Haikal kicks in late to win Gotham Stakes

The step up in class was not an issue for Haikal in the $300,000 Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct on March 9. Sitting 14 lengths off the lead at the half-mile marker, Haikal put his closing-style run on full display, rallying late with a strong kick to capture the one-mile contest by a length over Mind Control. Race favorite Instagrand was another half-length back in third. Front-running Much Better led into the stretch and just missed third by a nose.

Sent off at 4-1 odds, Haikal beat seven rivals to earn the first-place prize of $165,000 and a likely spot in the May 4 Kentucky Derby (G1) after picking up 50 qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Mind Control earned 20 points, Instagrand 10 and Much Better five points towards a Derby qualifying berth.

Much Better and Knicks Go raced out together early through a speedy quarter mile of :22.36 before the former took control by 3 12 lengths at the half-mile in :44.42. He maintained that margin through a swift six furlongs in 1:09.23, but Instragrand forged towards the leader while Mind Control and jockey John Velazquez were making their move along the rail into the far turn. Those three came down the stretch together, but it was Haikal, nearly five lengths behind in the stretch, who came hard on the outside in the deep stretch to overtake the leaders at the wire to win.

"I felt like he was full of run, and I felt like we kind of had them measured," jockey Rijiv Maragh said. "I just hoped he’d continue his run and not ease up, and he continued running, so it worked out good. It wasn’t that close at the end."

Haikal finished one mile in 1:35.63 and paid $10.80, $4.90 and $2.90. Mind Control was worth $5.90 and $3.30 at 5-1 and Instagrand returned $2.50. The $1 exacta gave back $24 and the 50-cent trifecta paid $52.12.

The four long shots in the field – Family Biz, Tikhvin Flew, Knicks Go and Not That Brady – completed the order of finish well back of the rest.

Haikal has now won three straight races in four starts, all at Aqueduct, with earnings of $298,900. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin also won this race for a second straight year, with Haikal following Enticed.

No announcement on a next race for Haikal, but the April 6 Wood Memorial (G2) at 1 18 miles is most likely before the Derby. Maragh doesn’t think distance will be an issue.

"He showed me every indicator that he’ll excel the further the distance goes, so that’s not anything that I’m concerned about," Maragh said. "I’m actually looking forward to him running those long distances."

Gotham Stakes Preview

The Gotham Stakes (G3) is set for March 9 at Aqueduct, and the $300,000 race for three-year-olds will be contested at one mile for the second straight year. The top-four finishers of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series race respectively receive 50-20-10-5 points, and this year’s running in Queens, New York, drew a field of eight.

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Not That Brady (#7) (5-1) returns after finishing second by a head in the 1 18-mile Withers Stakes (G3) on February 2 at Aqueduct. His finished out of the money in his first two starts last year, but in four starts since at Aqueduct he’s gone 2-2-0 with a career-best 101 BRIS Speed rating in the Withers. Not That Brady is a pacesetter who will be challenged by more speed in the Gotham, and jockey Reylu Gutierrez stays aboard the son of Big Brown for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, who won the race in 2013 with Vyjack.

The heavy morning-line favorite is Instagrand (#6) (1-1), a Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Into Mischief colt who has won both of his races by 10 lengths. However, the most recent score came in August in the Best Pal Stakes (G2) at Del Mar, and he ships in from Santa Anita Park for his first race outside California. Jockey Javier Castellano will ride the $1.2-million purchase and will likely receive pressure on the lead. If Instagrand takes to the track, he’ll be the winner even with more speed challenging him up front.

Mind Control (#3) (9-2) is a pace presser who won his third start in the Hopeful Stakes (G1) before finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). That’s his only race out of the money in five starts, and Mind Control won the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on New Year’s Day in his last effort to earn a career-best 96 BRIS Speed figure.

Haikal (#5) (6-1) is a closer who is a neck short of being unbeaten in three starts, all of which have come at Aqueduct including his stakes debut win February 9 in the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes. He steps up in class and stretches out to a mile for the first time. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin won last year’s Gotham with Enticed.

Much Better (#4) (10-1) has the Kentucky Derby-winning combo of jockey Mike Smith and trainer Bob Baffert. The Pioneerof the Nile ridgling finished 14th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) to conclude 2018 before opening his sophomore campaign with a third in the Sham Stakes (G2). Much Better won an allowance/optional claimer last out to earn an 88 BRIS Speed rating, and he’s another pace presser but one whom fits fine in here and will go off at shorter odds.

Knicks Go (#2) (12-1) has fallen out of favor after two missed money finishes. This will be his eighth start and sixth graded try. That includes a second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), which followed a runaway victory at 70-1 odds in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, where he earned a career-best 100 BRIS Speed rating. Conditioner Ben Colebrook has Knicks Go training at Tampa Bay Downs, but elected to pass on the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and ship to Aqueduct. Already boasting 18 Kentucky Derby points, a top-two finish by Knicks Go in the Gotham would practically secure a spot in the starting gate for the May 4 Run for the Roses.

The two bookends in the race – Family Biz (#1) (30-1) and Tikhvin Flew (#8) (12-1) – complete the field.

Two of horse racings greats won the Gotham when it was run at a mile. Secretariat (1973) and Easy Goer (1989), who set the race record for a mile in 1:32.40.

The Gotham Stakes is Race 10 with a post time of 5:09 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, March 9.

Gotham Stakes History

The Gotham Stakes is a one-mile race for three-year-olds held in Queens, New York, at Aqueduct. The Grade 3 event is held in early March as part of the Championship Series on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, with the top four finishers earning qualifying points (50-20-10-4) toward a berth in the Run for the Roses. The Gotham’s current purse is $300,000 and the winner is practically guaranteed a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.

In 2018, the Gotham was returned to a one-mile race after being contested at 1 116 miles from 2006-2017. Enticed was the winner as the third betting choice, and he went on to finish second in the Wood Memorial and 14th in his last race to date, the Kentucky Derby.

The inaugural Gotham occurred in 1953 at Jamaica Race Course, and was moved to Aqueduct in 1960. In the early years, the Gotham was contested two weeks before the Kentucky Derby. It was contested over one mile for more than 40 years, and in 1989 Easy Goer (1:32.40) smashed the record previously set in 1973 by Secretariat.

Easy Goer went off at 1-20 odds in the Gotham before taking the Wood Memorial on his way to runner-up efforts in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He then won five consecutive Grade 1 races - the Belmont Stakes, Whitney Handicap, Travers, Woodward Handicap and Jockey Club Gold Cup. One of the greatest winners of the Gotham Stakes, the son of Alydar finished second in the 1989 Breeders’ Cup Classic as part of a Hall of Fame career.

Native Dancer (1953), Secretariat (1973) and Lure (1992) are some other Hall of Fame race horses who won the Gotham. Other Gotham greats from decades gone by include Fisherman (1954), Jaipur (1962), Dr. Fager (1967) and General Assembly (1979).  

In analyzing the field for the Gotham, the one-mile Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct in January is one to watch as a one-turn race. Follow the trainers, comments, track bias and horses working well as you prepare to handicap and bet the Gotham Stakes. The weather won’t be as cold as earlier Derby preps at Aqueduct, but the surface and condition needs to be evaluated knowing that the 2015 Gotham was held over a muddy track.

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