Bergen, Just a Touch among Brad Cox-trained hopefuls for G3 Gotham
Feb 15, 2024
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Bergen, Just a Touch among Brad Cox-trained hopefuls for G3 Gotham

by NYRA Press Office

  • Bergen, Just a Touch among Brad Cox-trained hopefuls for G3 Gotham
  • Majestic Return set for stakes debut in $100K Broadway
  • Graded stakes-placed Fingal’s Cave eyes G3 Distaff, possibly G1 Madison
  • Rafael Hernandez joins NYRA jockey colony; Gokhan Kocakaya settling in well

Trainer Brad Cox could be represented by as many as four contenders in the Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham on March 2 at the Big A, a one-turn mile for sophomores offering 50-25-15-10-5 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top-five finishers.

Topping the list for Cox are Qatar Racing and Marc DeTampel’s impressive maiden winner Just a Touch along with Bergen, winner of the Jimmy Winkfield here, who is owned by Spendthrift Farm, Martin Schwartz, Gandharvi, Big Easy Racing, Rick Kanter, James Bakke, Titletown Racing Stables, Kueber Racing, Golconda Stable, Ali Goodrich and Mark Parkinson. Also under consideration for the Gotham are Albaugh Family Stables’ Lightline and Calumet Farm’s Air Cav.

Just a Touch, by Justify and out of the graded stakes-winning Tapit mare Touching Beauty, earned a lofty 89 Beyer Speed Figure in his 4 1/4-length debut score in a six-furlong maiden special weight over sloppy and sealed footing on January 27 at Fair Grounds.

Cox said the $300,000 OBS Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training purchase ran to his looks on debut.

“He's a really good physical - plenty of leg and good bone. He's really light on his feet, a good mover and a good work horse,” Cox said. “Based off pedigree and physical, I feel pretty confident he's going to stretch. I like the idea of the one-turn mile with him.

“He's going from maiden to a graded stakes, so it's going to be deep waters for him and he's going to have to improve,” added Cox. “The talent is there and he has a good mind. I'm hopeful he can have a good second half of February and first part of March and we can give him an opportunity to show that he's on the Derby trail.”

Bergen, by Liam’s Map, was a debut winner traveling six furlongs in October at Keeneland before overcoming a troubled start to finish a rallying second in a one-turn mile in November at Churchill Downs.

Last out, Bergen grabbed a quarter in the six-furlong Jimmy Winkfield, but still dominated by 5 1/4-lengths on January 27 over a muddy and sealed Big A main track. He breezed back a sharp half-mile in 47.53 seconds on February 10 over the Belmont Park dirt training track.

“He's been back to the track and is doing great. He'll breeze again this weekend and start on our preparations for the Gotham,” Cox said.

The $375,000 OBS Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training purchase, a half-brother to Grade 1-winner Chi Town Lady, is out of the stakes-placed Harlan’s Holiday mare Toni’s Hollyday.

Air Cav, by Mitole, finished third in the Jimmy Winkfield – 12 lengths back of Bergen - while making his first start since a distant fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Champagne in October at Belmont at the Big A.

Cox said Air Cav, who graduated on debut in August at Horseshoe Indianapolis, could get a second chance against his stablemate in the Gotham.

“We're going to nominate him and let him tell us. He did bounce out of the Jimmy Winkfield in good order,” Cox said.

Lightline, by City of Light, finished third last out in the nine-furlong Grade 3 Withers over muddy and sealed footing on February 3 here.

The $600,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase won first out in September at Horseshoe Indianapolis ahead of runner-up efforts in October at Keeneland and in December at Oaklawn Park.

Cox said Lightline will be considered for both the Gotham and the 1 1/8-mile Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino on April 6 at the Big A, offering 100-50-25-15-10 points towards the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby.

“We may go straight to the Wood,” Cox said. “There's other options out there as well, but right now the Gotham would be the race that comes up soonest for him. We’ll let him tell us over the next week or two if that's something he wants to do.”

Godolphin’s Kentucky homebred Comparative is 3-for-3 with stakes wins in the nine-furlong Ladies here and the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Bayakoa at Oaklawn since returning victorious from a six-month layoff in November at the Big A.

