Undefeated Samraat prevails in Gotham thriller
By Jenny Kellner | 03/01/2014 06:22 PM ET
PHOTO/Adam Coglianese/Chelsea Durand
Undefeated Samraat fought his way to a narrow lead at the top of the stretch and held on grimly in a furious three-way battle to the wire on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack to win the 62nd running of the Grade 3, $500,000 Gotham for 3-year-olds by a neck.
The victory - his fifth straight - gave the son of Noble Causeway 50 points in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" qualifying series. Along with his win on February 1 in the Grade 3 Withers, Samraat now has 60 points, virtually guaranteeing him a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs for the May 3 Run for the Roses.
The 2-1 favorite in the field of nine, Samraat broke alertly and then settled in third, widest of all, as the lightly raced In Trouble led through an opening quarter-mile in 23.85 seconds and a half in 48.30 with Uncle Sigh in hot pursuit. Moving up three-wide when given his cue by jockey Jose Ortiz, Samraat drew alongside the embattled front-runners on the far turn and the trio swept into the stretch inches apart. Under a vigorous hand-ride, Samraat stuck his head in front with three-sixteenths of a mile to go, and prevailed in tight quarters over his stubborn foes to hit the wire in 1:44.44 for the 1 1/16 miles.
"As soon as we got to the first turn I was third behind the two leaders, and that's where I wanted to be," said Ortiz. "He responded very good. In the stretch when I showed him the whip a little bit, he was lugging in, but he never made contact with other horses. I just hand rode him and he responded very good, and I tried to keep him straight."
Uncle Sigh, the Withers runner-up, edged up between Samraat and In Trouble to finish second, with In Trouble another neck back in third.
"Samraat is a nice horse. Now I'm a believer," said Gary Contessa, trainer of Uncle Sigh. "We closed the gap on him a little bit today, and my horse is still very young. He was intimidated and he got bumped, and he might have been a little bit cautious down in there, but we're getting better. He's certainly developing."
Samraat, who was bred in New York by Leonard Riggio's My Meadowview Farms, made his first three starts facing state-breds, closing out his 2-year-old season with a 16 ¾-length victory in the restricted Damon Runyon on December 18. Sent to Palm Meadows Training Center, he returned to Aqueduct to win the 1 1/16-mile Withers by a length over his fellow New York-bred, Uncle Sigh.
"This is a real horse now," said winning trainer Rick Violette of Samraat, who returned $6.40 for a $2 wager. "We knew he had a shot to be a real horse after the Withers; he proved he is a real horse today."
The top three could all meet again at Aqueduct in the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial on April 5, New York's final major prep for the Triple Crown series, which culminates with the 146th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont stakes on June 7.
"He was pretty impressive today," said Violette, who added that Samraat would return to Florida on Sunday. "The Wood is a real possibility. That would be our best option as long as the horse cooperates and tells us that we should get on a plane and come up for it."
Contessa said Uncle Sigh would also come back for the 1 1/8-mile Wood.
"Absolutely," he said. "It's still home-field advantage, it's a mile and an eighth on the main track, I love the distance. God willing, and, if the horse is sound, we'll come back in the Wood."
Jockey Joe Rocco, Jr., aboard In Trouble, who was making his 2014 debut, said the 2013 Grade 2 Futurity winner had room to improve.
"Coming off a layoff we were concerned he might need a race, but he ran very game," said Rocco. "Very game. He really dug in well and we're looking forward to see what he can do next time. [Trainer Tony Dutrow] thinks we're going to move forward with him, to the [Wood]."
Completing the order of finish in the Gotham were Financial Mogul, who was 5 ¼ lengths behind In Trouble and was followed in turn by Harpoon, Master Lightning, Deceived, Extrasexyhippzster and Noble Cornerstone. Classic Giacnroll and Monopolize were scratched.