After entering the stretch drive on even terms with Uncle Sigh and In Trouble, My Meadowview's homebred Samraat out-dueled his rivals to the wire in Saturday's Grade 3, $500,000 Gotham, gamely posting a narrow victory on the inner track at Aqueduct. The Richard Violette Jr.-trained colt remained unbeaten in his fifth career start, recording his second straight graded stakes triumph after taking the Withers on February 1, and Samraat essentially guaranteed himself a spot in the Kentucky Derby field.
The New York-bred colt received 50 points for the neck decision, moving to the top of the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with 60 total, and the son of Noble Causeway could be one of the favorites at Churchill Downs if he continues to shine in his final prep race.
Samraat proved to be all heart Saturday with regular rider Jose Ortiz.
"This is a real horse now," Violette said. "We knew he had a shot to be a real horse after the Withers; he proved he is a real horse today. This was a good field. It was a deep field of horses."
Samraat, who carried 123 pounds by virtue of his Withers victory, was spotting five pounds to runner-up Uncle Sigh and three pounds to third-placer In Trouble.
"The weight had me worried," his trainer said. "We picked up five pounds from last time; that's a big shift. I'd be lying if I said we weren't already thinking (about the Kentucky Derby). At this stage, we didn't want to do anything that would prevent us from going to the Derby."
In Trouble showed speed from post 2 as Uncle Sigh chased from post 4 after the break. Samraat entered the first turn three wide and raced about a length behind the the top two through opening splits of :23 4/5 and :48 1/5.
The trio took closer order on the far turn. In Trouble continued to cling to a short advantage after six furlongs in 1:12 1/5, with Uncle Sigh to his immediate outside, and Samraat edged forward to make it three abreast turning for home.
The three foes battled down the lane and there was some inconsequential contact between them. Samraat came in slightly when switching leads in upper stretch, bumping Uncle Sigh, and In Trouble came out a little in midstretch into Uncle Sigh, who in turn made contact with Samraat. The stewards flashed the inquiry sign after the race to take a look at the bumping but found no reason to alter the outcome.
Samraat gained the upper hand about a furlong from the wire and determinedly out-finished his rivals to the finish line, completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:44 2/5 on the fast track.
"He has a lot of heart, he's a nice horse," Ortiz said. "We had a good trip, broke from the eight post. As soon as we got to the first turn I was third behind the two leaders, and that's where I wanted to be. He responded very good. In the stretch when I showed him the whip a little bit, he was lugging in, but he never made contact with other horses. I just hand rode him and he responded very good, and I tried to keep him straight."
Samraat won his first three starts wire to wire, defeating New York-bred opponents by a combined 25 lengths, including a 16-length score in the Damon Runyon on December 18. He rated in second before posting a one-length victory over Uncle Sigh in the Withers.
"He runs good when he's in the front, but I rated him the last two times and he responded and passed horses and kept running," Ortiz said. "That's a nice horse. I think he's going to handle (additional distance) very good."
"Samraat is a nice horse. Now I'm a believer," said Gary Contessa, trainer of Uncle Sigh. "We closed the gap on him a little bit today, and my horse is still very young. He was intimidated and he got bumped, and he might have been a little bit cautious down in there, but we're getting better. He's certainly developing."
Favored at 2-1 with entrymate Noble Cornerstone, Samraat paid $6.40 to win.
"A couple of races before the Derby probably toughens him, but this was another stretch-long, hard duel, but Jose never hit him," Violette said. "He's an honest racehorse and there might be a little left. Today, he graduated big time. His last race was a terrific race and this was a notch above that. He was pretty impressive today."
Uncle Sigh, the 7-2 second choice among eight betting interests, wound up a neck better than the 9-2 In Trouble.
It was another 5 1/4 lengths back to Financial Mogul in fourth, Next came Harpoon, Master Lightning, Deceived, Extrasexyhippzster and Noble Cornerstone. Classic Giacnroll and Monopolize were both scratched.
Violette was asked about future plans for Samraat.
"He leaves for Florida tomorrow. The Wood (Memorial on April 5) is a real possibility. That would be our best option as long as the horse cooperates and tells us that we should get on a plane and come up for it."
Samraat is out of the winning Little Indian Girl, a daughter of Indian Charlie who has also produced Grade 3-placed Screen Legend and stakes runners-up Kaddish and Original Fate. She is a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Nonsuch Bay, a four-time stakes heroine who earned nearly $750,000.
With the $300,000 Gotham payday, Samraat increased his lifetime earnings to $583,200.