The 4-year-old Street Sense bay battled to a neck score in the Ladies to best Saddle Up Jessie, who returned to capture the Listed Heavenly Prize Invitational here on Saturday. Last out, Comparative proved to be similarly game in the Bayakoa, fighting off a host of challengers down the lane to post a half-length score while making the grade.

“She's accomplished a good bit this year,” Cox said. “She got a well needed break last summer - no issues, just was tired. She got her break and has rewarded the Godolphin team in a big way.”

Cox said Comparative will return to the Fair Grounds to prepare for a start on March 9 in either the Grade 1 Beholder Mile at Santa Anita or the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2, $400,000 Azeri at Oaklawn.

Calumet Farm’s Gin Gin, last out winner of the nine-furlong Busanda at the Big A, is training well in preparation for the Listed $200,000 Busher for 3-year-old fillies on March 2 here, a one-turn mile which offers 50-25-15-10-5 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points.

The Hightail bay is second in the Kentucky Oaks standings with 26 points, having secured the maximum allotment of 20 points for her one-length score over muddy and sealed footing in the Busanda in January. That effort added to the five points picked up for her runner-up effort in the Rags to Riches in October at Churchill Downs and the single point secured in a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Golden Rod at the Louisville oval in November.

Gin Gin will use the Busher as a prep for the nine-furlong Grade 3 Gazelle on April 6 at the Big A, which awards 100-50-25-15-10 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points. Cox said the cut back to one turn shouldn’t hamper Gin Gin, who performed well at sprint distances in her first two outings that included a second-out graduation at seven furlongs in September at Churchill.

“She was able to break her maiden going seven-eighths and ran good first time out going shorter than that. I think she can handle the one-turn mile,” Cox said.

Gin Gin is out of the graded stakes-placed Hard Spun mare Before You Know It, who won the Karakorum Electra and finished second in the Grade 3 Top Flight Handicap in 2015, both at the Big A. Before You Know It’s half-sister, Instant Reflex, produced Hard to Justify, winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in November.

Cox, who has already won four stakes here this year with Drum Roll Please [Jerome], Comparative [Ladies], Gin Gin [Busanda] and Bergen [Jimmy Winkfield], will be represented by Ghalia Princess in Saturday’s $100,000 Ruthless at the Big A.

The American Pharoah bay, listed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite, will exit the inside post in rein to Manny Franco.


Majestic Return set for stakes debut in $100K Broadway

Ten Strike Racing’s Majestic Return has won two of her last three outings ahead of her stakes debut for trainer Michelle Giangiulio in Saturday’s $100,000 Broadway, a seven-furlong sprint for older New York-bred fillies and mares, at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The 4-year-old Long On Value bay has banked $172,988 through a 3-2-1 record in nine career starts, all in state-bred company. Majestic Return added blinkers for a runner-up effort on September 2 at Saratoga Race Course and has since bested winners with front-end scores in a pair of six-furlong sprints here in September and January, respectively, under Kendrick Carmouche.

"I think the blinkers helped her quite a bit. She was always a horse that was concerned about what's going on around her," Giangiulio said. "She was always kind of jumpy on the track when there was a horse behind her. We'd always thought about putting them on, but I didn't want to do it at first - I wanted her to learn. She's really come a long way since we put them on and she started to train with them in the mornings.

"It’s not only the blinkers, she has also gotten better physically as well," continued Giangiulio. "She's really matured. In her 4-year-old year, I think she's finally in her best physical condition."

Majestic Return finished a game second two starts back in November in a second-level allowance sprint, finishing a half-length back of returning rival Sweetest Princess, who garnered an 84 Beyer Speed Figure when besting open allowance company here on February 2.

Majestic Return breezed a sharp half-mile in 47.91 seconds solo Saturday over the Belmont Park dirt training track under Kendrick Carmouche, who has guided the filly in all but her debut outing.

"She always works fast when he's on," said Giangiulio, with a laugh. "The track had been playing slow the past couple weeks and I'd waited for a good day hoping for a fast track. She worked solid. It was a really good work. She was steady from the pole and broke off in 12 and 2 and went 23 and 4 and just kept going on from there. I clocked her a minute and change on the gallop out. She was very strong down the stretch. The seven-eighths of this race is definitely a question, but with where she's at right now physically she couldn’t be doing any better."

