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Gotham gladiators to renew rivalry in Wood Memorial
Undefeated Samraat was on his way to Florida Sunday afternoon, one day after running his winning streak to five and landing atop the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with his gritty victory over Uncle Sigh and In Trouble in the Grade 3, $500,000 Gotham at Aqueduct Racetrack.
With 60 points -- 50 for his Gotham victory and 10 for his win in the Grade 3 Withers -- in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series, Samraat is virtually guaranteed a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs for the May 3 Run for the Roses.
The New York-bred colt will spend the next four weeks at Palm Meadows training center preparing for his final engagement prior to the Derby, the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial on April 5 at the Big A.
"He came out of the race great," said Rick Violette, who trains Samraat for Leonard Riggio's My Meadowview Farms. "He's a little tired, but he's supposed to be.
"Going to Florida this time is a different function than it was last time going down there. It's more for him to get some sun, graze a little bit -- they spend 75 percent of their energy keeping warm, no matter how many heat lamps or blankets you have. We're not going to have to do any of that. We'll have a fan."
While Samraat's margin of victory over Uncle Sigh shrunk from one length in the Withers to a neck in the Gotham, Violette said he was even more impressed with the colt's performance on Saturday, as well as that of 20-year-old jockey Jose Ortiz.
"I think both the horse and the rider rose to the occasion again," the trainer said. "I thought Jose rode a perfect race. It's unusual for a young rider not to override in those situations. They usually get to flailing, but he never hit this horse. Maybe it's experience beyond his years, or confidence, but it's very nice to see.
"Last time, we were very aggressive and almost could have gone to the lead," he added. "Samraat wasn't as sharp leaving there as he was the race before but still found a really good spot. From the five-eighths pole to the half, his entrymate (Noble Cornerstone) was putting pressure on him, and neither horse nor rider panicked. He changed leads and he moved into the race, and held the lane. They both made little corrections and it will make him a better racehorse.
"What makes him really dangerous is he'll do anything the rider asks him."
Also emerging from the Gotham in top shape was Wounded Warrior Stables and Anthony C. Roberston's Uncle Sigh, who was runner-up to Samraat for the second time in as many starts.
"He came out of the race excellent," trainer Gary Contessa said. "He's happy, he ate up, and he looks like a million bucks."
In the Gotham, Uncle Sigh pressed pacesetter In Trouble in second to the top of the stretch before Samraat swept to the lead from the outside, and those two and eventual third-place finisher In Trouble raced in tight quarters to the finish. It was a different experience for Uncle Sigh, who had dictated the pace in the Withers.
"Having to run the way he did probably didn't help us any (in the Gotham)," Contessa said. "Last time it was on the lead, (in the Gotham) it was between horses, getting jostled."
Contessa said that "unless somebody writes a New York-bred points race," Uncle Sigh likely will make his next start in the Wood Memorial.
In Trouble, making his three-year-old debut and his first start around two turns, ran valiantly to finish third in the Gotham. After leading the field through splits of :23 4/5 for the opening quarter-mile and :48 1/5 for the half, the Tiz Wonderful colt was taken on by both Samraat and Uncle Sigh entering the stretch, but dug in along the rail and was beaten by only a half-length for the win.
Owned by Team D and trained by Tony Dutrow, the bay colt was undefeated entering the race -- having won both of his juvenile outings -- including a win in the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont Park. The Gotham also marked his first race beyond six furlongs.
His next start, said Dutrow, likely will be in the Wood Memorial.
"You can't be too disappointed when they run like that," Dutrow said. "Right now my mind is on the Wood Memorial. He still has questions to answer and I'm going to look at (the Wood)."