Instagrand Favored In Gotham Return Against Seven
OXO Equine’s $1.2 Million Purchase Returns After Seven Months On Shelf
By Margaret Ransom
Eight top sophomores from around the country are set to race a one-turn mile in the $300,000 Gotham Stakes (GIII) on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack, the final prep for the Wood Memorial in a month. Once again this year, the Gotham offers points on a 50-20-10-5 to the first four finishers to make the gate for the Kentucky Derby, which is key considering the 2018 cutoff to make the race was 29 points.
OXO Equine’s lightly raced Instagrand makes his his 3-year-old debut in the Gotham, having not raced since a ten-length win in last summer’s Best Pal Stakes (GII) a Del Mar and in search of his first Kentucky Derby qualifying points. The $1.2 million Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-old in training purchase, who is trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, is undefeated in two starts, having also captured his debut by 10 lengths at Los Alamitos last June.
The Gotham will be Instagrand’s first start at a route, as well as his first outside of California. Javier Castellano, who was aboard the colt for a breeze over his home track of Santa Anita two works back, will ride in the Gotham.
Instagrand most recently worked a half-mile in :47.80 seconds on Tuesday over Santa Anita’s fast main track.
“The workout went very nice,” Hollendorfer said. “He went a very nice half-mile with a good gallop out. We think we have him prepared. We’re very happy to have Javier Castellano riding. I feel like our horse has speed and I think he can also rate if we have to.”
Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables’ Mind Control, who already has 10 points in the bank thanks to his win in the Jerome Stakes over this track on New Year’s Day, returns after a two-month break. Last year’s Hopeful Stakes (GI) winner is trained by Greg Sacco, who said he’s keenly aware the competition in the Gotham is significantly better than in his last for the son of Stay Thirsty.
“Going into the Gotham, this race appears to be a tougher race with Instagrand coming and Not That Brady was very impressive in the Withers.
“Our horse is going to have to improve, but we’re expecting an effort like the Jerome. He’s going into this race better than he went into the Jerome in terms of maturity and filling out. He’s really starting to put the muscle on in the right places.”
John Velazquez will ride Mind Control again, after being aboard two of his victories, including last time out.
KRA Stud Farm’s Knicks Go, who won the Breeders’ Futurity (GI) at Keeneland before finishing second to Game Winner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), returns to action after two poor showings in graded company as the favorite, finishing 11th in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby last out. The Ben Colebrook-trained son of Paynter will get jockey Jose Lezcano aboard for the first time.
“I think he did need that last race, especially on that Tampa track which can be a little tiring at times,” Colebrook said. “I think he’ll like the configuration (at Aqueduct) but the surface is a question mark. He has tactical speed, which will help him. Maybe now that he’s in a race where he’s not the favorite, like the last two, maybe he’ll go back to the old Knicks Go.”
Shadwell Stable’s homebred Haikal makes his graded stakes debut off of two wins, one in maiden company and one in a non-graded stakes, and will also be routing for the first time after his last two at six and seven furlongs. The Kentucky-bred son of Daaher, who is trained by Kiaran McLaughling, will again have jockey Ragiv Maragh aboard.
“He’s real sound and doing well,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a tough race, especially with those California horses. We’ll see how he likes the mile and see how it goes. The mile is in his range, it’s just that the company will be a little tougher.”
New York-bred Not That Brady, who once wore a $50,000 price tag, was second in the Withers last out after winning the Damon Runyon for state-breds and breaking his maiden by 11 lengths in his previous two starts. The Rudy Rodriguez-trained son of Big Brown will have Reylu Gutierrez aboard again
Not That Brady’s owners, the partnership of Michael Imperio, Lianna Stables (Vinny Vivolo) and Rodriguez, have pledged 10 percent of the chestnut’s Gotham purse earnings to the BCCA (Belmont Child Care Association), which assists children of parents working in the thoroughbred racing backstretch area at all three NYRA tracks. Gutierrez, along with his agent Jimmy Riccio, have promised 25 percent of their Gotham earnings.
Also arriving from the West Coast for the Gotham is the Bob Baffert-trained Much Better. The Three Chimneys Farm homebred son of Pioneerof the Nile was second in the Zuma Beach Stakes before finishing last in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GIT) and most recently won a 6 ½-furlong allowance race in gate-to-wire fashion after finishing third in the Sham Stakes (GIII) in January. Baffert’s go-to rider, Hall of Famer Mike Smith, will be in town for the mount.
Bloom Racing Stable’s maiden winner Tikhvin Flew was third in the Jimmy Winkfield last out and makes his graded debut here. Dylan Davis will pilot the son of Street Sense, who is trained by Steve Asmussen.
The Gotham will be shown live on FOX Sports as part of Saturday At The Races, which airs from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. ET on FoxSports 2.