Majestic Return, listed at 4-1 on the morning line, will break from the outermost post 8 Saturday with Carmouche aboard.

“She doesn't have to have the lead to win the race. I think the outside post is definitely going to be a benefit for us. He can just play it from the break,” Giangiulio said. “She's always fast out of the gate, but being seven-eighths I don't think he's going to send her like he normally does. He'll have her close but it's going to give us a chance to stalk the speed if we have to.

"He [Carmouche] gets along with her really well," Giangiulio added. "He's done a good job with her in the morning and it was one of his ideas about putting blinkers on her. He's been a great pilot and knows what she wants, so they make a good partnership with each other."

Giangiulio, who saddled Sea Foam to a pair of stakes wins in 2021, is off to a good start in 2024 with a record of 9-2-1-0.

“We have 11 horses right now but we’re doing good with what we have. It's really rewarding and I'm proud of my team,” Giangiulio said.

Majestic Return, bred by Marshall Gramm [founding partner of Ten Strike Racing], Raymond Sauer and Mike Pietrangelo, is out of the seven-time winning Majesticperfection mare Majestic Mist, who was claimed by Ten Strike Racing for $25,000 in October 2018 and won next out in her penultimate career start when a head the best in an optional-claimer that earned her the $49,200 winner’s share of the purse.

Majestic Return’s sire, Long On Value, was acquired by Ten Strike Racing from the 2017 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale after he was purchased by Brad Cox for $100,000. Long On Value won the Mighty Beau at Churchill in June 2018 one start before completing his career that same month with a score in the Grade 1 Highlander at Woodbine Racetrack. The millionaire son of Value Plus stands at K and K Stallions in Maryland for a fee of $2,500.


Graded stakes-placed Fingal’s Cave eyes G3 Distaff, possibly G1 Madison

Alifyfe Racing’s Grade 2-placed New York-bred Fingal’s Cave will look to make her next start sprinting seven furlongs on April 6 in either the Grade 3, $175,000 Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct Racetrack, or the Grade 1, $600,000 Madison at Keeneland.

Trained by David Donk, the 5-year-old Carpe Diem bay was last seen winning the one-mile Bay Ridge against fellow state-breds on December 28 over a muddy and sealed Big A main track when returning from a 432-day layoff.

There, she took a narrow early lead from Bustin Bay with Venti Valentine keeping close watch from third, but shook off her rivals with ease at the top of the lane and kicked clear to a 3 1/2-length lead straightening for home. She extended her margin to 4 3/4 lengths at the wire to complete the course in 1:37.45 under Jose Lezcano.

Donk said following the effort, Fingal’s Cave was sent to WinStar Farm to continue light training under the supervision of Neal McLaughlin.

“We backed off, and she’ll be back here in a couple weeks,” said Donk. “She stayed in light training there and has done well. The focus now is from April to November, and we just didn’t want to have a campaign that was too long.”

Following the Bay Ridge, Donk indicated a possible target for Fingal’s Cave could be the Grade 1 Madison at Keeneland. The Madison is still on the table for the talented mare, with the Distaff Handicap now in play as well. A start in the Madison would see Fingal’s Cave return to the scene of her lone defeat in six starts when a game third in the Grade 2 Raven Run in October 2022, her final start before her extended layoff.

“Hopefully, we get her ready for the Distaff I think, but maybe the Madison,” said Donk. “The Madison is a Grade 1, but she ran so well at Aqueduct last time and it’s at home. We’ll decide as we get closer.”

Both the Madison and Distaff would mean a cutback by one furlong for Fingal’s Cave, which Donk said he is not opposed to.

“It’s one turn, and we’ve been indecisive what her best distance is yet,” said Donk. “She did win at two turns, and I suppose we may try that again, but she ran so well in the Raven Run and then in the one-turn mile here last time. Is she better at one turn than two turns? That will be determined. It will just be good to her started again.”

Fingal’s Cave has won at distances ranging from six to nine furlongs, including a pair of wins at the latter distance at Saratoga Race Course when taking an open-company allowance and the state-bred Fleet Indian in 2022. She has banked $370,500 through her near-perfect 6-5-1-0 record.

