Jake Pearson takes an in-depth look at Saturday's feature action Stateside and he fancies Instagrand to go well in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.
It has been a bit of an odd week for racing in the US with the Santa Anita racetrack being closed after an unprecedented 21 casualties already this season. It was due to host the San Felipe Stakes this weekend with some of the Derby’s top contenders scheduled to run. A mouth-watering clash between Game Winner and Improbable has been put on the backburner until a decision is made on the famous racecourse but that doesn’t mean we can’t look forward to this weekend’s racing as we still have a big weekend of Derby prep races.
Gotham Stakes – Aqueduct – 09/03/2019
(The Gotham Stakes is worth 50 Kentucky Derby entry points for the winner, 20 for second, 10 for third and 5 for fourth)
We may have missed out on the chance to see the top two in the Derby betting battle it out this weekend but a key player in this year’s Triple Crown could be seen at Aqueduct on Saturday. Instagrand was initially proposed for the San Felipe to take on the two Bob Baffert colts but a stroke of luck, or genius, saw him entered here and things couldn’t have worked out better. This is a much easier task than he would have faced at Santa Anita but that does not mean that this is a formality. Jerry Hollendorfer’s colt is as yet unbeaten and is currently available at 16/1 for this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Yes, his two wins have been mightily impressive and he deserves to be at the top of this market but there may be a few chinks in his armour. The son of Into Mischief has only seen the racecourse twice in his career and neither of those races saw him venture beyond six furlongs. It would not be surprising if he should handle this step up in trip based on the quality he has already shown but there still looms a faint question mark.
Also, this has not exactly been a great year for Derby prep favourites. Already we have seen Hidden Scroll, Coliseum and Knicks Go - who runs here today - toppled, not to mention the upsets in the Oaks preps; Jaywalk was comfortably beaten last week. For this reason it may be somewhat cavalier to go rushing into Instagrand at what is likely to be a very short price come Saturday.
Mind Control will probably be second in in the betting on Saturday and with due cause. This three-year-old already has 10 qualifying points to his name after his victory in the Jerome Stakes over this course and distance in January. Gregory Sacco’s colt also has some good juvenile form, winning the Grade One Hopeful Stakes before a seventh place finish in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Mind Control’s speed figures for his win last time out are almost on par with those posted by Instagrand in his previous races. On merit perhaps the betting should be a little closer.
Finishing ahead of Mind Control in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was Knicks Go, who managed an impressive second place. He earnt his place in that race thanks to a shock victory in the Grade One Breeders’ Futurity. Ben Colebrook’s colt has not exactly excelled from there however with a disappointing run in the Kentucky Jockey Club at the end of his juvenile season and a similarly unsatisfactory effort in the Sam F Davis Stakes to kick off his three-year-old campaign. This was the race for Knicks Go to announce himself as a serious contender as a three-year-old but things did not go to plan and it seems that a hard first season has sapped all the ability from his hoofs. He has not trained on since the Breeders and it is difficult to see him mounting a challenge in this race.
Much Better is arguably a little shorter than his previous form warrants. An average juvenile campaign was finished with a poor 14th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf where Bob Baffert found his horse way out of its depth. There have been significant market moves for this horse in the past but a lot of that can no doubt to attributed to his connections rather than his ability.
This season the colt has finished a respectable third in the Sham Stakes - earning him two Derby points - before winning a Santa Anita allowance race with a mediocre speed figure. This horse may have some ability but the Baffert factor means that he is way too short in the betting.
Haikal may be a popular selection come Saturday but like Much Better, this could have more to with the horse’s owners than the horse itself. Often Shadwell selections can come with a false pretence and it could be wise not to be overawed by this colt. The son of Daaher has achieved nothing out of the ordinary and will struggle in this step up in class.
Not That Brady comes into this off the back of two career best performances. First an impressive three length victory in the Damon Runyon Stakes over this course and distance, then a head runner-up after being stepped up to the Grade Three Withers Stakes again at Aqueduct. That earnt him four point for the Derby but this is another huge step up and he may struggle to add to that tally here.
It is something of a cop-out to put up the favourite as the winner but it is about time some of these highly touted horses started putting their money where their mouth is and that could start with INSTAGRAND. This is a good, competitive prep race but based on everything that we know, the Hollendorfer horse should have too much speed, too much class and too much ability for these to handle.
Tampa Bay Derby – Tampa Bay Downs – 09/03/2019
(The Tampa Bay Derby is worth 50 Kentucky Derby entry points for the winner, 20 for second, 10 for third and 5 for fourth)
There is little to choose between those at the top of the market but just currently shading favouritism is Michael Trombetta’s Win Win Win. You would be hard pushed to argue against the merit of this colt as the jolly considering his breath-taking performance in the Pasco Stakes last time out. He suffered an early setback as he broke from the gate in last place but he overcame that setback to win by an impressive seven lengths and record a course record time over the distance of seven furlongs. This will be the three-year-olds first attempt at this trip but his past performances suggest that he has the class to stay the distance.
Connections are quietly excited about the chances of this horse, not just in this race but as a serious Derby contender and looking at some of the figures he has posted already, it is difficult to argue with them. His last run earned him a Beyer Speed Figure of 99 and his second Equibase Speed Figure over 100. No other horse in this race has come close to matching those stats and if he runs to the best of his ability the son of Hat Trick could be out of site come the winning post.
This is the second of a series of three prep races at Tampa Bay Downs and the only returning selection form the first instalment is the winner Well Defined. That victory came a little out of the blue following his disappointing efforts in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Mucho Macho Man Stakes. He took the race to his opponents though and took an early lead. He ran gate to wire and notched himself up 10 qualifying points.
Last time out saw the Kathleen O’Connell colt try blinkers for the first time and they seemed to do the trick but he has a tough task in front of him to repeat that performance against this field.
Dream Maker is an interesting entry. He is immaculately bred being the son of Tapit and full brother to Grade One winner Dream Dancing. The colt has had a mixed time of it over his short racing career winning his debut with promise before finishing down the field in the Hopeful Stakes and then the Breeders’ Futurity. He was then given a rest by trainer Mark Casse before his seasonal debut in an allowance optional claimer at Fair Grounds last month. He made light work of that field winning by eight lengths.
A bonus for Dream Maker is his stalking style of running. This race is full of speed with the likes of Well Defined and Win Win Win and they could just set the race up nicely for the colt if the ability is in fact there.
Tapit has another of his offspring entered in this race in the shape of Tacitus, owned by the Juddmonte Farms juggernaut. Trainer William Mott has shrewdly secured the services of Jose Ortiz for his mount and that adds an extra bit of interest in the horse. That is about where the interest comes to a halt however with him not being seen on a racecourse since November and his only victory coming in a poor quality maiden. He may be popular in the betting but it may not be based solely on his ability.
Outshine is two wins from three starts but his one defeat came when stepped up to listed company. He had taken some time off before recording his latest victory so perhaps he has matured into a good racehorse but there is not much evidence to go on to prove that is the case. What he does have going for him is the fact that his trained Todd Pletcher has won this race four times in the last six renewals.
At the top of the market this has the makings of a very competitive race. The further down the betting you get however, the bigger the gulf in quality gets.
This race looks to be between the two at the top of the market in Well Defined and WIN WIN WIN and the latter gets the vote. He is leagues ahead in terms of speed figures and if Well Defined takes on Zenden to set a blistering early pace, the race will be perfectly suited for the speedy, classy Trombetta colt to take home the spoils along with 50 Derby points.