Though a month remains in the inner track meet at Aqueduct, a sign that spring is fast approaching is that graded stakes action will return to the Big A on Saturday. An 11-race program is highlighted by the $250,000 Gotham S. (G3) at 1 1/16 miles, where a field of 10 three-year-olds will line up in the leading prep for the April 3 Wood Memorial S. (G1).
There are no standouts in the Gotham, but wagering action is likely to be concentrated on AWESOME ACT (Awesome Again), PEPPI KNOWS (Stephen Got Even) and NACHO FRIEND (Friends Lake). Awesome Act has made his second trip across the Atlantic from the English yard of Jeremy Noseda, who sent the chestnut to California last November for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2), where he finished a belated fourth.
While he possesses just a maiden turf win at Goodwood to his credit, Awesome Act hails from an outstanding female family. His dam, Houdini's Honey (Mr. Prospector), is a full sister to French champion juvenile and outstanding sire Machiavellian as well as French highweight juvenile filly Coup de Genie, herself the dam of French highweight juvenile filly Denebola (Storm Cat). Houdini's Honey is also a half-sister to French Group 1-winning miler Exit to Nowhere (Irish River [Fr]), and she hails from the immediate family of European champion and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1) hero Bago (Fr) (Nashwan). Awesome Act's fourth dam was Natalma (Native Dancer), who produced legendary sire Northern Dancer (Nearctic).
Peppi Knows, benefiting from an unfortunate incident that plagued favored Eightyfiveinafifty (Forest Camp), drew off to one-length victory in the Whirlaway S. over the course and distance February 6. The gelding, who also has a stakes victory at Finger Lakes to his credit, had previously run second to Buddy's Saint (Saint Liam) in the Remsen S. (G2).
Nacho Friend, who broke his maiden by six lengths at Monmouth Park last June, will be making his first start since a fourth in the July 30 Sanford S. (G2) at Saratoga. The Kelly Breen trainee found himself in traffic during the stretch run that day and only missed by a length to the highly-regarded Backtalk (Smarty Jones).
The Whirlaway second- and third-place finishers, AFLEET AGAIN (Afleet Alex) and THREE DAY RUSH (Harlan's Holiday), are back in the mix while Midwest invaders WOW WOW WOW (Broken Vow) and TURF MELODY (Maria's Mon) add a little diversity. Wow Wow Wow recently passed his first allowance condition at Oaklawn by nearly five lengths for D. Wayne Lukas, while Turf Melody exits a sixth-place effort in the Lecomte S. (G3) at Fair Grounds to Ron the Greek (Full Mandate), a rival he had beaten in the Springboard Mile at Remington Park in December.
Third to Rule (Roman Ruler) in a Belmont maiden in October, I'VE GOT THE FEVER (Stephen Got Even) finally got in the win column on February 20 with a 2 3/4-length maiden score in his fifth start. Of the two New York-breds in the field, the undefeated YAWANNA TWIST (Yonaguska) looks more convincing following a pair of blowout sprint wins for trainer Rick Dutrow. Meanwhile, the multiple stakes-placed SHRIMP DANCER (Kitten's Joy) has struggled to win against state-bred allowance foes.