by 16 ¼ lengths after getting 6 furlongs in a similar 1:09 4/5 and finishing his last quarter mile under no pressure in :25 flat. Trainer Todd Pletcher ha since breezed him a half mile in :48 flat and on Monday 2/25 the colt blistered the Palm Meadows training track with a best of 38 five furlong work in :59 1/5. Since both career races have been at Gulfstream Park, the colt will be tested on two front s in the Tampa Bay Derby; he’ll be asked to race over a different surface and go two turns for the first time. Every indication so far is that he will bridge the gap.

3. Revolutionary
It isn’t often that you’ll see me place a colt that needed four races to break his maiden this high up in the rankings, but he has always been highly regarded (yes another Pletcher runner) and likely spent as long as he did in the maiden ranks because he is one of those as yet very green youngsters who was racing in the kind of short distance races that didn’t give him enough ground to get out of trouble. After finally breaking his maiden in a two turn 1 mile race over the Aqueduct IDT Pletcher entered him in the Grade III Withers over the same surface in his 2013 debut. Once again the adventuresome colt needed all the ground he got in the mile and a sixteenth race. Here is the race from the chart caller’s point of view...REVOLUTIUONARY was sent over to the rail soon after the start, contentedly took the inside route in the early going, pulled noticeably on the right side of the bit at intervals while making his way down the backstretch, after climbing a few strides near the top of it, took the two path for a good portion of the way to the half mile pole but re-tucked along the rail at that station, got mildly shuffled racing at a slight distance behind the runner-up in the vicinity of the five-sixteenths pole, found enough room and was soon eased back into the two path, swung into the lane once more pulling on the right side of the bit, was forced to idle in traffic behind rivals during the run through the furlong grounds, saw a newly created seam between rivals open up at mid-lane and was angled out towards it, kicked in with a good display of acceleration after completing this maneuver, split rivals in the following seventy yards en route to grabbing the lead and edged away.  It took about as long for that write up as it did for the calamitous Revolutionary to get in, out, in again and out again of trouble. He is bred impeccably on his female side for the 10 furlong distance and class of the Derby and if Pletcher ever finds a way to get him under control look out.

4. Goldencents
If there is any knock on this guy at this point it is that he hasn’t destroyed any of his rivals in any of his 4 careers starts (3-1-0.) Who knows perhaps that is a plus? After all there is something to be said for being tested repeatedly and answering the challenge. When it comes to the Kentucky Derby stampede I have long considered a horse that has been tested and prevailed, a much better contender than one who has won in soft spots, yet never been tested. The son of Into Mischief has raced at four different distances and over four different race tracks. In fact, his lone loss, a second when shipped to Belmont to run against Shanghai Bobby in the Grade I Champagne following a victory in a MSW at Del Mar might have been his best performance of his career. Normally I would have liked the trainer to have at least made a speculative decision as to the next start (given the Goldencents’ last start was his win in the Sham Stakes on January 6) but amazingly the colt continues to fire unbelievably times in 6 furlong work after 6 furlong work (1:10 2/5 on 2/22...1:13 2/5 on 2/13...1:12 2/5 on 2/4...1:10 1/5 on 1/26...every one of them a "BEST OF" 8-20 workers on the day.) Obviously Doug O’Neill will have to find a spot, but given his works, he may not need much to move forward. And one can forgive the conditioner erring on the side of caution following the unraveling of I’ll Have Another days before the Belmont Stakes a year ago.

5. Itsmyluckyday
It is nice to be able to put a colt NOT trained by Pletcher, Baffert or O’Neill in the Top Five. Eddie Plesa is one of the more accomplished and well-liked trainers in the game and so far so good given the sudden emergence of the son of Lawyer Ron. A winner of 5 of 9 career races, the colt has plenty of foundation already but it hasn’t been until his last two races that he showed that he belongs on the list of early favorites for the Kentucky Derby. After making the final start of a 7 race juvenile campaign and closing well for 4th in the one mile grassy Diana Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Plesa returned him to dirt in the one mile Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day. The colt took no prisoners in that one turn test as he edged away to a dominant 6 ½ length win despite a 5 wide trip. Next came the two turn Grade III Holy Bull and his decisive 2 length in hand triumph over Shanghai Bobby. Plesa says he will go next in the Florida Derby and if the colt doesn’t gain enough comfortable points from that race to put him comfortably in line for one of the twenty Kentucky Derby starting slots he’ll just play it by ear from there as the Florida Derby will be his final prep. At this point he has shown more than enough as a three-year old to indicate he is a serious player. 

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There are 19 races still to come, including the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct this Saturday! And then we cap it off on May 4 at Churchill Downs with the Run For The Roses and the Kentucky Derby. And its all yours for just $99. Click here to get on board and don’t get left at the starting gate!

