2019 Gotham Stakes Picks with Odds and Expert Betting Predictions
The Kentucky Derby trail took a bizarre and unprecedented turn this week. Something has been very wrong with the Santa Anita track, and far too many horses have been fatally injured. It got so bad that they had no choice but to shut the track down for an undetermined amount of time to figure out what is wrong and fix it. That really matters for two reasons, and both have an impact on this race in an indirect way. First, the San Felipe, the biggest prep race of this weekend, has been postponed indefinitely. All the horses aiming for that race, which included the two stars of Bob Baffert's stable who are seen as the top two Derby contenders right now, are in limbo. And those horses and many others, including the stable of Jerry Hollendorfer, who has the favorite here, suddenly have had their training compromised. It's a real mess on so many levels.
Through all of that, the Gotham Stakes stands out as now the biggest race of the weekend. This is a big one because the winner will get enough points to make the Derby field, and the runner-up will come close to having enough, too. And it's an odd field for this race - much stronger than we have seen head to chilly Aqueduct in recent years. This is a race that has been run since 1953, but it hasn't been a major stop for Derby contenders lately. The last Derby winner to win this race was Secretariat way back in 1973. Since then only 1989 Belmont winner Easy Goer and 2000 Preakness winner Red Bullet have gone on to Triple Crown race glory. I Want Revenge would have been a strong and tough Derby favorite in 2009, but he was scratched on race morning. This year there are eight entrants, and five of them are worth a closer look. Of course, the way the prep season is going this year, this means one of the other three horses are likely to win. It has been one of those years so far. Here are the highlights of the field (Horse, trainer, jockey, morning line odds)
Instagrand, Jerry Hollendorfer, Javier Castellano, 4/5: Jerry Hollendorfer has to feel very lucky right now. This colt, based at Santa Anita, had been aimed for the San Felipe after passing on several prior California stakes this spring, but he was instead pointed here presumably to find a softer spot for his first race since the fall. This horse has a mighty reputation, and we can't yet know if it is too big. In June at Los Alamitos, he broke his maiden spectacularly by 10 lengths. Then he headed to Del Mar and crushed a stakes field - again by 10 lengths. Both wins were spectacular, and he got a whole lot of attention. But he hasn't run since, and both of those wins were in sprints. We don't know how he will handle the mile of this race, never mind the extra quarter mile he'd need in the Derby. The talent is obviously huge, and sire Into Mischief has sired some nice horses. But given how little we know about the horse, how long he has been off, and how many different races he has been pointed at this fall, it is easy to be highly skeptical of this price. And he has made a trip across the country for the first time, and Aqueduct in early March feels a little different than So Cal. Can he win? Absolutely - he is the class of the field. How do I feel about betting him at this price - or likely lower by post time? Not freaking good. Barring a big change in the odds, this price makes the race very tough to bet - but very important to watch in case he is as good as he has looked.
Mind Control, Gregory Sacco, John Velazquez, 9/2: This colt won the Jerome, which is the local prep for this race. But this field is set up tough for him, and at this price I am not at all convinced by him. He has been aimed at this race all spring, which is a positive, but his connections surely weren't expecting the California invasion, and this is too much for the horse.
Much Better, Bob Baffert, Mike Smith, 5/1: This is suddenly the top horse Baffert has running after the San Felipe mess - which is not at all what he wanted, because this horse is not a top contender at this point. This horse has clearly confused Baffert, because last fall he put him on the grass. Baffert almost never runs on the grass, so he had to be desperate. It didn't work - after a minor win he was dead last in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. He was third in the Sham on the dirt this spring in his first Derby trail action. The good news was that with Santa Anita closed, Mike Smith was suddenly free to travel for this mount. That's a massive upgrade for the colt, and it will help him. But probably not enough to win.
Haikal, Kiaran McLaughlin, Rajiv Maragh, 10/1: This is a colt that has run only at Aqueduct. The home cooking is nice, but he is taking a big step up in class. The two things he has going for him, though, are solid connections, and his running style - there is a lot of early speed in this race, and he likes to sit off the pace so that could really benefit him. He'd be usable in exotics if you were betting them, but not on top.
Knicks Go, Ben Colebrook, Jose Lezcano, 12/1: This was a surprisingly good two-year-old. He stunned the field to win the Breeders' Futurity, a Grade 1, then came back to finish second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at a decent price. But then the clock struck 12. He was lousy in the Kentucky Jockey Club to finish off the season last year, and then flopped as favorite in the Sam F Davis to start this year. He's a toss for me until he proves otherwise again.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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