Donk recently welcomed back his two veteran turf stars Thin White Duke and Yes and Yes after a winter freshening. The two geldings, who are both co-owned by their breeder and former trainer Phil Gleaves, are readying for a return to breezing sometime in the coming weeks.

“They’re back and they look well,” said Donk. “We look forward to getting them going here and they’ve only been here a couple weeks, so we’ve got a ways to go, but we’re gearing up for the grass season.”

The now 6-year-old New York-bred Thin White Duke will look to build upon a stellar 5-year-old campaign that saw him capture the 5 1/2-furlong Harvey Pack in September at Saratoga and finish a close second to Today’s Flavor in an off-the-turf edition of the Belmont Turf Sprint in October here. He garnered graded black type for the second time when third in the Grade 3 Troy at the Spa, the same result he posted in 2022.

Donk said he plans to target the Grade 1, $500,000 Jaipur, a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint, on June 8 during the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Saratoga Race Course. The Jaipur is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in November at Del Mar.

“We’ve had a couple of really good years with him and I think he still has a lot of good racing in front of him,” said Donk. “He seems to really like Saratoga, so the main goal will be the Jaipur.”

Yes and Yes, an 8-year-old son of Sidney’s Candy, earned three stakes placings last year, his best finish a nose defeat to Anaconda in the Elusive Quality in May at Belmont Park. Donk said he has not yet picked out a specific target for the seasoned gelding.

“He’s done well and we’ll have to try and find the right spots for him,” said Donk. “They’ve both done well with the time off. It’s been our routine for a lot of years now, and the horses seem to [thrive] with it.”


Rafael Hernandez joins NYRA jockey colony; Gokhan Kocakaya settling in well

Jockey agent Rudy Rodriguez, Jr. is now representing a pair of veterans with excellent international credentials in Gokhan Kocakaya, a perennial leading jockey in Turkey, as well as multiple Grade 1-winning jockey Rafael Hernandez, a 38-year-old native of Puerto Rico, who has joined the NYRA jockey colony and will have four mounts on Saturday's card at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Hernandez, who is based at Woodbine Racetrack from April through December, won the 2020 Sovereign Award as Canada's Outstanding Jockey and was the regular pilot of Grade 2-winner Moira, who captured the 2022 Queen's Plate en route to Horse of the Year honors north of the border.

Hernandez boasts more than 3,000 career wins and has finished in the top three of the Woodbine jockey standings each year since 2017, including last year when he finished third while banking more than $6 million in purse earnings through a record of 804-135-102-103. He arrived in New York on Sunday night and was on the Belmont Park backstretch Monday morning.

"He'll be here for a few months until April when he goes back to Woodbine," Rodriguez, Jr. said. "Hopefully, he can meet some trainers here and build up some clients."

Hernandez, who boasts Grade 1 wins at Woodbine with Etoile [2020 E.P. Taylor] and Last Call [2022 Natalma], rode in Saratoga in 2015 and at Aqueduct in the winter months of 2018-19. He captured a pair of stakes wins here in 2018 with Hit It Once More [Haynesfield] and Aunt Babe [Franklin Square].

"He's an all-around great rider. He's good out of the gate on speed horses and he can come from off the pace," Rodriguez, Jr. said. "He's rode on dirt, turf and synthetic, he's done it all. He has a ton of experience and I'm super excited to work with him. I hope I can do my job and find him some live ones to get the ball rolling."

Hernandez will look for a quick start Saturday when he pilots Ghostly Girl [Race 4] for trainer John Toscano, Jr., Blue Plate Special [Race 5] for conditioner Randi Persaud, Easy Play [Race 8] for trainer Ralph D'Alessandro and the Paul Barrow-trained Connect the Brocks [Race 10].

The 37-year-old Kocakaya was the leading rider in his native Turkey from 2019-23. He's off to a good start here in 2024 with a record of 18-4-2-1 led by a pair of upset scores with Centavo for owner/trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul.

"He's doing great. He's winning at almost 25 percent," Rodriguez, Jr. said. "People have seen the results and we're getting calls to work horses for new clients. People are really starting to notice him."

Kocakaya has a pair of mounts Saturday here for trainer John Kimmel with First Class Cat [Race 1] and Irish Tenor [Race 6].

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