SEGMENT TWO - UNDER THE RADAR FIVE

6. Palace Malice
I put this guy on top of my recent Risen Star Stakes Selections and had he gotten even a halfway decent trip I’ve Struck A Nerve would have been an "almost" 135-1 upset winner instead of the one that prevailed of the 8 horses that finished within 3 ½ lengths of each other. For his part Palace Malice ran the biggest race of all and although the Risen Star has not exactly been a catapult to Kentucky Derby success in many a year, I am going to look forward to this guy taking his next steps. First off, the Risen Star was the first time the son of Curlin had raced around two turns (furthest test had been 7 furlongs.) Hopefully Todd Pletcher won’t wind up short-shifting this guy due to his (as usual) over-loaded stable because he is bred to develop late (as Curlin did) and has a solid female line. As I said, the Risen Star was his first two turn test and despite getting caught three wide on both turns and facing a bit of traffic and pressure through the long stretch of the Fair Grounds his continued rally that wound up in a ½ length beat was very productive. Where Pletcher decides to spot him next will largely determine his future prospects. Perhaps he should send him to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby where his daddy made like Smarty Jones and destroyed his rivals in the 2007 edition of that prep before Curlin ran a bang up third in the Kentucky derby despite being caught in traffic for about a mile and swinging five wide for his rally. If Palace malice has any of that in him he won’t remain under the radar for long.

7. Overanalyze
The Todd Pletcher trained son of Dixie Union will reveal a lot more on Saturday (March 2) when he makes his 3-year old debut in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. When last seen he had bounced back from a well-beaten third (by 8 lengths) in the Grade III Iroquois Stakes at CD on 10/28 with a stirring nose victory in the Grade II Remsen Stakes on 11/24 over the well-regarded Normandy Invasion. There are a few noteworthy things about the Remsen; first it is a mile and an eighth race, which means that this guy has already proven his stamina ability plus he had won the 6 furlong Grade II Futurity by open lengths just two months earlier, proving his versatility. He has breezed like clockwork (every 7 days) at Palm Meadows since going back into training on January 13 and his half mile in :48 3/5 on Monday...he then shipped north...was a strong blowout. He’ll have to overcome a tough post (he drew the 12 in a 12 horse filed for the mile and a sixteenth race, so he could run a bang up race and still not finish on top and that combined with the fact that his so-so third in the Iroquois at Churchill might keep those that figure he doesn’t like that oval off his bandwagon. That my friends, is what "under the radar" is all about and why I like to keep track of runners such as this.

8. Treasury Bill
He is virtually unknown and so far has had a lightly race non-descript career. And if one is looking for a colt that has the breeding and potential to jump up and run his best heading into (should everything break right) into the Derby, why not a son of Lemon Drop Kid out of the Ron Ellis barn. First off, the colt hasn’t even been given a chance to stretch his legs and stretching their kegs around a serious distance of ground is what the progeny of Lemon Drop Kid love to do. With only three career races to this point and only his rallying second in the 7 furlong Grade II San Vicente on February 17 being his furthest jaunt to date, his scheduled start in the mile and a sixteenth Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn should answer a number of questions. Sure, there are plenty of Derby nominated colts that have accomplished as much as this guy in such a short career but the way he strode out with a 4 wide move in the San Vicente against a relatively moderate pace in a short 6 horse field indicated a solid upside. Success in the Rebel should set him up for a possible move forward in the Grade I Arkansas Derby and...Viola.

9. Vyjack
The undefeated son of Into Mischief (who closed out the 2012 season as the third leading freshman sire) has yet to be tested by some in the upper division but it is definitely noteworthy that his three winning races have featured the same professional performance as he went from a MSW debut win at 6 ½ furlongs to a daylight off the inside rally at 7 furlongs in an overnight stakes and a dogged victory around two turns in the Grade II Jerome despite being carried out and bumped repeatedly. The Rudy Rodriguez trained colt has solid cruising speed and is comfortable logging even fractions. In the mile and 70 yard Jerome he turned in his first three quarters in :24, :23 2/5 and :24 3/5 before finishing the final quarter and seventy yards in :28 2/5. His female line, through dam sire Stravinsky indicates he should be able to extend those solid fractions out to 10 panels. We’ll have a much better idea of his prospects following Saturday’s (March 2) Gotham Stakes as he faces 11 rivals, including the well regarded Overanalyze who won both the Grade II Remsen at 9 furlongs at Aqueduct and the and Grade II Futurity at Belmont as a juvenile, recent Grade III runner up Escapefromreality and Jerome runner up Siete de Oros among others.

10. Normandy Invasion
If the American forces had as bad a trip onto the beach on D Day as Normandy Invasion had in the recent Risen Star Stakes it is very probable I’d be writing this in German. The Chad Brown son of Tapit had shown the kind of long distance talent of his sire and the type of determination you love to see in a developing juvenile when he backed up a daylight MSW win at one mile with a furious rush to miss by a nose in Overanalyze’s Grade II Remsen. Following a break from the Remsen the colt made his 3-year old debut in the Risen Star off a series a sharp on-his-toes works at Pam Meadows in Florida. Sent off as the 3-2 favorite he then began his adventure. Again we go to the chart caller: NORMANDY INVASION broke a bit slow the bobbled. Angled in at the rear, lugged in while rank into the first turn, drifted five wide midway through that bend, was reserved well back while on the outside, went three then four wide early on the far turn, moved to six wide outside the quarter pole, came seven wide into the stretch gained ground on the outside and finished well but was too late. Too late indeed, but he was still beaten less than two lengths for it all. One thing is for sure, he can run 10 furlongs...he almost went that far in this race. It is definitely worth putting him on this list and waiting for his next.

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