This week's Triple Crown trail takes us to New York for the grade III Gotham Stakes, which is the only Kentucky Derby prep of the weekend. The feeling here is that the outcome of this race will probably not produce major contenders come the first Saturday in May, but one never knows. At the very least, the $240,000 winner's share will guarantee the winner a spot in the starting gate.
Withers winner and New York's top-ranked 3-year-old, Alpha, is not in the Gotham (The connections are taking a calculated gamble on deciding to go straight to the Wood Memorial), so the standout here is Eclipse Award winner Hansen, who ships up from Florida after running a distant second in the Jan. 29 Holy Bull for his first career loss. The Breeders' Cup' Juvenile winner showed the first chink in his armor by easily giving way to Algorithms in the stretch, forcing trainer Mike Maker to change his path to the Derby.
On paper, it was probably a wise move by Maker. He gets his star out of Florida, where the competition is tougher, and will experiment a bit by removing blinkers. This is the place to experiment, as there are no standouts in this field and Hansen will get the services of Ramon Dominguez, who wins at an almost 30% clip at Aqueduct and probably feels as comfortable there as he does in his own home. Hansen will probably go on to the Spiral Stakes three weeks from now at Turfway.
Maker's goal is to try to harness Hansen's electrifying speed, but he didn't bank on having to break from post 12 in a 13-horse field. With a short run into the first turn at Aqueduct and little speed in this race, don't expect a major change of tactics from Hansen. He should be able to get over and make the lead. If he does, there is little reason to think he can't wire this field. He's already proved he can go 1 1/16 miles, but I believe this is just about at the limit he wants to go. With his running style, I am not banking on him being a factor in the Derby, other than being a pacesetter.
Hansen will probably be right about at his morning-line odds of 6-5, or maybe a tad higher, so there won't be much value. I think the way to play the race is to put him on top in exotics, and in case he falters for one reason or another, throw him out altogether in other bets. He either wins or runs off the board.
In this scenario, I'll be using four horses--Raconteur, Dan and Sheila, King and Crusader, and Stealcase. Raconteur and Dan and Sheila are both from the barn of Todd Pletcher. I like Raconteur better but I'm always obliged to use both horses from a trainer in an uncoupled entry. Raconteur was a $240,000 2-year-old buy for Dogwood, and after taking a while to find his way, has won two in a row-both at two turns over this inner track. The son of A.P. Indy is more of a grinder type, but he does have tactical speed and therefore should be able to carve out a good stalking trip behind Hansen and maybe King and Crusader. We know he likes two turns and he's been training well at Belmont. He's 15-1 on the morning line. I will at least place a small win bet on him as well.
King and Crusader will route for the first time, but he is two-for-two over the inner track for Dutrow, who is winning at 41% clip this meet. I don't know how far the horse wants to go, but he won pretty easily going a mile in a restricted optional claimer Jan. 13 and came back three days later to win the Jimmy Winkfield. So I have to think he's a fit horse. He' should get a good stalking trip as well.
Stealcase just broke his maiden on Jan. 19 at Gulfstream in his third try, but he did it impressively against a horse that won his next out. That was also at 1 1/16 miles, which was his first try at two turns. A bullet four-furlong work Feb. 25 at Palm Meadows--the best of 46 that day--tells me he is sharp. He should also be a pretty nice price. At 10-1 or more, maybe a small win bet on him as well.
The two Romans horses intrigue me a bit (see my previous blog) and My Adonis has some class that makes him a factor on paper, but you can't use them all. I'll play Hansen on top of the four aforementioned horses and then use those four in exotics without the favorite.
Good luck this weekend. Who do you like?