Mrs. Susan Roy and Vinery Stables' AWESOME ACT (Awesome Again) had never raced on dirt before, but the English invader took to the surface like a natural with a convincing victory in Saturday's $250,000 Gotham S. (G3) at Aqueduct. In a fine training performance by Jeremy Noseda, the royally-bred chestnut was plenty fit for his sophomore debut, despite enduring the vagaries of a frigid winter in Newmarket. Awesome Act traveled well throughout the 1 1/16-mile Gotham, burst to the front at the top of the stretch, and won with something in reserve, catapulting himself into the Kentucky Derby (G1) picture.
Unraced since his rallying fourth in the November 7 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2) at Santa Anita, Awesome Act was sent off as the 5-2 favorite in light of that performance. New rider Julien Leparoux settled the colt into a comfortable spot off the pace as Wow Wow Wow (Broken Vow) reeled off splits of :22 4/5 and :46 3/5. The early leader was overtaken by Three Day Rush (Harlan's Holiday) and Nacho Friend (Friends Lake) through six furlongs in 1:11 4/5.
Meanwhile, Awesome Act had been steadily advancing, and he dragged Leparoux into a share of the lead turning for home. Leparoux had yet to ask him for run. When he let his mount go in earnest, Awesome Act kicked clear of his toiling opponents by three lengths in midstretch, and ultimately crossed the wire 1 1/4 lengths in front. The handy winner stopped the teletimer in 1:43 4/5 on the fast track, paying $7.70, $5.10 and $3.80.
"He just did everything perfect," Leparoux said. "He broke well and appeared to get a good position around the first turn, relaxed on the backside, and he was good. He was beyond good on the dirt; it didn't matter to him at all. He just did everything on his own, he put me in the right spots, and then he just finished very nice. I think more distance will be good."
Yawanna Twist (Yonaguska) was best of the rest in his two-turn debut. Rallying smartly late, the runner-up returned $5.90 and $4.70 as the 7-2 second choice. Nacho Friend reported home another 1 3/4 lengths adrift in third, and the 8-1 shot furnished $6.80 to show. The exotics were worth $39.60 (exacta), $220 (trifecta) and $2,040 (4-2-3-8 superfecta) with Turf Melody (Maria's Mon) in fourth. Shrimp Dancer (Kitten's Joy), Peppi Knows (Stephen Got Even), I've Got the Fever (Stephen Got Even), Wow Wow Wow, Three Day Rush and Afleet Again (Afleet Alex) completed the order of finish.
Noseda elaborated on his hopes and plans for Awesome Act.
"He handled the dirt today," the trainer said. "You would think a horse by Awesome Again would handle the dirt. For the first time, it's all we could ask for. He's a horse that is reminding me all the time of Wilko (whom Noseda sent out to capture the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile [G1]).
"I believed in this horse today. It was a good, solid race, but there were no graded stakes winners. It's the first hurdle out of the way, so the dream lives on. We'll be back for the Wood Memorial ([G1] on April 3). He'll stay at Belmont Park, in Steve Asmussen's barn with my team, and get ready for the Wood.
"We had the discussion about him possibly being a Derby horse after the Breeders' Cup. I stood up and said 'I believe I can do it from Europe.' Now he's been in America, and we can move forward. I will be going back to Newmarket, maybe I'll come in for a day and watch him train."
Awesome Act's first stakes victory improved his record to 7-2-2-1 while more than tripling his earnings to $221,691. Long well regarded, he was nominated to an array of prestigious races in England even before his career debut. He had the misfortune to hook a couple of Godolphin Group horses-in-the-making in his first two starts at Newmarket, finishing second to future Racing Post Trophy (Eng-G1) third Al Zir (Medaglia d'Oro) and then just losing on the line to subsequent Group 3-placed Ameer (Monsun). When at last breaking his maiden in style at Goodwood fourth time out, Awesome Act beat next-out Autumn S. (Eng-G3) winner Morana (Alhaarth). Things went wrong for Awesome Act in the Dewhurst S. (Eng-G1), where he was compromised by a troubled start and unable to make an impression in ninth, but he turned in a much more promising effort in the Juvenile Turf.
Bred by Flaxman Holdings in Kentucky, Awesome Act was sold for $240,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. He is out of Houdini's Honey (Mr. Prospector), who 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).
Awesome Act has an unnamed juvenile half-brother by Johannesburg.