Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Almost everyone has heard the name Secretariat considering he is perhaps the most well-known horse over the last 50 years. Unfortunately, well over half the population wasn't born when Big Red swept the Triple Crown.
The reason Secretariat is relevant this week is due to the fact he won the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, his final victory before the Kentucky Derby. In addition, he is the last winner of the Gotham Stakes to win the Run for the Roses. That's right, it's been over 40 years.
A couple colts came close as General Assembly ran second to Spectacular Bid six years later and Easy Goer finished behind Sunday Silence in 1989. Since then, 16 of the last 25 Gotham winners (there was a dead heat in 1992) failed to even reach the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. Of the nine that did, only one finished in the top half of the race and that was Hansen (ninth) two years ago.
On the other hand, six of the last seven Gotham winners have made it to the Derby and the odds of this year's victor heading to Churchill Downs also are high considering the new points system used for Kentucky Derby eligibility. The winner will receive a hefty 50 points, which would virtually guarantee him a spot in the Derby.
The 2014 rendition is a New York breeders' dream as four New York-breds are entered. One of them, Samraat, will vie for favoritism as he is unbeaten in four career starts.
Samraat, trained by Richard Violette Jr. who also has Financial Mogul in the race, already has won a pair of stakes races. The first came by 16 lengths in the Damon Runyon against New York state-breds, while the second was a one- length score in the Withers over another New York bred, Uncle Sigh.
The Withers was a six-horse race, but Samraat and Uncle Sigh made it a match race as the latter finished over 10 lengths ahead of the third-place finisher. The only negative for Samraat was his 33 2/5 final two-and-a-half furlongs, which was extremely slow.
For comparison purposes, Joint Return, the winner of the Busher Stakes for 3- year-old fillies run at the same distance, ran her final 2 1/2 furlongs in 32 seconds. The big difference was the early pace of that race was two seconds slower than the Gotham.
It also seemed as if Uncle Sigh was ready to pack it in heading into the stretch and Samraat only pulled away inside the final sixteenth. Are both of these horses Derby material or are they just very good minor stakes horses? If the latter is reality, then there might be some juicy odds on other contenders.
The Gotham presents a different challenge for Samraat and Uncle Sigh as there will be much more speed to contend with early in the race. In Trouble, the Futurity winner last September, breaks from the rail and Extrasexyhippzster is just to Samraat's outside. Both colts should help force a decent pace. Additionally, there is another horse to press the pace and that is Deceived.
In Trouble is in tough for his first start in over four months, especially since six furlongs is as far as he's ever gone. On the other hand, Extrasexyhippzster has a very good chance if he can last the 1 1/16. Still, this will be his first trek around two turns.
Deceived was beaten by 19 lengths in the Damon Runyon but he had a legitimate excuse in that race. The son of Broken Vow lunged at the start and then rushed up close to the pace. In his next start, he won his entry level allowance race by over eight lengths.
Two other colts to keep in mind are Financial Mogul and Harpoon.
Financial Mogul is a horse that might get overlooked in the betting. He was 13-1 in the Nashua but still ran second to Cairo Prince. He was 17-1 in the Holy Bull and finished sixth, beaten eight lengths, once again by Cairo Prince. However, he was less than two lengths behind the recent Risen Star winner, Intense Holiday. Look for a much-improved effort on Saturday.
Harpoon ran a game second to Vinceremos in the Sam F. Davis last time out. He breaks from the outside post in the Gotham, so the Todd Pletcher-trained colt might not be below 2-1 as he has been in each of his five lifetime starts.
Gotham - 1) Financial Mogul 2) Harpoon 3) Samraat
FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH AND RISEN STAR RECAPS
Wildcat Red and General a Rod put on a show in the Fountain of Youth as the former prevailed over the latter by a head. The two went head-and-head for the lead almost the entire race as inside speed held on well throughout the day. As for the future, don't look for either to be a major factor on the first Saturday in May as distance limitations will be their downfall.
Top Billing, the 2-1 favorite, was up against it at the start as closers had little chance the way the track was playing. The son of Curlin ran very well to close for third, but he still needs a first- or second-place finish in his final prep race to earn enough points to qualify for the Derby.
The Risen Star was the weaker of the two races and it showed as Intense Holiday ran down Albano by a nose at the wire. Intense Holiday had previously been beaten by the likes of Cairo Prince and Honor Code, and even finished behind Conquest Titan and Wicked Strong in his prior two races.
Meanwhile, Albano, who was beaten almost seven lengths by Vicar's in Trouble in the LeComte (his first try around two turns), rode the rail the entire race to finish second. The half-brother to Mark Valeski has room to improve, but he might not get the same easy trip next time out.
THE JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"
1) Top Billing - Must pick up points in final start before Derby
2) Bayern - Undecided for next start but might be the best of the bunch
3) Honor Code - McGaughey expected to send him to Oaklawn for the Rebel
4) Cairo Prince - Continues with four-furlong works for the Florida Derby
5) Candy Boy - Worked four furlongs in 48 2/5 at Santa Anita in first work for SA Derby
6) Shared Belief - Looking very doubtful to make the Kentucky Derby
7) Strong Mandate - Has not won a race since last September
8) Tapiture - Must show more to be considered a major player
9) Constitution - Did the track bias aid his victory or is he legit?
10) Havana - Finally hits the track on Saturday in the Swale at Gulfstream
11) Conquest Titan - Will find a lot more about him in Tampa Bay Derby
12) Intense Holiday - Game in Risen Star; must improve moving forward