Going into the Gotham, which was one of the most hotly-debated Derby preps so far this season, there was one thing that nobody could deny: I Want Revenge had a huge class edge.
The question he had to answer was, how would he take to Aqueduct's natural dirt for the first time?
In hindsight, it should have been easy to believe trainer Jeff Mullins when he said he was optimistic that his colt would like dirt better than synthetics. Why? (Again, this is playing Monday morning quarterback), because unlike some California trainers who ship horses to natural dirt as a last resort or to try to reverse poor form, Mullins did it for all the right reasons. After all, it's not as if I Want Revenge had struggled over synthetics; he was beaten narrowly by Pioneerof the Nile in his last two. No, this was a trainer who knew his horse, his stride and his abilities, and was shipping to dirt with a purpose. This was not an experiment.
That I Want Revenge won the Gotham was not a shock. That he did it by more than 8 lengths was.
It's no secret that I was expecting big things from Mr. Fantasy. So when he and I Want Revenge were noses apart approaching the top of the stretch after running relatively soft fractions, I was thrilled. This is the scenario I envisioned.
What I did not envision was I Want Revenge drawing off like a machine. You couldn't help but be impressed by his powerful strides in the final furlong and his terrific final time of 1:42.65. Meanwhile, Mr. Fantasy, while running a good race, tired in deep stretch; more so than I thought he would. More on him in a minute.
I Want Revenge received a perfect trip but still looks like the real deal. He will head into the Wood, and then the Derby, as a seasoned horse - one that will not have to answer questions about his dirt form and one who proved he can be competitive while running different styles. Give Joe Talamo credit too. He kept the horse closer to the pace than I thought he would on a speed favoring track and put his horse in perfect position.
It will be interesting to see his speed numbers, but whatever they are, he is a legit contender. And another thing his convincing win did was earn California horses some respect. His win should make Pioneerof the Nile and Chocolate Candy look even better on paper, and give those on the West Coast hope that synthetic form can and will transfer to dirt at Churchill.
As for Mr. Fantasy, there are no excuses. He was beaten by a stronger horse, this time. He was looked in the eye for the first time and gave way, which some expected him to do. Hopefully, for me, he will learn from this race and improve in the Wood. Remember, it was only his third start and he beat three of the four stakes winners in the field - easily. His next race will be very telling, but I am still encouraged. Perhaps he will do better if he doesn't have to take all the heat and has something to run at. (Where were you Haynesfield?)
One other thing I have to say is that I am little upset about Alan Garcia's ride at the very end. Mr. Fantasy was clearly the second best horse in that race, but Garcia let up for an instant nearing the wire, allowing Imperial Council to steal runner-up. Mr. Fantasy was tiring, no doubt, but Garcia looked as if he failed to sense Imperial Council on the outside.
Garcia is a young, talented ride but he has to learn that this is Derby season and graded earnings mean everything. By not getting everything out of Mr. Fantasy, in my opinion, he cost him $25,000. That could be big when it comes time for the top19 in earnings.
Speaking of Imperial Council, I was impressed. He started slowly, was next-to-last after three quarters, and finished very strongly in his first test around two turns. And he didn't have Prado. He'll have to be much closer to the pace next time but should only get better with more seasoning. The talent is obvious and I expect his Wood to be a big improvement. Watch out for him.
As for Haynesfield...well, let's just say I was spot on about at least one thing in the Gotham.
One final thought: How frustrating was it to not be able to watch the Gotham live on TVG or HRTV? After looking forward to the race all week I had to call my friend so I could HEAR the race live. I was more than a little upset and I'm wondering how many of you were too.
Apparently, there were contractual obligations between the networks and who the heck knows who. Are you kidding me? And we wonder why the industry isn't doing well.