2018 Gotham Stakes Expert Picks and Predictions with Morning Line Odds
The Gotham Stakes, and really all of the Aqueduct prep series, is for suckers. The smart connections in New York head to Florida for the winter and stay warm at Gulfstream or Tampa Bay Downs. But some aren't so lucky, so they get to freeze at the joyless abyss that is Aqueduct.
But there is a reward for those that stay there - or those that just visit for this coming weekend. The Gotham Stakes offers 50 Derby points to the winner, so if you win this race you are functionally in the Derby field. It's a big race and a strong opportunity. The race hasn't had much success in creating Derby winners of late, but the past is bright. The winner in 1953, Native Dancer, won the Preakness and Belmont. Easy Goer, the 1989 winner, won the Belmont. Red Bullet won the 2000 Preakness. And none of other than Triple Crown legend Secretariat won the race in 1973. Most recently I Want Revenge was set to be the strong Derby favorite in 2009 until an injury forced him to be scratched in 2009. The next I Want Revenge isn't obviously in this field right now, but it's still early.
The nine-horse field is set to go to post at 5:42 pm ET on Saturday, March 10. It's worth noting that as I write this on Wednesday Free Drop Billy and Enticed are still in Florida as weather in New York delayed their flight. They are scheduled to fly Thursday, and there shouldn't be an issue, but they have both been cross-entered in the Tampa Bay Derby in case the issues persist. If they don't make it then this would be a virtual walkover for Firenze Fire - or at least it had better be if that horse is as good as people think. Here's how the class of the field sets up (horse, jockey, trainer, track morning line odds):
Free Drop Billy, Dylan Davis, Dale Romans (9/5): This is the second weekend in a row that I have previewed this horse because he was entered in the Fountain of Youth before scratching and coming here instead. Romans obviously knew what he was doing because he won the Fountain wire to wire with a longshot, Promises Fulfilled. This colt is a son of Union Rags by a Giant's Causeway mare, so the distance is far from a concern. After two solid second-place finishes in stakes last winter - one to Firenze Fire - he got a grade 1 win in the Breeders' Futurity. But then his showing in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, a dismal ninth, was just a disaster. He regrouped and then finished second in the Holy Bull in his season debut. I'm not at all crazy about his rider here - Davis won his only career graded stakes in January - but he should be the class of this field.
Firenze Fire, Manuel Franco, Jason Servis (5/2): The Gotham is only a mile, but I am already concerned about the distance - he's the son of a sprinter out of a sprinter's bloodline - and am quite certain he won't get the Derby distance. He clearly loves this track and the one turn, though, having won here at this distance once and finishing second at a slightly longer run last time out. This horse has plenty of heart, he has beaten Free Drop Billy already, and he likes the track. I could justify having him a piece of all bets here, but it's likely the last time I'll back him on the Derby trail.
Enticed, Junior Alvarado, Kiaran McLaughlin (7/2): Most interesting about this horse, who was fourth in the Holy Bull in his season debut, is that he won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November. Promises Fulfilled, Bravazo and Reride all came out of that race to win prep races this year - the first two at fat prices. I wish the price was better here, and I wasn't crazy about that last effort, but he's bred to run and can't be ignored in exotics betting.
Beautiful Shot, Angel Arroyo, Keith Desormeaux (8/1): I just don't see this one at all. He hasn't run since finishing a well-beaten third at seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Nov. 11. He has one nice work of late, but I just don't think it's enough to convince me he's a factor here. Easy pass - which probably means he wins running away given how this year's prep races have gone so far.
Dial Operator, Trevor McCarthy, Jason Servis (10/1): He has yet to lose in two outings - one in July and one in February - but he is making his stakes debut. This is a big jump in class, but he likes coming from off the pace and should have lots of early pace to run at. He's bred well enough for the test, too. I like him better than stablemate Firenze Fire straight up - never mind at the price.
Raphael Esparza is back on the saddle for another big Saturday in horse racing. This Saturday he will have picks for not one, not two, but three 'Road to the Kentucky Derby' prep races. Last Saturday at Gulfstream Park Esparza had a winning day in the ponies, and this Saturday he looks for more horse racing winners. Last year Esparza had a monster horse racing season, cashing for over $2,800, and he had winning days in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. Esparza's $35 Saturday Horse Racing Picks will feature the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, and the San Felipe Stakes at San Anita. Throw in the fact that Esparza has had more than 20 years of horse racing betting experience, and over the course of the the next four months he will put extra money in your wallets.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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