This weekend’s Derby trail heads up north to the Big A and the $400,000 Grade 3 Gotham Stakes in Ozone Park, NY. A field of eight sophomores will tackle the Aqueduct inner track at 1 1/16th miles with 50-20-10-5 Derby qualifying points at stake for the top four finishers.
Shagaf (3-1), a son of Preakness winner Bernardini, was tabbed as the morning line favorite and will be making the second start of his 3-year-old season after an impressive debut in November followed by an allowance win at Gulfstream in January. This will only be the third career race for the lightly raced colt that finished at 31-1 in Derby Future Pool No. 2, held by Churchill Downs.
Grade 3 Withers winner Sunny Ridge (7-2) is the second choice on the morning line, whose connections have stated that the Kentucky Derby is not the goal, and that he’ll point instead at the Preakness. His connections told NYRA that Preakness-Belmont-Haskell is the route scripted for the son of Holy Bull.
"The game plan right now is skip the Derby, run in the Preakness and Belmont, give him a break, and then run in the Haskell," said owner Donald Drazin, a native of New Jersey, further noting, "Everyone wants to know what's next, but first he's got to run on Saturday."
Trainer Todd Pletcher shipped two promising colts up north from his Florida barn to try two turns for the first time in Rally Cry (5-1) and Mo Power (6-1). Rally Cry finished a well-beaten third behind Shagaf in the Gulfstream allowance race in January and Mo Power comes out of a maiden victory, but has Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard.
One promising colt who may move up in status with a good race on Saturday is Adventist (4-1). The Any Given Saturday colt finished third in the Withers behind Sunny Ridge, but is lightly raced and appears to be maturing. Hot jockey Kendrick Carmouche is in the irons and could spring the upset.
Class has been holding up in the Kentucky Derby Championship Series so far, thus trying to beat Shagaf in here may be difficult. I like Adventist to complete the exacta with Sunny Ridge and Mo Power claiming minor awards.
[UPDATE 3/5/16: Mo Power scratched this morning.]
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Shagaf; 2 – Adventist; 3 – Sunny Ridge; 4 – Mo Power
It’s never to early to start talking about the Queen’s Plate, slated for Sunday July 3 at Woodbine Racetrack and Coronation Futurity winner Shakhimat was installed as the Winterbook favorite for the 157th edition of Canada’s most famous race. The bay colt is son of Lonhro and trained by Hall of Famer Roger Attfield who will be seeking a record breaking ninth victory in the Gallop for the Guineas.
The hypothetical Winterbook, compiled by Ron Gierkink and Alex Campbell of the Daily Racing Form, and Keith McCalmont of Woodbine’s communications department, offers early odds on all 88 three-year-olds, 78 colts and geldings, as well as 10 fillies, nominated to the 2016 Canadian Triple Crown.
Last year, Attfield conditioned a pair of top contenders, Danish Dynaformer and Billy’s Star, finishing second and fourth, respectively. Danish Dynaformer ultimately won the Breeders’ Stakes, the third jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown in August.
Several fillies cracked the Top 10 in the future odds for the Plate, Ami’s Mesa (6-1), Caren (7-1.) and Gamble's Ghost (8-1). In the last five years, two fillies have won the Plate, Inglorious (2011) and Lexie Lou (2014).
The Top 10 of the Queen’s Plate Winterbook include the following:
- Shakhimat (3-1)
- Amis Gizmo (7-2)
- Battery (4-1)
- Conquest Daddyo (9-2)
- Scholar Athlete (5-1)
- Ami’s Mesa (f) (6-1)
- Caren (f) (7-1)
- Gamble’s Ghost (f) (8-1)
- Mike (9-1)
- Aye Aye Captain (10-1)
On a personal note, last week I was asked to be a voter for the National Racing Hall of Fame. I was honored to be considered and accepted the responsibility which will commence with the ballot for the incoming Class of 2016. This year’s Hall of Fame ceremony is slated for August 12 at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion in Saratoga Springs.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.