FREEDOM FIGHTER for trainer Bob Baffert and WIPE THE SLATE for trainer Doug O'Neill will fly to New York for Saturday's $300K Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.
Awaiting them are six tough New York locals, five of whom are coming off of wins, with the other a game third-place in a Grade 3 stakes. The Chad Brown-trainee HIGHLY MOTIVATED is in the mix, who looks to be the morning line favorite. This is a contest you don't want to miss, so mark the post time of 5:07 PM ET on your schedule. Let's take a look at the field!
WIPE THE SLATE
These eight horses will run one mile and one-eighth over the dirt surface. The winner of this race will be awarded 50 points for their Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The betting favorite is likely to be HIGHLY MOTIVATED from the three-hole. He is trained by Chad Brown, he earned his highest speed figure when he raced at Keeneland back in November. It's a huge plus that his trainer hits almost one-third of the time with horses entering off 3-month layoffs. HIGHLY MOTIVATED keeps jockey Javier Castellano, who must be fired up now that he's back riding after an injury, plus a potential KY Derby mount in the making. But HIGHLY MOTIVATED will stretch out for the first time, which introduces some vulnerability of the likely favorite.
FREEDOM FIGHTER is one of the West Coast invaders. It is hard not to like a horse who puts up a dog fight in the stretch, which is exactly what he did last time out in the San Vicente Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park. He led at every call of that seven furlong race before grudgingly giving up the lead to another talented horse, CONCERT TOUR, at the wire. FREEDOM FIGHTER earned a 105 Equibase Figure off that effort. And he appears to come away in great order. He followed up with two bullet works at Santa Anita, the most recent on being a 5F :59.20 move, the fastest of 63 that day at Santa Anita. He too will stretch to a route for the first time.
What about a potential longshot who cannot wait to route? WEYBURN fits that billing for trainer James Jerkin. WEYBURN's grandad is EMPIRE MAKER, who happens to be a Grade 1 winner over this Aqueduct track and a winner of the 1 ½ mile Belmont Stakes. His damsire is A.P. INDY, also a Belmont winner and champion of longer distance. WEYBURN is bred to run all day, and he's shown decent early speed in his last two races. If our top two favorites struggle on their first route, WEYBURN might fare better in his. Moreover he worked a 5F bullet on February 25th at Belmont, the fastest of 11 that day, indicating his readiness. This is a big step up in class for WEYBURN, and he hasn't raced since December, but he's won over this Aqueduct track and gets a hot pilot in Trevor McCarthy.
WIPE THE SLATE is the second West Coast invader, coming from the Doug O'Neill stable. He's already ran against some monsters, including the current Kentucky Derby favorite, LIFE IS GOOD, whom he finished second to but was no match at all. Yet he came back to win a $61K MSW at Santa Anita, but then tired in his first route in the Robert Beverly Lewis Stakes. Well, he ships East to get away from the West Coast monsters, will race without blinkers, and should appreciate this semi-easier spot.
The Gotham Stakes is an historical prep race for the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown. SECRETARIAT in 1973 made a stop at AQUEDUCT for this race — though he did not win; he finished third. But he later went on to make history and become arguably the greatest horse who ever lived. Horses who exit this race victorious or in good order often stick around for the following month's Wood Memorial Stakes (G1). So keep an eye on how this field performs because many will stretch out to two turns on this same track next month. This race may simply be their tune up for an even bigger performance.